Slap-together Chicken & Dumplings

Making things from scratch is a wonderful thing. All the time, love, and passion that goes in to taking base ingredients and molding them into a completed dish is something to be respected and revered.

I didn’t feel like doing all that work. I wanted to plop stuff into a pot, and boil it off.

So, here we go. Slap-together chicken and dumplings.

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I took a picture of some of the ingredients. Not sure why. I was pretty sleepy.

5(ish) pounds of boneless-skinless chicken thighs.

3 32oz tetrapacks of low-sodium chicken broth

1 26oz can of cream of chicken soup

1 10oz can of cream of mushroom with roasted garlic soup (couldn’t hurt right?)

2 large cans of “Grands” style buttermilk biscuits

1/2 cup AP flour

1/4 cup oil (olive/canola/blended/whatever)

2 TBSP butter or margarine

1 TBSP dried thyme (divided)

1 TSP dried parsely

1 TSP ground black pepper  (divided)

1TSP seasoned salt

1/2 TSP hot sauce (Tabasco/Texas Pete/Crystal/Louisiana/whatever)

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Rinse chicken and pat dry. Trim any excess fat that hangs off. Drop the thighs into a bowl and coat them with the oil making sure to get all pieces equally covered.

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Place them cut-side down on a sheet pan (foiled if you want) making sure to roll them back into their standard thigh shape. Keep the chicken as uniform in size as possible (that’ll make it cook more evenly.)

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Sprinkle the chicken with all of the seasoned salt, half the thyme, and half the black pepper.

(Here’s a few more shots of raw chicken and seasonings for absolutely no reason. Did I mention I was sleepy? Also, I’m a crap photographer that likes to play with his cellphone camera.)

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Preheat the oven to 425. Once it’s up to temp, bake the chicken for 20-30 min or until internal temp is 160 degrees.

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While the chicken is baking fill a large stock pot with all of the broth, both cans of soup, hot sauce, and the remainder of the spices. Make sure there’s at lease half a pot of room left for the chicken and dumplings. Cover, set on med-high heat and bring to a boil.

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While our pot is heating up and the chicken is baking, lets make some dumplings. Put your 1/2 cup of AP flour into a bowl large enough to do some coating.

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Pop the biscuits and separate. Cut each biscuit into 4 equal pieces.

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Then drop them into the flour.

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…and shake until evenly coated. Remove and reserve for later.

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The flour will help thicken the stew as well as keep the dumplings from sticking together during the cooking process.

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Chicken’s done! Let it rest for 20 minutes. No touchy.

(Here’s another picture of chicken. Randomness.)

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Once it’s rested, get to chopping. Nice big chunks. Set these aside.

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Pot should be boiling now. Add the dumplings a handful at the time until they’re all in there. You’ll probably have to sink them down with a spoon, but, be gentle. We don’t want them broken up. Bring the pot back to a boil and reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and cook for 15-20 minutes or until dumplings are cooked through.

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Once the dumplings have finished, add your butter and chopped chicken and stir lightly. After 3 minutes on the heat, cut the eye off and let sit for 5 minutes. By then the chicken should be warmed back through and you’re ready to serve.

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Hmmm… never noticed that sticker on my big plastic spoon. Wonder what it’s made of? It’s survived about 300 trips through the dishwasher…

Anyways, Happy eating.

TST

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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.




New Addition

Well this opens up all sorts of opportunities… I stuck my old Garlock big dial thermometer in the dome for the heck of it. I might just tap and mount it on the lower rack to have an idea of how the heat varies between the upper and lower.

Thanks to my in-laws for a lovely Christmas gift.

Let’s burn some meat!
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Southwestern Grits

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

Ingredients:

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.

On the Road: Woody’s Southland Restaurant

Woody’s Southland has been a staple of my family for three (now four) generations. First opened in 1947, the restaurant has changed locations, owners, and menu’s multiple times. But it’s current iteration, opened in 1989 has been one of my personal favorite haunts for nearly all of my life. For the uninitiated, I suggest ordering a hamburger steak and cheese stuffed potato (Woody’s signature dish.) Also, don’t miss out on their famous steak sauce (a sweet and tangy barbecue sauce) as well as their salad bar, complete with a basketball goal sized wheel of cheddar for customers to slice cheese off of at will.

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Woody’s Signature Sauce

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Hamburger Steak and Cheese Stuffed Potato

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Cheesy Potato Awesomness

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Steak and Sauce

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Generation #4 Sizing Up the Competition

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Success!

Woody’s Southland Restaurant

5388 Skyland Boulevard East

Cottondale, Alabama 35453

Phone: 205-556-3070

On The Road: Catfish Heaven

A hidden gem in Tuscaloosa. The interior is small, and the decor sparse, but that really doesnt matter. The food speaks for itself. A simple, good thing.

Not in the mood for catfish? They also have trout, pork chops, and hot wings.

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A note on the image above. Years ago a dear friend of mine introduced me to eating catfish the “right way.” Ketchup, Mustard, and Louisiana Hot sauce. I’ve eaten catfish that way ever since.

Thanks Rich!

Catfish Heaven
2502 21st St Tuscaloosa, AL 35401

On the Road: Arthur Bryant’s, Kansas City

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On a trip out of town to attend the wedding of a childhood friend, my traveling companions and I decided to make a pit stop during our 13hr trek and eat at one of Kansas City’s most famous landmarks.

…Well, that’s not exactly the truth. The truth is about a month before we went I suggested that we stop off for Arthur Bryant’s because people keep raving about how amazing the place is, and we were driving smack dab through the city that it’s in.

Ok, more truth. I didn’t suggest. I begged. I begged like a starving dog.

Don’t judge me.

Anyways, it paid off. It’s everything that I wanted in an old-school BBQ joint. Old chairs, formica tables, meat, bread, beans, fries, pickles and sweet tea (who knew you could get sweet tea in Kansas?) We got there a little too early and subsequently the ribs weren’t ready yet, so we all settled for a combo of burnt ends, and one other item off of the menu. I went for the sausage, and was honestly a little perplexed when my lunch was passed around the corner to me. I was expecting link smoked sausage. What I got was what I initially thought was sliced pork shoulder. On closer inspection however, I discovered that I had actually gotten the sausage I ordered. Thinly sliced off of a larger roll, the sausage is smoky, peppery, and has a mild tang. Think highly smoked salami. It was wonderful. As was the pulled pork and brisket that my companions had purchased.

The star of the show, was of course, the burnt ends. Melt in your mouth, super smoky & slightly charred.

Unfortunately the picture above of my burnt ends and sausage combo just doesn’t do it justice. My original “A” shot was just a bit too blurry to post, so I had to skip it for the “B” shot.

As far as sauces go, Arthur Bryant’s sauce is world famous. Partially for tasting like no other BBQ sauce I’ve ever had. It’s, in a word, gritty. Probably a blend of liquids and dry rub. Plus there’s quite a bit of sour tang to it. Personally, I think it does the trick when being slathered on for cooking. The spices help accent the smoky flavor of the meat. It’s just not my favorite for cold-pouring on meat.

Both my companions and myself leaned toward the more “KC-like” AB Sweet Heat or AB Rich and Spicy sauce for pouring and dipping, but, to each his own.

In summary,  Arthur Bryant’s is a top-notch “worth the drive” BBQ destination. Get the burnt ends, they’re life-changing.

If I ever get to go back to KC, I’ll try to hit Oklahoma Joes or some of the other KC hotspots.

Thanks for reading!

TST

Low Country Boil

 

 

The Boil Plate

Typical Boil Plate

It’s that time of year again. The time when the glitz and glamor of the holidays has finally subsided. No longer do we crave chestnuts roasting on an open fire, or dream of a fat elf wiggling down our collective chimneys. Gone are the heartwarming thoughts of snow covered pine trees, or being bundled up to watch New Years Eve fireworks. The doldrums of Old Man Winter’s season has finally arrived.
The cold weather that bites at us on an almost daily basis (this is the south, after all) is now more an annoyance, than something to be looked at with reverie. We have no purpose for this cold now, no Thanksgiving to look forward to. No Christmastime cheer to lighten our hearts when facing temperatures that plummet. No reason to be bundled up all “cozy and warm” with good cheer to spend toward our fellow man.
But, we do have one thing.

Now every good southerner, boy and girl, young and old, tall and small, lie down at night and dream of one thing. The thing that gets us through these cold days better than any. The yearning and pleading that starts it’s prophetic rise on January 2nd, and burns within us like a fire that cannot be quenched. United in purpose, we suffer on though these cold months, with only one goal in mind:

 

We’re ready to go to the BEACH!
We’re ready to fry our bodies on the UV drenched, man made, sugar-white sand beaches of the southern coast! We’re ready to swim in jellyfish infested waters! We’re ready to visit tourist trap venues, and play putt-putt golf! We’re ready to drink canned beer (glass bottles are prohibited, you know!) We’re ready to eat over priced, over fried, previously frozen fish, all in the name of “supporting the local economy!”

Well, everything but that last part. I personally can’t stand some of the food found on the southern coastline. Mostly because the vast majority of the seafood in your “Admiral’s Basket” was “fresh caught from the freezer section THIS VERY MORNING!” Not to mention the cocktail sauce came in a five gallon bucket from Kraft Foods!

“So,” you must be saying to yourself, “Mr. Holier-Than-Thou blogger, what do YOU like to eat at the beach? What Suits YOUR fancy?”

I prefer my seafood boiled. More specifically, I like Low-Country Boils (as if you already haven’t figured that out, by now).

And I especially like having them now, when the weather is cold (makes me think of warmer climes, you know?)

The perfect one-pot-wonder that is as versatile as it is easy to prepare. Make it outdoors with a giant pot and a propane fish cooker, or make it indoors in a boiler with a stove top. Feed 5 or 50 make it mild, medium, hot, nuclear, melt-my-face-off or whatever suits you.

Now, to the uninitiated, cooking a boil may seem like a huge undertaking, that takes skill, patience, and years of practice. In truth, all it takes is know how to chunk things in a pot, at the right time, without boiling it over. (And a little common sense for good measure.)

 

Low Country Boil

*The traditional recipe calls for The pre-boil ingredients, potatoes, corn, sausage and shrimp. Please note that ingredients for this dish are not based on certain amounts. However they are based on how much you and your guests can eat. I usually account for two potatoes, one piece of corn, one piece of sausage, and 1/4 pound of shrimp per serving.

The following table represents ingredient ideas as well as approximate cooking times.

Pre-Boil Dry Crab Boil (2 tsp/liter)Liquid Crab Boil (1 tsp/liter)

Crab Boil-In-Bag (2 tbsp/liter)

Lemon Wedges (1 wedge/liter)

Fill pot to just over 1/2, add spices and bring to boil. I split the boil-in-bag open, and let the spices in it boil out in the open. Once cooked, the seeds and spices coat the seafood, and make a tasty addition to the finished product. Be aware that liquid and dry crab boil is very potent, and quite spicy. If some people would like a spicier boil, see my note below. Make sure to account for the amount of total ingredients you’ll be placing in the pot. Remember, it’s much easier to add water (if there’s too little,) than take away (if there’s too much)
Stage 1 Red Potatoes (Of similar size) Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 20 minutes (small potatoes) or 30 minutes (larger potatoes), or until potatoes are almost fork tender.
Stage 2 Cased Sausage (cut into links)

Corn-on-the-Cob (small cobs)

Mushrooms

Onions (pearl, or wedged)

Whole Garlic Cloves (peeled)

Add to boiling water. Return to boil, and cook for 10 minutes.
Stage 3 Shrimp

Crawfish (burped)

Crab

Mussels

Clams (bearded)

Small Whole Fish (prepared)

Add to boiling water. Cook based on cooking time for individual item.Shrimp: 5 min

Crawfish: 5min

Crab: 10-15min

Mussels: 5-7min

Clams: 6-8 min

All said, you want your boil to cook for between 35 & 45 minutes based on the thickness of your potatoes, and the stage three items you want to add. (Planning ahead, and doing a little cooking time math sheet will go a long way in having a successful boil.

One the boil is over, allow the items to cool in the pot for at least 10 minutes. This is called “resting” and allows the stage three items a chance to absorb some of the seasonings that are floating on the top of your boil water. This is also the time to have a side pot ready for those who would like spicier seafood.

To make a side pot, pre-boil a mix of liquid and dry crab boil in a smaller side pot, and use double the standard proportions (or more if you know what you’re doing.) Then, once the boil is finished, transfer the seafood that needs to be spicier to this pot, and allow it to rest in it. The heat will ramp up significantly, based on the amount of seasoning you use.

Finished Boil

The Finished "Stove Top Boil"

Serve with my “Better than the Bottled Crap” Cocktail Sauce:

3/4 cup Ketchup (more/less for spicier/milder sauce)
2 tbsp Prepared Horseradish
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
1.5 tsp Worcestershire Sauce
1/2 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
Juice of 1/2 of a medium lemon

Mix, chill and serve.

As a final note, The traditional way to serve (when outdoors) is to drain the pot, spread out old newspapers on a table, and dump the whole lot in the middle. However, I find that straining ladles, and paper plates work just fine. Just, omit the plastic ware. You are supposed to be on the beach, remember? Just eat with your hands, and dream of July.

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.

The Great Southern Café: Nouveau Southern Cuisine at it’s Finest

Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

“Pleasantly surprised” is generally an oft overused term. It’s one, in all honesty, that I rarely ever use. I’m someone who’s very adept at figuring out a lot about a person, or a place within a few minutes of contact. I’m very big on first impressions and for the most part, my initial observations pan out into what I expect them to. So, while on vacation with my wife’s family in Seaside, Florida, I was told that we were going to visit a “wonderful little café nearby.” The foodie in me was was excited about this thought, but I was a bit hesitant. Seaside Florida, and the Santa Rosa Beach area, are a mix of little coastal resort towns. Built in their own style, spacing, and architecture. So, while I like the resort town feel, I’m usually quite hesitant of the food in resort areas because, in my experience, it tends to be a bit cookie-cutter. I’ve seen far too many “Catch of the day” places with frilly descriptions, and even frillier prices.

So, when I walked up the entrance way, and saw “Great Southern Café” hanging above the porch seating area, I went from being slightly reserved, to very reserved.

The sign might as well have said: “FRILLY LABELED SOUTHERN FOOD, EXTREME PRICES” Because, that’s what I was thinking. I could just imagine every dish, labeled with some notion designed to relate to nostalgic antiquity, mixed with words someone googled while they were writing out the menu. “Aunt Edna’s Green Beans $9, Uncle Lou’s Potatoes Dauphinoise $11 (since every good southerner knows what a dauphinoise is, right?) So, resigned to my fate, I followed our group in, expecting to take one look at the menu, snicker, and order a burger (Grandpa Jimbob’s Country Backyard Burger!)

Oh man… I was SO. VERY. WRONG. The food was unbelievable.

After being seated in the open air porch-like dining area, our waitress followed the de rigueur protocols of seating, menu, drink orders, etc. In which, as per usual, I don’t look at the menu until everyone at the table has ordered drinks, and the waitress/waiter returns to the back to start preparing them. I’ve always felt it’s necessary to pay attention to the waitstaff, and to be as polite as possible. They have tough jobs, and it would honestly bother me if I was working the table, and all the guests wanted to do was bury there nose in the menu and not even bat an eye in my direction.

So, with our waitress walking back to the prep area, I take a look at the menu. I reach up to brush something off of my nose, and realize that it’s the floor.

I’ve fainted.

Due, in part, to the giant plate of crow that I’m now having to eat. The menu is incredible. It’s exactly what my mind thinks of when I describe nouvueau southern food. Grits á Ya Ya, Oysters Arcadia, Pecan Crusted Fish (of the day!) Bourbon Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Fried Green Tomatoes with Remoulade, Strawberry Cobia Salad, Blueberry BBQ Spareribs, Soul Rolls… wait, what? SOUL ROLLS? What the heck is a Soul Roll?!?

From the Great Southern Café menu:

S o u l R o l l s
Chicken and collard greens in a crisp wrapper with peach chutney,
horseradish cream, and creole mustard

Uhh… Yes, please! I”ll have two orders of those, one for now, and one for later!

All kidding aside, the soul rolls were one of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. The flavors were superbly balanced (yes, chutney, mustard, and horseradish cream DO work together) and artfully prepared. The dish was, in a word, beautiful. In fact, every dish coming out of the kitchen was beautiful. (They have a habit of topping some of their dishes with angel-hair-thin, crispy fried sweet potato curls. Light, crispy, and colorful! Why did I never think of that!?!)

Chef and co-owner Jim Shirley is a restaurant veteran, and obviously someone who’s in love with food. Not only does the restaurant use fresh ingredients, they also focus on local suppliers and cross promote them to help build interest in their products. Here’s an excerpt from a recipe on the Café’s website (Yes, you read that right, they give away recipes too!)

Sweet Home Farm Fondue

Chef’s Narrative: Just across the state line, in Elberta, Ala., lies a countryside culinary jewel called Sweet Home Farm, where a family of cheese makers produces some of the best-tasting organic cheese in the country. This Grade A dairy, with the help of a herd of Guernsey cows, produces and sells 16 varieties of all-natural raw-milk cheese. These wonderful cheeses are worth the trip and are great for this spicy fondue.

Seriously folks. You can’t get any better than this. Great ingredients, wonderful food, community involvement, and recipe distribution. Very few places in the world do all of these things as well as they do at the Great Southern Café. This place is definitely worth the drive, the time and the money. If you have an opportunity to go, don’t skip out. You’ll be pleasantly surprised too.

The Great Southern Café

83 Central Sq

Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459

(850) 231-7327

Here’s a few shots from the website to tempt you:

Chocolate Shrimp - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

Grits á Ya Ya - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

Pot Pie - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

mato, Butter Bean, Corn Salad - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

Strawberry Cobia Salad - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com

Spareribs with Blueberry BBQ Sauce - Image Credit: thegreatsoutherncafe.com