On the Road: Hooks Bar-B-Q

A nice enough little barbecue join in tiny Opp, Alabama. While headed home from our family vacation we pulled off here to grab a bite for lunch. It’s everything you want in a smoke shack. Wooden tables, house made sauces, big portions, decent prices. If I’m ever in the area I’ll stop again.

Also, there was a menu board that had Korean Hangul script on it (I think it’s Korean Hangul, forgive me if I’m wrong. Better yet, correct me in the comments and I’ll fix it!) That’s not something you see everyday when you’re ordering pulled pork. If anyone knows why this place has the board, let me know please! (I find it really cool and quirky; purely because it’s so out-of-the-ordinary for Alabama.)

Hooks Bar-B-Q

601 Highway 331 S

Opp, AL 36467

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Hooks Bar-B-Q

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Pulled pork, spicy sauce, beans, potato salad.

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Shot of the staff and English menu. Love the wooden walls.

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Korean Hangul? Help!

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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.




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: Sam’s House Memphis-Style Barbecue and Blues

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Sam’s house was a decent little barbecue joint in Carrollton, GA that some friends and I stopped by on the way back from a wedding.

No photos of the food, because we ate on the road. The pictures I took on the inside were purely out of boredom.

Things were moving kinda slow that day.

My only thought was how decidedly un “Memphis-like” the barbecue was. No dry rub to be found. Plus, the sauce was on the redder side of KC sauces & full of black pepper. (This seems to be a growing trend in Georgia. I blame Williamson Brothers.

Nonetheless, good stuff. I’d stop by again.

Decor was “Blues Hall” all the way. Hanging instruments and colorful walls. It definitely had “the look.”

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One of my dining companions. Bored and hungry.

108 Alabama Street
Carrollton, GA 30117

On the Road: The Hungry Owl

The Hungry Owl

They make burgers here stuffed with the “Cajun Trinity” and Conecuh Sausage.

Conecuh. Sausage. Stuffed. Burgers.

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There’s a shot if my “Ultimate Stuffed Tony Burger.” Details below.

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That’s all I’m writing. Seriously. If that’s not enough to convince you to drive to Mobile Alabama right now, you have my pity.

Address:

7899 Cottage Hill Road, Mobile, AL

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

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