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

850-231-7327

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Outside the restaurant

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

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Brunch menu. Summer 2013

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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.

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Mickey Mouse pancakes for my son. He was delighted.

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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.)

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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.




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West Indies Salad

West Indies Salad: Courtesy Tie Dye Travels @ Blogspot

No, that’s not a typo. This article is about “West Indies Salad.”

Wait! Don’t leave! I promise we haven’t had a format change!

Believe it or not, this is a southern recipe. “West Indies Salad” is a regional favorite dish of the coastal lowlands, especially in Alabama. The dish is a success story of how a restaurateur can profit from an overabundance of ingredients when combined with a clever marketing strategy.

In 1947, Mobile, Alabama restaurateur Bill Bayley, combined his love for Cucumbers and Onions marinated in oil & vinegar, with the plentiful supply of blue crabs that make their home on Alabama’s beautiful gulf coast. Heralded in legend as the first man to batter and fry blue crab claws into the miniature drumstick-esque finger food that is sold coast-to-coast in the US today, Bayley needed more dishes to make use of the lump meat. The popular, if not cliche, mayo-based crab salad, and crab omelet (a transplanted staple of the Louisiana coast,) were sold by every self-respecting seafood shop in the low country. So Bayley combined the crab meat with cider vinegar, onion, oil and cold water, and named his concoction “West Indies Salad.” Evoking the idea, in the minds of his customers, of this dish’s root as a byproduct of the exotic West Indies.
Bayley’s customer’s were head-over-heels for it. They bought into the mindset with fervor, and made the dish as famous as its namesake. Soon, restaurants across the southeast were copying it, and cementing it into the culture. It ceased to be a proprietary dish, and became a staple.

Now, 63 years later, it’s still one of the most popular dishes at southern seafood shacks, and considered to be a measuring stick by which they are measured. Oddly enough, “West Indies Salad” is one of the few dishes in my travels that hasn’t been modified very much. It’s very rare that a dish survives this long without someone changing the ingredients, or adding to the base recipe. The simple salad, stays the same, spanning the generations. The only variable’s I’ve ever noticed is the occasional inclusion of lemon, the change in marinating time, or the modification of ingredient ratio (which usually does nothing more than making the dish a bit wetter or drier.)

West Indies Salad

1 small Vidalia onion, peeled and diced
1 lb. jumbo lump crabmeat (watch for shell pieces)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
6 tbsp. cider vinegar
1/2 cup of ice cold water


Mix all ingredients in a non-reactive bowl, and refrigerate.

To achieve the optimum combination of sweet, acidic, and aromatic flavors, the marinating process is a must. However, depending on how long you marinate, the flavor of the salad can be altered to suit your preference Two hours is the bare minimum. This minimizes the onion flavor while bringing the acidic bite of the vinegar out to counteract the crabs sweetness. Twelve hours mutes the vinegar slightly, while bringing the onion to the forefront. A full day marinade is the most balanced as far as the onion and vinegar go, but the crabs sweetness tends to get lost.

Serve cold, with saltine crackers, and a glass of sweet tea.