On the Road: The Great Southern Cafe (Summer Brunch 2013)

This summer I got the opportunity to go back to one of my favorite restaurants. The Great Southern Cafe in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. This time the trip was during brunch, so my go-to favorite the “Soul Rolls” wasn’t on the menu. (See my original post about The Great Southern Cafe from 2010) but, I wasn’t deterred. I was just happy to have the opportunity to go back to a place that I thought I would probably never see again. To be quite honest, I had been thinking about it ever since I learned that we’d be going back to the Destin area for a family vacation, months before.

Maybe I was setting myself up…

This time, the trip was lackluster at best. The waitstaff was mediocre and just seemed confused about everything they were doing (never a good sign.) The food was hit-or-miss. Polling the family I got results that spanned the line from delicious to dreadful. I’m not really sure what went wrong. Maybe only the new folks work Sunday brunches, I don’t know. The overall impression I got was that no one really cared.

I really hope that this restaurant isn’t on some downward spiral. I hate it when good places go bad. I’m holding out hope that it was just an “off” day. Every place has those. Sometimes when something little goes wrong it drags everyone down with it. (Ever seen a newscaster flub up on live TV? Watch the rest of them, they’ll all start screwing up after that. It’s a domino effect.)

That being said, if I ever get the chance to go back, I’ll probably skip brunch.

The Great Southern Cafe

83 Central Square, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459



Outside the restaurant


Inside near the bar. The restaurant is only partially enclosed. The bar and half of the seating area are on a covered patio.


Brunch menu. Summer 2013


My son was not as excited about the restaurant as the rest of us were. Well, that and he really likes to play educational games on my wife’s phone.


Mickey Mouse pancakes for my son. He was delighted.


I had “The Fisherman.” Which, to be honest, was sub-standard. The fish was dry and underseasoned. The hollandaise was thin and flavorless (how can hollandaise have no taste of butter nor lemon juice?) The eggs were, well, eggs.. but the gouda grits and biscuit were delicious. I should have nosed further into the menu, but I really had a hankering for a nice piece of fish. Unfortunately they dropped the ball (even if it was a “service” menu item purely to make vacationers happy.)


The winner of the day was my wife’s crab cake and fried green tomato benedict. It had the same bland hollandaise, but the crabcake and fried green tomatoes made up for it.

Southwestern Grits


By popular request, here’s my recipe for Southwestern Grits. (This recipe feeds an army, better grab the “big pot.”)


2 1/4 Cups of Uncooked Grits

1 Can of Chicken Broth (49.5oz)

2 Cans of Chicken Broth (8oz)

1 Can Evaporated Milk

1 Can Rotel (Drained)

1 Can Corn (Drained)

1/2 Can of Chipotles in Adobo (Minced)

1 Bell Pepper (Seeded and Chopped)

1 Medium White Onion (Chopped)

1 Poblano Pepper (Seeded and Diced)

1 tsp Kosher Salt

1 tsp Cracked Black Pepper

4 tbsp Butter (Divided)

1/2 tsp Garlic Powder

1lb Shredded Cheddar

1/2 cup Whole Milk to Thin (if needed)

Start with your pot on medium head an melt 2 tablespoons of the butter to coat the bottom. Saute the green pepprer, poblano, and onion until softened. Bring the heat to medium-high and add the rotel, corn, and chipotles in adobo. Continue to saute until fragrant (about 5 minutes.) Pour all three cans of the chicken broth into the pan and make sure to to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom. Add the evaporated milk, salt, pepper, garlic powder and the remainder of the butter and bring the pot to a boil. Once boiling, hold the pot at a boil for 5-7 minutes before adding the grits. Cook grits according to package directions. Once they have cooked completely you might need to add up to a 1/2 cup of whole milk to achieve the consistency you desire. Lastly, mix the cheddar in one palmful at a time until incorporated. Serve immediately.

Snapshots From Summer

Here’s a few snapshots from this summer. No photoshopping, fancy angles, or tilt-shifts. Just snippets that were documented for the sake of minutiae.


20120930-232756.jpgIrish, Red, and Yukon Gold potatoes

20120930-232838.jpgMy Uncle and son sitting on one of the tractors

20120930-232907.jpgParadicsom Alaku Sarga Szentes pepper. Also called the “Hungarian Pumpkin Pepper.”

20120930-232923.jpg“Exotic” peppers for this season. Pasilla Bajio, Paradicsom Alaku Sarga Szentes, Shishito & Friariello Di Napoli

20120930-232939.jpg“Family-sized” sweet potato.

20120930-232954.jpgA beautiful flower that I have no clue how to identify.

20120930-233011.jpgMore unidentified flowers. (My grandmother will kill me for not knowing what all of these flowers are.)

20120930-233105.jpgMy grandmother’s stove. Inspiration for “The Southern Table.” We were having an afternoon fish fry. My grandparents did a traditional cornmeal batter. I went with a beer batter. My grandfather and I fried the fish in the outside cooker. The hush puppies were done by my grandmother in the skillet you see here. “Why?” You may ask. She doesn’t think my grandfather or I will cook them right. So, naturally, we drew “fish-duty.”

20120930-233126.jpg My stove. Where “The Southern Table” becomes a reality. This particular morning, my son and I decided to cook breakfast while my wife slept in. He’s out of frame, to my right, in his high chair.

Poor-Man’s Gravy

Image Credit: visualrecipes.com

Red Eye Gravy or “Poor-man’s Gravy.” It’s a term, to me, that is a complete misnomer. It shines a negative light on a food tradition that is uniquely southern, and exceptionally positive in nature. I submit this, to you the reader. In a world where we revere French cuisine. Especially, as of late, the “humble working-man’s faire” attributed to the modern revival of French haute. So why do we hold with such reverence a style of cooking that stems from the lowest caste of French society, while insulting the simple goodness of another? Why is it that roasting beef bones for marrow, or tourneing vegetables is considered “humble working-man’s faire,” but using the “leftovers” of a southern breakfast to make something wonderful is characterized as something only a poor man would do.

Maybe it’s how we’ve become a society fascinated by cuisine… everywhere but here. We are amazed at someones ability to take scrap, bones and varietal cuts of meat and make amazing dishes (as long as they live somewhere else.) So while the rest of the world turns their eyes somewhere else, to experience the “something from nothing” cooking that is so popular as of late, what do southerners do at the mention of “Poor-man’s gravy?”

They absolutely flip out over it.

Take my advice, if you ever make this stuff, keep your hands away from the inside of the bowl when placing it on a table (especially if your family/friends/guests are already seated.) Not for sanitary reasons, but because you might lose the offending digit in the scramble. Southerners fall on Red-eye gravy like ravenous vultures, dipping, spooning, pouring and sopping. A veritable feeding frenzy at the breakfast table.

For the displaced southerner, It can be especially helpful for finding the uninitiated amongst a group of people, like an inside joke or a secret society. It’s the same scenario every time around. A bowl of the dark, greasy, viscous liquid is placed on a table and looks of confusion and repugnance wave of the faces of those oblivious to it’s charms. But for those who know, pure elation. Their eyes light up, their heart starts racing, and their face becomes awash in notions of reminiscence and unctuous pleasure.

Rightfully so, I might add. That “dark, greasy, viscous liquid” I mentioned earlier, is an explosion of simple flavors bound in a complex way (a metaphor for southern cooking?) The recipe, which I’ve wit held until now for purposes of drama and storytelling, is a prime example of making something amazing from scrap:

Country ham drippings and black coffee.

Yes, that’s all.

Though some may turn their nose up at the notion of gravy tasting like salty pork fat, bitter coffee and acidic undertones, the actual product is a complex and wonderful marriage of flavors.

Red-Eye Gravy

In a cast iron skillet, or heavy bottomed non-stick skillet, brown a few slices of thick Country Ham (or any salt cured ham) reserving as much of the drippings in the pan as possible.

Remove the ham slices and place on a serving dish to hold until later.

Drain the pan juices into a serving bowl, and cover them to keep warm. Do not attempt to scrape the pan, we’ll need those bits in the next step.

Deglaze the pan with just enough coffee to fill the bottom and give room to scrape up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. (Usually 8-12oz.)

Simmer for one to two minutes, or until the coffee comes to temperature.

Remove the cover on the bowl of reserved drippings, and pour your coffee mixture into the bowl.

Serve immediately.

Don’t be afraid of the fact that the mixture stays separated, it’s supposed to (that’s where the “eye” in the name comes from.)