Sunday, February 5, 2017

Acme Oyster House? Oh, Yes!

On our last trip to the Gulf Shores, Rob suggested we go to Acme Oyster House for lunch. I was a little skeptical. The reason? I've been to the original in New Orleans, so I was afraid the clone would be a disappointment. But Rob really wanted to go, the reviews were good and I had seen a picture of Acme's chargrilled oysters I just couldn't get out of my mind, so off we went. We pulled into the generous parking lot and noticed the large restaurant, painted a beachy aqua and sporting lots of southern charm. It felt like we were visiting our quirky southern grandma's beach house, if we had a quirky southern grandma with a beach house.


The front porch was wide with old fashioned ceiling fans and tables for waiting during busy times. 


Acme is serious about oysters! Oyster decor was everywhere, including this giant shell decorating the front porch.


The restaurant is situated under the bridge as you come into Gulf Shores on Highway 59, right across the Intercoastal Waterway from Lulu's. 

We arrived early, so we were the first to be seated. Since we had our pick of seats, we chose a table on the broad back porch overlooking the water. As we walked to our table, I admired the spacious, rustic dining room and the polished bar with a giant neon "oysters" sign shining overhead. 

After reading this disclaimer, I was happy we were greeted by a waitress on our trip! Ha! And there was that reminder about the chargrilled oysters!

We ordered our drinks and quickly ordered a plate of the aforementioned chargrilled oysters to share. They were far and away the best oysters I have ever eaten. Absolutely divine! Spicy, buttery, sweet and briny, these are the oysters of my dreams. We used the crusty bread that came with them to sop up every drop of the savory sauce. In fact, they were so good, we ordered a second platter of those beautiful bivalves. Yep, we ate two! Lucky for me, Acme shares their recipes, so I was able to replicate those yummy morsels at home. The recipe works equally well with shrimp, too. I will share it at the end of this post.

Scott and I each had a bowl of lima bean soup. It was so good. The soup was chock full of bacon, tasso and shrimp and full of flavor. It was so delicious that, again, I came home and used Acme's recipe to make my own pot of lima bean soup (see below). Sadly, there aren't too many places to snag tasso around north Alabama. Happily, I have a wonderful Cajun buddy, Tiffani, who came to my rescue. Thanks, Tiff, I love you and I owe you!

Rob didn't get enough oysters with our first two platters, so he ordered a platter of raw oysters. I'm not a raw oyster eater, so you will just have to take Rob's word that they were really good. 

Scott enjoyed a roast beef po'boy with debris. It looked good and he assured me that it was very good.

So, Rob wasn't the only one who might have been stuck in oyster mode. I couldn't resist trying the fried oysters with creamy remoulade. I loved them. 

JD and his friend, Mallory had shrimp po'boys. Again, the po'boys were overstuffed with lots of savory shrimp
on crusty French baguettes. They looked fantastic and I'm pretty sure every morsel was consumed.

 There are many places along Alabama's beautiful coast to get fresh, delicious seafood and Acme Oyster House should be added to that list. The food we ate at Acme was some of the best we have had and the setting is perfect. You will not be disappointed with a visit to Acme. 


 Three Friends and a Fork and this satisfied bunch give Acme Oyster House 3 Beachy Yums UP!

 Acme Chargrilled Oysters

24 freshly shucked oysters
2 bunches green onions, finely chopped
4 sticks of butter
20 cloves of fresh garlic, pureed
2 t. crushed red pepper
3 T. fresh thyme, finely chopped
3 T. fresh oregano, finely chopped
2 T. fresh lemon juice
1 T. Worcestershire sauce
2 T. Creole seasoning
2 oz. white wine
8 oz. grated Romano cheese
2 loaf French bread

Just prior to grilling oysters, take 2 sticks of butter and place over medium heat, bring to a simmer after butter melts. Add green onions, garlic, crushed red pepper, thyme, oregano, lemon juice, Worcestershire and Creole seasoning. Cook 2 minutes and then add white wine. Stir constantly and cook till green onions are soft. Remove from heat and cool for 3 minutes. In a bowl, pour the onion mixture over the remaining 2 sticks of butter. Stir until butter is melted and the sauce is well mixed. Preheat grill to 350 degrees and place freshly shucked oysters on the half shell on the grill. Once the water around the oyster begins to bubble and the oyster begins to rise, ladle 1 T. of the butter garlic sauce on top of each oyster. Top with grated Romano and allow cheese to melt. Serve immediately with remaining sauce and warm French bread for dipping. If you choose to use the sauce with shrimp, I suggest grilling the shrimp in a pan with a little of the sauce and then adding the remaining sauce right before serving. If you don't mind the mess, you will get more flavor by using unpeeled shrimp with the tails on. You will get messy peeling the shrimp after it is swimming in the buttery sauce, but those shells add a lot of flavor to the sauce.

Lima Bean Soup

2 lbs. dried baby lima beans
1 gallon water
1 1/2 lbs. shrimp (60-70 count per pound size)
1 1/2 c. diced onion
1/2 lb. diced tasso
1/2 c. diced green onion
1/4 c. bacon renderings
1/2 c. butter
2 T. chicken base
1/3 c. chopped garlic
1/4 c. chopped parsley
Tony Chachere to taste

Soak lima beans in water overnight. Drain and rinse. In a large Dutch oven, add chopped bacon and butter and simmer. Add tasso and sauté. Add onion and cook until onion begins to caramelize. Add garlic and cook until it begins to sweat. Add onion and parsley. Add shrimp and cook until they begin to turn pink. Add 1 gallon of water and chicken base and bring to a boil. Add lima beans and bring back to a boil. Cover and cook over medium heat until beans are tender. After beans are softened, serve in soup bowls and garnish each serving with diced tomato.

    Sunday, January 22, 2017

    Give Your Tastebuds a Kick at The Southern Kitchen and Bar

    Last year, we enjoyed visiting Bottle and Bone in the Uptown District of Birmingham at the Birmingham Jefferson Civic Center. Bottle and Bone was both butcher shop and restaurant and it was, indeed, wonderful. We were very sad to hear that it had closed. While we don't know why the restaurant closed, one thing we noticed is that there are no retail shops in the district. There are events at the BJCC such as concerts and shows and two large hotels, which would bring in diners, but no shopping. With several other restaurants in the district, we couldn't help but wonder if it was because the crowds just weren't big enough to sustain all the restaurants.  It made us also wonder if retail shops wouldn't add the boost the area might need to bring in the crowds. Uptown District is not the easiest place to get to, located, as it is, under the interstate. Unless someone has tickets to an event at BJCC, you have to make a real effort just to go there to eat. Once there, it would be really nice to have retail stores to add to the experience. Just a thought.


    Recently, we made such an effort to visit another restaurant in Uptown Birmingham to celebrate our niece, Ayla's, birthday. She chose The Southern Kitchen and Bar for her birthday lunch. We visited on a Sunday, so we were there for The Southern's Sunday brunch. The restaurant is open and airy, with a rustic industrial attitude. There is a lot of wood, metal and brick. Light streams in through large garage style windows which can be opened to the patio when weather permits.

    The menu at The Southern is, as you would expect, southern. Biscuits, greens, grits, shrimp, fried chicken and okra find their way into recipes inspired by a variety of southern locales, Nashville, Savannah, New Orleans, Charleston and Fayetteville. One thing I had my heart set on was an appetizer called Cajun Angels, which were bacon wrapped shrimp, blackened and served with New Orleans barbecue sauce. Sadly, we were there on Sunday and the brunch menu did not include Cajun Angels. I was bummed, but decided I would have to come back on a day other than Sunday. 

     Since our party was a large one, we sampled a variety of dishes. Several of the guys got burgers. All of them were served on big brioche buns and they all looked delicious. The Hangover Burger came with a large fried egg on the top.

    The Big Easy was a fried chicken sandwich, also on a fluffy brioche bun, with smoked bacon, arugula and New Orleans barbecue sauce.

    One of the most delicious dishes at The Southern is their interpretation of chicken and waffles. The homemade waffles are topped with perfectly fried chicken and pecan brown sugar and drizzled with jalapeño honey. It is worth a trip to The Southern for this one dish. 

    The Jefferson involves blackened shrimp (or chicken), southern spiced greens, local Alabama gouda grits and a splash of Cajun hot sauce. It is just as amazing as it sounds. 

     Another thing The Southern does particularly well, is their biscuits. I could have eaten a basket of them. The fried chicken biscuit with blackberry jam and gouda grits was a match made in heaven.

    If you happen to be in Birmingham, make the effort to head down to Uptown and visit The Southern. Trust me, it is worth the effort. And if you happen to try the Cajun Angels, let me know what you think. I am still thinking about those angels!

    Three Friends and a Fork give 3 Big Southern Yums UP to The Southern Kitchen and Bar.

    Wednesday, January 18, 2017

    Take a Peek at the Public House in Chattanooga

    Warehouse Row in Chattanooga is a collection of buildings constructed in the early 1900's and restored to house shops, restaurants, lofts and office suites. It is located on Market Street about midway between the Chattanooga Aquarium and the Chattanooga Choo-Choo. Pretty convenient!

    One of our favorite Chattanooga restaurants has found a home in Warehouse Row. The Public House Restaurant combines fine dining in a light, airy, casual setting. The menu could be described as southern with a creative twist. From deviled eggs topped with crunchy bacon brittle to fried chicken brined in sweet tea and chocolate cheesecake infused with Jack Daniel's Tennessee Whiskey, the combinations are fun and fresh and true to their southern roots.

    On a recent trip, we downloaded a few apps from the menu, because we want food and we want it quick and waiting for entrees is difficult for us. We started with the aforementioned deviled eggs. They are perfect even without the sweet bacon on top, but everything is better with pig candy, right? I would like to tell you how good that piggy brittle was, but when I looked down at the egg I had put on my plate, Rob had snatched the bacon right off the top. Note: do not sit by Rob if you don't want to lose your bacon.

    J.D. lobbied for the pecan smoked trout spread with toasted bread and crispy veggies. We all loved it. 

    What is more southern than pimento cheese? Perhaps, pimento cheese paired with fried pickles! Public House's pimento cheese is delicious, not just bound with mayonnaise, but also with cream cheese. The pickles are golden brown, not greasy at all. 

    Hot rolls and whipped butter

    Other menu items are equally inspired. Soups, salads, sandwiches, entrees and small plates, there is something for every appetite. The pot roast is braised with red wine, quail is stuffed with andouille and apples and, as mentioned before, the fried chicken is brined with sweet tea and expertly fried. I find that the small plates are just the right size for me, especially after all the appetizers. The stuffed quail, which comes sitting on a bed of the creamiest grits I have ever tasted,  is one of the small plate selections, as are the sautéed scallops resting atop mashed butternut squash and drizzled with pecan brown butter. The chefs at Public House are adept at cooking seafood and the scallops are no exception. They are plump and tender with a perfectly seared exterior. 

    Can you think of a more southern combination than fried chicken and macaroni and cheese?

    The combination of tender scallops perched on top of butternut squash and bathed in pecan brown butter is divine.

    Crispy quail is inspired when stuffed with andouille and apples. It is incredible when paired with creamy grits.

    The coffee on the menu comes from the Chattanooga Coffee right down the street. I'm not a coffee drinker, but JD said it is really good coffee.

    Jack Daniel's Whiskey is a Tennessee institution, so it is not surprising to find that it has worked it's way onto the menu of a Tennessee restaurant. Public House blends it expertly into their chocolate cheesecake. 

    The next time you are in Chattanooga, check out Public House. I think you will love it as much as we do. 

    Three Friends and a Fork and this satisfied bunch happily give Public House in Chattanooga 3 Imaginative Yums UP!

    Monday, January 16, 2017

    Bountiful Buffet at the Blue Willow Inn

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

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

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


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

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

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

    and homemade desserts galore!

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

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

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