Thursday, October 1, 2015

Going Green with Green Tomato Pickles

In the south, we love our fried green tomatoes, but that isn't the only creative way we use green tomatoes. We also like to pickle them. They keep their crunch and they are just plain good! Here is my favorite recipe for pickling green tomatoes.

In a large bowl, slice equal amounts of green tomatoes and sweet onions to equal 2 pounds. Larger tomatoes need to be cut in half and then sliced. Smaller tomatoes just need to be sliced. Don't slice too thinly. You want about a quarter of an inch so that the pickles can maintain their shape. To this combination, add 2-3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced and your favorite hot peppers, whole or sliced. If you use tiny peppers like Thai bird peppers, you may want to leave them whole, but if you use jalapeños, you will need to slice them. Add a few peppers if you prefer milder pickles or more if you like to spice things up. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of kosher salt over all the vegetables, toss, cover and let stand for an hour. Pour into colander and let drain for 20 minutes. Then pack into 3 pint jars, filling to 1/2 inch from the top.

In a medium saucepan, boil 2 cups of apple cider vinegar, 1 1/2 cups sugar, 1 t. mustard seeds and
1/2 t. ground turmeric. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Pour mixture over vegetables in jars filling to 1/2 inch from top. Cool completely. cover with lids and chill for at least 8 hours before serving.  Serve the same way you would normally serve bread and butter pickles.  Enjoy!

Monday, September 28, 2015

Hook a Great Meal at Shipp's Harbour Grill

If you have been coming to Alabama's coast for years like we have, you may remember the old Bayside Grill in Orange Beach at Sportsman's Marina. We had no idea it had closed, but we kept reading snippets about a place called Shipp's Harbour Grill and, when we investigated further, we realized it was located where Bayside used to be.      
As our readers know, Three Friends and a Fork is dedicated to searching for and informing folks about great restaurants, wherever we can find them. We are NOT interested in exposing bad restaurants or visiting restaurants for the purpose of nitpicking and complaining. We don't want to spend our hard-earned money on bad food or poor service just to report back to you all. When we go out to eat, we check and double check to make sure the restaurant is a good one we would like to share with you, and that is just what we did when we set sail for Shipp's Harbour Grill. First we checked out as many reviews as we could find. But that wasn't enough for us. The first thing we did when we arrived at the Marina, was to stop people coming out of the restaurant and ask them about their experience. Seriously, who better to ask than the diners who just ate there.

As we were climbing the ramp leading up to the restaurant, a large group of folks were leaving, so we asked them if the food was good and what they thought about the restaurant. Turns out, these folks were locals and they had nothing but good things to say about their dining experience. They told us they eat there all the time and they had never had a bad dish at Shipp's Harbour. They also told us the owners were locals themselves and they were dedicated to serving the freshest seafood and produce. That is just what we wanted to hear, so we thanked our helpful friends and went on in.  

We were greeted by this sign telling us where our seafood would be coming from...fresh from the Gulf of Mexico. This was a good indication that we should scurry on in!

The restaurant is just beautiful, with a large deck, enclosed sunroom and spacious indoor dining areas. The color scheme is white and bright, with bright sky blue accents. Dark polished wood floors, ceiling fans and colorful Adirondack chairs give the whole place an upscale seaside ambience. 


We were seated in the enclosed sunroom, right next to a window with a view of the outside deck and harbor. Our server left us with menus and drinks and we settled in to discuss our options. Immediately we decided to start with oyster crostinis and Love Potions made with peach schnapps, Malibu Bacardi, cranberry and pineapple juices. There was definitely a lot to love!

 Lu and I often don't agree when it comes to food choices. I mean, I normally use food as a way of getting condiments to my mouth, not as a little something extra on the side. If I can dip a food into some kind of sauce, dressing or dip, I am really happy. Luanne, on the other hand, is opposed to pretty much any kind of condiment, sauce or dressing. She hates mayonnaise, mustard and catsup and anything made with those ingredients. I don't even pretend to understand. We love her, even if she is quirky!

One thing we do agree on, sort of, is our love of oysters. I say, sort of, because Miss Picky may not like condiments, but she can slurp down a tray of raw oysters without blinking. I cannot do that, but I do love oysters cooked in almost any way. So, while Lu is on her own with the raw oysters, we can happily share them baked, broiled, grilled, roasted or fried. The oyster crostinis were right up our alley. The crispy fried oysters were plump and sweet, sitting on top of a crunchy crostini, topped with creamy brie and roasted poblanos and drizzled with a sweet three pepper glaze. Divine!

 The mixed green house salad with onions, mushrooms and tomatoes was fresh and the house made tomato vinaigrette was delicious. Even Luanne liked this dressing!

I had my heart set on the fresh sushi It sounded so delicious.  Here are just a few of the selections I was debating: 

  • Surf & Turf Roll - 10.95 (Tempura Fried) Shrimp, Filet Mignon, Chipotle Cream Cheese, Red Pepper, Tomato Salsa, Onion, Horsey Sauce

  • Yum-Yum Roll - 11.95 Blackened Filet Mignon - lightly seared, Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, White Truffle Oil, Spicy Mayo, Micro greens 

  • BIG Shipp Roll - 11.95 Tempura Shrimp, Filet Mignon, Cream Cheese, Avocado, Tuna, Blue Cheese, Wasabi Mayo, Sweet Soy Glaze, Micro greens

  • Tuna & Mango Roll - 10.95 Ahi Tuna , Tempura Shrimp, Cream Cheese, Avocado, Mango Salsa, Micro greens

They all sounded so wonderful, but when I asked the server which one she recommended, she told me they only serve sushi after 5:00 pm. I was bummed, but determined to come back sometime to sample the sushi. If you want sushi, be sure to visit after 5:00 pm.

With my first choice gone, I opted for the grilled snapper with basil cream sauce. I love snapper and the snapper at Shipp's Harbour is delicious, fresh and perfectly cooked. The basil cream sauce was also fresh and wonderful. 

But what I really loved, and was a little jealous of, was Luanne's Coconut Grouper. Oh, y'all! It was paneéd grouper topped with jumbo lump crab, drizzled with spicy coconut butter and sprinkled with fresh toasted coconut. It literally was one of the best things I have ever tasted. If you are a coconut lover, like me, you should definitely go check this out. The only reason I didn't order this to begin with was because I love snapper so much, but I am telling you, this grouper was goo-oood! If and when I go back, the coconut grouper is on my plate! I thought I might get more than one bite of Luanne's, but she greedily ate everything on the plate and mopped up the sauce. Hateful!

See that golden sauce on the plate? It is golden! And I can't tell you how divine it is!

We shared a piece of key lime pie for dessert. It was sitting in a puddle of raspberry sauce and topped with homemade whipping cream and fresh mint. A perfect ending to a perfect meal.

 If you have not tried Shipp's Harbour Grill, what are you waiting for? It is fabulous! Try the coconut grouper!

Three Friends and a Fork give Shipp's Harbour Grill 3 Shipp Shaped Yums UP!

Friday, September 25, 2015

Beach Eats at Bill's By the Beach

It started out with a suggestion from my mother-in-law. She had recently been to the beach and noticed a new restaurant near our beach condo. She didn't get a chance to eat there, but she thought Luanne and I might want to check it out. We were on the look out for the restaurant and when we found it, the sign out front immediately grabbed our attention. See us on Food Network? Luanne and I had to check this out!

Bill's By the Beach is located on West Beach Boulevard in Gulf Shores. It has a spacious outside deck, so diners can enjoy the beautiful view while they dine. Lu and I could not resist sitting outside.

Inside Bill's By the Beach
The outside deck

Here is the view from our table. We were right across the street from Gulf Shores' public beach. 

After we studied the menu a bit, one menu item really grabbed our attention. It was Bill's Loaded Bloody Mary. The libation is more meal than drink with Bill's homemade Bloody Mary mix and loaded with a slider, Gulf shrimp, Conecuh sausage, cheese skewers, bacon, cherry tomatoes, olives, pickled okra, cocktail onions, spicy green beans, celery and carrots. It is served in mild, spicy, extra spicy or atomic variations. We so wanted to get one of those "drink meals", but neither of us like Bloody Marys. This beautiful creation certainly made us want to love Bloody Marys. If you are a Bloody Mary fan, you should definitely come to Bill's and try one of these beautiful and extravagant works of art. While you are checking out the beautiful Bloody Mary, take a look at this seafood tower Chef Jon is considering adding to the menu. Wow!

We decided to begin with a bacon crab cheesecake made with blue crab, Conecuh bacon and cream cheese, topped with a tomato onion jam and served with crunchy crostinis. I was a little skeptical...until I took my first bite. The cheesecake was surprisingly good, chock full of sweet crab and salty bacon. But the tomato onion jam was what really put it over the top. Luanne and I ate every bite. 

While we were polishing off our cheesecake, we asked the server about the sign out front. What was this about Food Network? She explained that the restaurant had been chosen to be featured on a new Food Network show called Beach Eats starring Chef Curtis Stone. We talked a bit and then she said she was going to send the chef out to meet us. In the meantime, we decided to split an order of coconut shrimp. When the shrimp arrived, we were completely surprised! Neither of us had ever ordered coconut shrimp that weren't fried. These Gulf shrimp were grilled and topped with garlic chile sauce, toasted coconut and grilled pineapple. It was delicious! Because nothing was fried, you could really taste the fresh shrimp. The flavors of the sweet pineapple, the toasted coconut, the spicy sauce and the briny shrimp were a match made in beach heaven and it was so much healthier without all the frying. Luanne quickly said it was her favorite dish of the week, which was saying a lot!

We were still oohing and aahing over the coconut shrimp when Chef Jon Gibson appeared at our table. We told him how much we were enjoying the shrimp and we were curious about the Food Network show featuring Bill's By the Beach. He told us the restaurant was contacted by Food Network along with about five other restaurants in the area and, of those restaurants, Bill's was chosen to be featured in the new show. He also told us Chef Stone and the Food Network had been there for two days about two months earlier to film and that the actual show was going to premier that very night. The restaurant was hosting a viewing party to watch the episode, sample some of the foods that would be featured and, in general, celebrate being chosen to be part of the show. Then he invited us to come back that night and join the preview party! Oh, wow!

While we were talking to Chef Jon, he mentioned his dedication to serving locally caught, fresh, sustainable seafood. Bill's only serves wild American caught seafood from the Gulf of Mexico and other ingredients are locally sourced whenever possible. Chef Jon is one of only two Alabama chefs who serve as Wild American Shrimp Ambassadors for the American Shrimp Processors Association. Our meeting with Chef Jon was quite a lesson. We learned that restaurants must tell you where their seafood is from. We also learned just because a restaurant touts gulf seafood does not necessarily mean the Gulf of Mexico. It could be the Gulf of Tonkin. So, you have to ask to make sure that the seafood is local and sustainable. We encourage you to do that so that more restaurants will make a commitment to supporting our local fishermen, farmers and businesses. It is a small thing we can do that can have a big impact on our economy and our health. 

The preview party at Bill's By the Beach was so much fun. Everyone was really excited to see the premier of Beach Eats and to see Chef Jon and Bill's By the Beach featured on the show. Both Chef Jon and the restaurant's owner, Bill Henry, spoke to the small crowd of invited guests, thanked everyone for coming and told us all about the visit from Chef Curtis Stone and the Beach Eats crew. 

The owner, Bill Henry, welcomes the guests.
Then he introduced Chef Jon.

We were all snapping pictures like Gulf Shores paparazzi! 
We were lucky enough to share a table with the special guests for the evening, Joe and Patty Lambrecht of Oakview Farms in Wetumpka. The Lambrechts supply the stone ground grits Chef Jon uses to make his delicious version of shrimp and grits. They shared their story of how they got started in the stone ground grits business which, it turns out, was a case of perfect timing. Apparently, Joe had retired from a career at a car dealership and needed a hobby. By a happy coincidence, he chose to grow and grind his own corn about the time chefs like Emeril Lagassi and Bobby Flay started promoting the use of stone ground grits on television. Pretty soon, the Lambrechts were getting orders for stone ground grits from these chefs and others and the rest, as they say, is history. Now the stone ground corn business has become so much more than a hobby. With orders coming in from all over, the Lambrechts are busier than ever. 

We enjoyed meeting, Joe Lambrecht, the owner of Oakview Farms.
As we waited for the show to start, servers brought us out samples of the foods that would be highlighted in the episode. We enjoyed Chef Jon's shrimp and grits flavored with red-eye gravy, as well as some more of the delicious bacon crab cheesecake. Then we were served delicious shots made with Rum Chata and Patron XO Cafe Dark. It was a amazingly good with a rich coffee and cream flavor.  

Finally, it was time for the show to start. Bill's had set up a large screen so we could finish our appetizers and watch the show at the same time. As the camera rolled, we watched as Chef Jon showed Chef Stone how to make the shrimp and grits and bacon crab cheesecake.  Chef Jon also prepared a fish caught and brought in by some of the restaurant's guests. Yes, if you catch a fish and bring it to Chef Jon, he will cook it for you. At the end of the segment, we got to see Chef Jon and Chef Stone scurry over to the beach to do some fishing of their own. Chef Jon was a television natural!

The night ended with a giant Food Network cake made by one of Chef Jon's friends. It was beautiful and a tasty way to end a fun night. Thanks for the invitation, Chef Jon!

Chef Jon and Bill Henry cut the cake.

Three Friends and a Fork give Bill's By the Beach and Chef Jon Gibson 3 famous Yums UP!

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Flip Flop Deli Shop..."Shaved" Ice in Gulf Shores

What do you do when you are at the beach and you need to cool off? Well, of course, you might jump in the ocean or pool, but we had a different idea. I was remembering the amazing shave ice in Hawaii, wishing there was a way to get one of those. Luanne, ever the practical one, wondered if there wasn't a place to get shave ice in Gulf Shores, so we did what we usually do, we googled. There were some of those sno-ball or snow cone vendors, but that was totally NOT what we were looking for. Finally we found a place called Flip Flop Deli Shop that had gotten a lot of good reviews for their "shaved" ice. I was a bit skeptical when I saw the word "shaved". The delicious tropical icy goodness in Hawaii is never called "shaved". It is always called "shave" ice. It made me wonder if this was going to be just another sno-ball in disguise, but with Luanne's encouragement, we set our sights on Flip Flop Deli Shop. We knew we were at the right place when we saw the ice cream cones on the mailbox.


Happily, Flip Flop Deli Shop was conveniently located near our condo on West Beach Boulevard. We climbed the stairs with a lot of hope, but prepared to be disappointed. Hawaii had set our expectations pretty high, after all. 

When we got inside, we were greeted by a gentleman who turned out to be the owner. We noticed that the place was decorated with an inordinate number of pigs. I assumed there must be barbecue on the menu, but it turns out, the owner is an Arkansas fan! No matter what you do or where you go in Alabama, football is somehow going to figure into the conversation. You know it wasn't the Arkansas chemistry department he was pulling for!



After we discussed football for a bit, we got down to business. Lu and I were pretty brazen about what we were there for. Luanne told him we wanted something special and when we described it to him, if he could make it for us, he would need to put it on his menu and name it after us. He looked a little unsure, but encouraged us to proceed. First we needed to ask him some questions. Did he have shave ice, not snow cones?  He told us he did. Even though "shaved" was clearly on his sign, we just wanted to make sure he knew the difference. He did. Could he, put some ice cream in the middle of the shave ice, like they did for us in Hawaii? Yes, he could add ice cream to the shave ice. It would be in the bottom and not in the middle, though. Good enough. Finally, did he have snow cap for his shave ice? Yes, he did. Great, he passed our exam with flying colors! We were in business and ready to pick our flavors. Now for the bonus question. How many flavors could we pick? As many as we wanted! Good answer!

The two of us are always going to go tropical if we have an option, so we both chose mango and coconut. I also happen to love tiger's blood, which is a usually a combination of strawberry, watermelon and coconut, so I added that to my shave ice.

We watched as our ice came out of the machine. This is one way you can tell the difference between shave ice and snow cone ice. Authentic shave ice is made to order, not pre-made. Shave ice is also fluffy,  not crunchy bits. The shave ice machine at Flip Flop Deli Shop might not have been as big and elaborate as the ones we had seen in Hawaii, but it really did make fluffy shave ice, not just crunched up ice bits.

We both chose vanilla ice cream, since that was about the most tropical option available. We really wanted the homemade coconut or macadamia ice cream we had in Hawaii, but this is Alabama, so we went with vanilla. Maybe our friend will really up the ante one day and add coconut and macadamia to his list of ice cream flavors. Maybe?

Here is the almost finished product. I say almost, because I snapped the picture before I remembered we hadn't added the "extra, extra" snowcap, as my friend, Kelli, would say. We do love that creamy sweetened condensed milk poured over the top of our shave ice.

So, what did we think? We were really happy. Of course, it wasn't Hawaiian shave ice, it was Alabama shaved ice. The ice cream wasn't homemade coconut or macadamia and the flavors weren't hand squeezed from fresh tropical fruits, but it was really good, definitely hit the spot and cooled us off. The owner is super nice, fun to talk to and eager to please his customers. He never once blinked when we described the way we wanted our shave ice to be put together. I actually think he combines ice cream and shave ice all the time and was just humoring us, but his fun personality was part of the charm of the place. We christened this particular concoction the RichiLu and I think he agreed. So, if you go to Flip Flop Deli Shop, just tell this nice guy you want a RichiLu and he will fix you right up! See, we've done all the work for you.

We want to go back and check out the rest of his menu sometime. There were all kinds of sandwiches...roast beef, turkey, grilled chicken and ham...and he definitely isn't showing any partiality when it comes to naming them. You can choose from the Geaux Tigers Special, Pig Sooie, or the Roll Tide or War Eagle Wraps. The Roll Tide Wrap is made with turkey and the War Eagle Wrap is made with chicken, so he may or may not have been making a subtle statement with those! He is an Arkansas fan after all. We will let that slide, since he makes such a great "shaved" ice!

Three Friends and a Fork give Flip Flop Deli Shop in Gulf Shores 3 Icy Yums UP!

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fisherman's Corner: Florida Food with Louisiana Flair

Why is it that some of the greatest restaurants are the hardest to find and the most difficult to get to? And you can forget getting any help from Siri! Assuming you bypass her inability to understand a word you say and type in your request for directions, she still sends you in the completely opposite way you should be going. Such was the case on a recent beach trip. A local realtor in the area was giving us a little heads up on the restaurants in the area serving the freshest local seafood. One of his recommendations wasn't in Gulf Shores or Orange Beach, or even in Alabama. It was across the Perdido Bridge, past the FloraBama and under the Theo Baars Bridge in Perdido Key, Florida.  It is tucked so well up under the bridge and in the middle of nowhere, that we were surprised anyone ever found it to begin with. There are some houses behind it, so we guessed the locals living nearby had a good thing to themselves until some outsider stumbled upon it and squealed. 

The name of this hidden gem is Fisherman's Corner and it would be a superb candidate for Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. As rustic as they come, this establishment literally blends in to the scrubby Florida landscape, assuming that gnarly, knotted look some of the trees get from being continually buffeted by the winds blowing in off the ocean. It would also be at home sitting on an alligator infested swamp in the Louisiana bayou, especially with Cajun flavored menu. That's right! Fisherman's Corner is not just your run of the mill seafood restaurant. It is a seafood restaurant with Cajun roots.

Everything at Fisherman's Corner is made to order, made from scratch and made from fresh, local ingredients, so don't come expecting fast food. This kind of food takes a bit longer, but it is so worth the wait. If you arrive early or choose mid-afternoon rather than traditional lunch or dinner hours, you stand a better chance of being seated quickly. Otherwise, anticipate a wait. Fisherman's Corner does take reservations, so if you want to go at the busier times, keep that in mind.  The restaurant has both indoor and outdoor seating. We scored a seat on the porch and, with the porch fans blowing, it was very comfortable. You should not expect much of view, however. This is not ocean front property.

Our server quickly brought drinks, while we checked out the menu. The appetizers looked intriguing. 

Fried Dill Pickles
served w/ ranch dressing.   $7
Smoked Tuna Dip
fresh gulf tuna and seasonings.   $11
Jim's Spicy Oysters or Shrimp
 sizzling baked oysters or shrimp topped with Parmesan aioli.  $13 for oysters / $12 for shrimp
Sweet & Spicy Shrimp
with sweet chili sauce.   $9
Fried Calamari / when available 
fresh gulf calamari rings with creole remoulade & cocktail sauce.  $9
Corner Crab Cake / when available
 served on famous Gambino's french bread topped with lump crab corn sauce.  $14
Fried Green Tomatoes
stacked with fresh mozzarella between each slice, topped with crawfish creole sauce.  $8
New Orleans Barbeque Shrimp
fresh "head on" gulf shrimp sauteed in classic New Orleans Sauce, served w/ Gambino bread   $13
Sauteed Mussels
in a garlic wine sauce   $12
Eggplant Parmesan
parmesan encrusted eggplant topped with provolone cheese, roasted red peppers, crabmeat and smothered in homemade marinara sauce   $9
Portabella Mushroom Fries
our very own homemade creation   $6
Fried Frog Legs
tossed in a spicy garlic butter sauce   $12

While we pondered these options, the server brought out some delicious homemade rolls and creamy butter. We were off to a grand start.

We were tempted by the smoked tuna dip and the sweet and spicy shrimp, but finally settled on Jim's Spicy Oysters and Shrimp when the server told us it was possible to get a combination of the two. The plate came out sizzling hot and the seafood delicacies were nestled in a creamy parmesan aioli and topped with a crunchy blanket of bread crumbs. We loved them both, but the oysters were especially sweet and delicious.

For the meal, we decided to go a soup and salad route, so we chose a cup of the shrimp and corn chowder. Creamy, with fresh Gulf shrimp, corn and peppers for a little pop, it was very good.

The salad was the most unexpected thing we ordered. Actually, it is the only thing we should have ordered. It was huge! And it was really more of a seafood platter than a salad. It was called a fried gumbo salad because it had all the components of gumbo, but fried and sitting on top of a bed of fresh mixed greens. Shrimp, oysters, crawfish and okra covered in a crispy cornmeal coating dominated the bowl, with a  creamy homemade Creole dressing served on the side. The picture below does not even begin to adequately portray the size of this salad. Ninety percent of it was placed in a to go box for us to take home. 

Fisherman's Corner lived up to the accolades our new acquaintance had bestowed upon it. Everything we had from the bread to the seafood was delicious and fresh and wonderfully made. We are not going to promise you this place is easy to get to, but once you do, you will be so happy. It was worth the trip across the state line and over the bridge and under the bridge. 

Three Friends and a Fork give Fisherman's Corner 3 Fresh Florida Yums UP!