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Thursday, July 20, 2017

Tomatoes on the attack

In 1978, the low-budget science-fiction film “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes” was a hit among young moviegoers. The film was a spoof on the horror and sci-fi genre movies of that time and featured monstrous tomatoes revolting against humans, killing them off one by one.

Today, however, tomatoes are highly regarded in helping humans in battling a barrage of diseases. Prostate and breast cancer, surprisingly, top the list.
Research indicates that tomatoes contain lycopene, which scientists consider to be a strong antioxidant.

“Several studies have shown that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, soy, fiber, lycopene — which you find in tomatoes — and the omega-3 fatty acids reduces the risk of both breast cancer and prostate cancer,” Dr. Dean Ornish, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of California San Francisco, reported when speaking about the benefits of a more plant-based diet while in Savannah in November of 2016. “These diets contain a lot of naturally occurring antioxidants that, combined with physical activity, have been shown to reduce what is called oxidative stress.”

Ornish has spent decades researching the benefits of lifestyle changes, including a plant-based diet rich in foods that contain lycopene and other antioxidants, in reducing or completely eliminating chronic illnesses.

Dr. Edward Giovannucci, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said the lycopene found in tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables is a carotenoid, a family of pigments that give fruits and vegetables their bright red, orange and yellow coloring.

In 2002, Giovannucci published his research findings in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute confirming that frequent tomato or lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer. His research also found that lycopene intake was associated with a reduced risk of prostate cancer and that intake of tomato sauce, the primary source of bioavailable lycopene, was associated with an even greater reduction in prostate cancer risk.

More recently, a team of Finnish researchers published a report in the journal Neurology stating that lycopene decreases the risk of stroke in men. The report was published in October 2012 and was based on research following more than 1,000 men over a period of 12 years.

Dr. Andrew Weil is an American physician, teacher and author on holistic health and the founder and director of the Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona. He spoke at the November lecture in Savannah. Weil reported that research shows lycopene may help prevent heart disease, atherosclerosis and breast and prostate cancers. He said it also may be the most powerful carotenoid against singlet oxygen, a highly reactive oxygen molecule and a primary cause of premature skin aging.

Samantha Heller, a registered dietitian and frequent contributor to “The Dr. Oz Show,” said lycopene also is found in pink grapefruit, watermelon and guava. She agrees that it helps with premature skin aging and helps reduce the risk of sunburn.
“It helps protect the skin against the ultraviolet rays that cause sunburn and premature aging,” she reported on, adding that folks should still apply sunscreen.

Weil noted that despite being red, strawberries and cherries do not contain lycopene. It is found in watermelons and other fruits and vegetables, he said, just not in the amount found in tomatoes.

Like Giovannucci, Weil said the cooking process makes the lycopene more bio-available and accounts for 85 percent of how Americans take in lycopene in their diets.
Giovannucci recommends at least 10 milligrams of lycopene per day and said that because lycopene is a fat-soluble nutrient, it is best taken when combined with some form of healthy fat.

For example, he reported that when cooking a tomato sauce, adding a little oil adds flavor and the fat needed for the lycopene to be absorbed in the body. He added that getting the recommended amount is not that difficult. A one-cup can of pure tomato juice contains 21,960 micrograms — nearly 22 milligrams — of lycopene.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Yep I could eat this 30 days in a row

If you had to eat the same meal for 30 days what would you choose?

OMG; decisions, decisions.

See, I can actually do this. If I had to live on chicken soup, or say chili, or fried chicken for 30 days, no problem. Better yet tell me I can only eat ice cream and I’ll make it work for breakfast, lunch and dinner — EASY.

Oh, 30 days’ worth of Lowcountry boils. YES, please!

Wait! Pizza, yes by gosh. Pizza is definitely something I do for more than 30 days.

Let’s see, what else would I possibly consider? Hmm.

It would be easy to pick something like tacos (way too easy). As much as I like hot dogs I’m not sure I could commit to that for 30 days straight.

I think I would stick to something from my childhood. Something I asked my mom to make nearly every day.

Bistec de palomilla, con arroz y frijoles negros! (Palomilla steak with white rice and black beans).

Mouthwateringly delicious to even think about.

A palomilla steak is just top-round or a sirloin cut. The magic is that it is thinly sliced (or pounded thin, a quarter inch or less). It is marinated in lime, juice, garlic salt and pepper.

I let mine marinate overnight, but setting it aside for 30 minutes will do if you’re in a pinch. When it’s time to cook, you just need a little olive oil to pan fry the steak.

Traditionally a palomilla steak is served with finely minced raw onions and cilantro and a squeeze of lime juice (the flavor of the finely minced raw onion and cilantro adds a little texture and bite to the meal). I also like my steak topped off with caramelized grilled onions.

My mom would make the black beans from scratch which takes two days. I tend to cheat when making my black beans. But you can develop great black beans from canned options if you add the right spices. I’ve used the large can of Bush’s Black beans and have been successful in duplicating the flavor of mom’s real deal.

Add half a can of water in the pot, 2 bay leaves, cumin, salt, pepper, Badia complete seasoning (it’s like the powdered spice form of mojo), a little touch of red wine and a dash of red pepper flake. Bring it to a boil then turn the heat to medium-low or low to simmer. Let those flavors marry for at least 30 minutes.

I have my rice ready in my rice cooker.

The thin steak is tender and juicy. I plate up some rice and pour any remaining cooking oil over it. Then I pour a big scoop of black beans over my rice.


Yes I could eat that every day!

Option B would be serving that Palomilla topped with a mountain of thinly cut fries (and I mean thin, think potato stick fries).


OMG, there used to be a restaurant in Miami that was famous for palomilla steak and fries. Lila’s steakhouse. The pile of fries was stacked so high you had to search for your steak underneath. The fries would soak up the luscious steak gravy. Ahhh, I can taste it now.

Okay I could eat my palomilla meals for 30 days, and plan to…starting TONIGHT!

What would you choose for your 30 day meal?

Friday, June 30, 2017

Daufuskie Island Rum Company

This story was originally printed in the Dec./Jan. 2015 edition of Liberty Life Magazine.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company will be celebrating their first year in business this December and owners Anthony Chase and his newlywed wife Kristi are still in awe of just how successful their little venture has become.
During a somewhat rainy October afternoon, Chase greets a group of visitors who came to tour his 1,500 square foot business and distillery. He glances at the large group gathered in the foyer and can barely contain his excitement.
“Those push pins represent where people live right now and we’ve had visitors from 48 different states already,” Chase says pointing to two different maps on the wall of his tasting room.

He says they are only missing guests from South Dakota and Alaska. “And we’ve already had visitors from 38 different countries as well,” he adds. “It’s been pretty remarkable to see the number of people who actually come to Daufuskie Island…we have about 300 people who live on the island full time but we get about 100,000 visitors a year.”
Many of those visitors have made their way to the distillery where Chase, a former Pharmacist and Hospice Program Manager, has turned his modest dream into a bursting reality.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company started out simple enough.
“We opened on Dec. 23, 2014 with the white rum. On April 11, 2015 we had a launch party for our spice rum, we called it our get spicy party and we had live music and about 300 people here. On the Fourth of July we released our gold rum and that is what is aging in these bourbon reserve barrels,” he says leading the group into the distillery.
Chase says he was happy managing hospice programs across the country. Leaving hospice behind to open a rum company wasn’t his original plan when he and his wife searched for an island home.
“Kristi and I started looking for a beach house and we were going to use it just intermittingly until it came time to retire,” Chase says adding they were both still quite happy with the Kentucky farm home they lived in for many years.

The couple searched for a place on Zillow and came across the listing for the Daufuskie Island property.
Chase laughs, his blue eyes sparkle and he strokes his short white beard commiserating on how neither of them had ever set foot on Daufuskie Island in their life. But, while looking at the property photos online, they decided to make an offer, sight unseen.
“And the offer was accepted,” he says with a smile admitting, at that moment, they weren’t quite sure what they were about to get themselves into. “We came down the following week on a Thursday and stayed until Monday.”
After a few more short visits the couple fell in love with Daufuskie, leased out their farm in Kentucky and became full time island residents.
“I am a bourbon guy,” Chase says about his Kentucky heritage. “And bourbon is meant to be made in Kentucky. But to me, rum is an island since I live on an island, and a somewhat remote island, I felt like making rum was the right thing to do,” he adds with a laugh and admits he thinks he is finally putting his Pharmacology degree to good use.

Between tours, Chase looks out the front porch across the pond at the open and welcoming setting he created. The rum distillery looks like a country store, meticulously decorated to include a tin roof and rocking chairs outside the front porch.
He says he purchased 12.4 acres. The wondrous scenery of the pond, ducks and trees is much different from what the land originally looked like.
“When we got this it was pretty much a junk yard and what it was once used for was for an incineration station and a dump site,” he recalls. “It took us weeks to clear out that wide open space. And we’ve cleaned it up to this park-like setting.”
Chase says he takes pride in making a good product for more reasons than a good tasting drink.
“I am an army brat,” Chase says with admiration. “I grew up all over the country. Both my mother and my father were in the army and I wanted to make sure that everything that touched our rum was made in America.”

In order to do so Chase had his distillation units made in Alabama instead of Europe, uses all natural ingredients only grown in the United States and went through the Made in the USA Certification process.
“And they certified us with 100 percent US content,” he says adding that it also was fitting that his latest product, the reserve gold rum, became available for sale on the Fourth of July of 2015.
“We had roughly 350 people here for the gold rum launch party and sold 213 bottles at the event,” he says still sounding surprised. “We thought it was going to be about 34 percent of our business, it turned out to be 50 percent.”
Chase leads the group from the first room of the distillery, which is lined with bourbon barrels filled with rum and stacked three levels high. The group walks a few feet into the back room where the rum is actually made and Chase explains the process.

Chase says all rums start out as white rum and all are made with only three ingredients the most important being sugar.
“It has to be a sugar cane product or a byproduct of sugar cane in order for it to be called rum in the United States,” he explains. “So you have sugar, water and yeast and that’s it.”
Walking around the distillation and fermentation units, Chase picks up a cup of sugar and holds it up for the group to see.
“Sugar is the only opportunity you have to affect the flavor profile of your rum, so you got to choose the right sugar,” he says and laughs as he explains he tried 40 different rums until he found the one he liked the most.
“Believe it or not no one wanted to help me with that task,” he says smiling. “The one that I found that I liked the most was from a little distillery in Georgetown, Guyana called El Dorado.

Chase said once he found the flavor he wanted he called the distillery to see what sugar they used.
“It turns out they use demerara sugar,” he says and points to bags of demerara sugar he currently uses that is produced in the United States in Florida. Chase Says demerara sugar is minimally processed and has not had the molasses removed from it. He says that is what gives his rum a rich flavor.
The water, yeast and sugar are mixed together in fermentation tanks made of cypress wood which Chase says is the only wood that will not impart any flavor to the rum. He says the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol.
After five days the fermentation process is complete and what they have is 300 gallons of 13 percent alcohol. But Chase says that still has to be distilled to remove other byproducts of the liquid.
Chase walks over to the two 150 gallon distillation units and explains to the group the liquid will be brought up to a temperature of 200 degrees.
“The reason for that is that ethyl alcohol, the good stuff the stuff that we want, boils at 170 degrees and water boils at 212. So what I want to do is boil out the alcohol and leave the water behind,” he says.
The alcohol is then condensed back into a liquid and workers must then remove what they call the ‘head,’ which is the chemical component that is too strong for human consumption but perfectly suited to be used as cleanser for the facility and equipment.

Chase says these ‘head’ components, acetone, acid aldehyde and methyl alcohol, is what often killed moonshiners who didn’t properly remove them from their final distillation process, during the prohibition era.
At this point the product is 190 proof rum which is then further processed until its 80 proof white rum.
“Every bottle is hand filled, hand corked and hand labeled. And every single bottle gets a batch number and bottle number hand written on it,” Chase explains as he holds up a sharpie marker and the labels they place on the bottle once full.
“Now if we are making the spice rum what we will do is take that same rum, and I will take my nine secret spices, and these are all natural, I don’t use any extracts or artificial flavors, and I place them in a spice bag, place it in the rum and let it steep for a week,” he says.
Once ready it is also hand bottled labeled and marked.
Chase says he is most proud of the gold reserve because he incorporates a little bit of his Kentucky bourbon heritage into the mix.
The gold rum is aged in bourbon barrels provided by Woodford Reserve, Chase’s favorite.
“As I said earlier I am from Kentucky and we in Kentucky believe that bourbon should only be made in Kentucky and that it has to be aged in virgin American oak barrels,” Chase says. “That means they use the barrel one time and then we get the barrel. These barrels probably have about two gallons of bourbon soaked into the wood. So when we put in our rum…what happens is it leeches some of the bourbon out into the rum. When you taste that gold rum you are going to taste a little bit of that bourbon undertone and it will finish with the sweetness of the rum so it doesn’t burn.”

The rum ages for six months, is bottled and the barrels are then sent to a new microbrewery set to open in Bluffton called Salt Marsh. Chase says he is working with the brew masters to create a Daufuskie Rum ale. He says he is also working with a Florida honey company who are going to take a few of the barrels to make a rum infused honey.
Chase leads the group back into the tasting room and explains that the white rum only takes a week to produce, the spice rum takes about two weeks while the gold rum ages for six months. Each batch will produce 350-400 bottles.
“I bartended my way through Pharmacy school in Lexington,” Chase says as his wife pours out samples of all three rums for the group to sample. He says the white rum is what is typically used to make a traditional mixed drink like a rum and coke or mojito.
He says the holidays are best served with his spiced rum.
“The spiced rum tastes like Christmas,” he says as he tells the group to first take in a good whiff and detect the spices before taking a sip. “I would try it in eggnog,” he adds. “It has really nice aromas and flavors to it.”
Chase says the best way to enjoy the gold rum is to simply pour it over some ice.

Chase says they plan on producing a vanilla rum he says will surely become another holiday classic and available by late November.
“We are not just flavoring it with artificial vanilla flavor,” he says. “I’ve taken our white rum and put the vanilla beans in it and made my own extract. I am using my own vanilla rum extract to flavor the rum and each bottle will have a vanilla bean in it before we cork it up.”
Kristi Chase says the spice rum would be the perfect addition for a holiday rum cake recipe. She says several of her customers have shared cocktail recipes on their Facebook page. She adds a few customers have used their rum to marinate ribs and beef before grilling.

Daufuskie Island Rum Company is one of only two American rum distilleries located on an island. It is located at 270 Haig Point Road, Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. The facility is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call ahead to book a tour. For more information call (843) 342-4786.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Instead of wine try Mead

Mead is similar to wine except instead of being derived from fermented grapes it is made from fermented honey, water and yeast.
The first time I ever heard of and tasted Mead was at the the Savannah Bee Company.

“It is the oldest form of alcohol that exists,” Savannah Bee Company’s Broughton Street location Mead bar manager Laurie Garner said during an interview I did with her for a magazine story years ago. “It predates wine by about 6,000 years,” Chelsea Miller added. She was at the River Street location working as the Mead bar manager.
“The way it all started was that people crushed the (honey) combs to extract the honey and they would throw the empty combs in buckets which would then collect with rain water. Someone thought to add yeast,” Garner explained. “And somebody was lucky enough to take a sip of it and they called it the nectar of the Gods.”

Miller said there are about 50 types of Mead recognized by the American Mead Association and the Savannah Bee Company carries an abundant variety at both locations. And the best thing is you can sample the Mead before deciding which one is your favorite.
For a mere five bucks both locations offer samples of all five varieties.

The Meads offered at Savannah Bee Company are made at Meaderies across the U.S.

St. Ambrose Meadery in Beulah, Michigan uses the tupelo honey locally produced by the Savannah Bee Company to make their Tupelo Ambrosia.
“Which is our bestselling Mead,” Miller said. A newer Atlanta based Meadery, Monks Meadery, uses their wildflower honey to make their Monks Mead.
Savannah Bee Company also sells Meads from B. Nektar, Moonlight and the largest Meadery in the United States, Red Stone Meadery.
And Meads come in a variety of styles.

“If it is traditional it is just honey, water and yeast. If it has apple cider mixed into it it’s a Cyser, Garner explained. “If it is mixed with fruit it’s a melomel and if it has a grapes in it it’s a pyment.”

“You can make Mead much like a wine but it takes a little longer to ferment,” Miller said adding that Meads typically need to sit for six months to a year. “You can age it….and it much like wine, it is influenced by what you put into it. And that is what determines the different categories.”

Miller said some Meads are aged like whiskey, in formerly used whiskey barrels. That creates a Mead with a smoky, bold and rich whiskey flavor.
“I often recommend those varieties to the people who tell me they are whiskey drinkers,” she says. And the categories range from fruity notes to dry blends and even a few effervescent options.

Jess Brannen is a food stylist and recipe developer for the Savannah Bee Company and frequently contributes to the company’s online blog, Bee Blog. Nearly every recipe she produces substitutes honey for sugar. All her food pairs well with Meads.
During our interview she brought in two large trays of food and sweets and we sat down to pair them with the Meads. For this food pairing Brannen offered up delicious treats you might place out for a holiday dinner. First she sliced into her holiday baked brie.
“It is a baked brie stuffed with Gouda cheese, cranberries, walnuts, rosemary and our wildflower honey, made from Georgia wildflowers,” she said.
The cheese holds scrumptious chunks of cranberries in place and the crust is crispy and golden brown.
Miller pours some of the St. Ambrose Rose Ambrosia, which turned out to be the perfect compliment. The Rose Ambrosia has semi-sweet notes which melt into the palate and bring out the cranberries and caramel sweetness associated with a well-aged Gouda.

Miller places another Mead glass on the bar and opened the bottle of Kurt’s Apple Pie Mead.
“It’s a little sweeter and it has some nice cinnamon notes in there so I paired that with a honey pumpkin bread,” Brannen said while topping the slice she just cut with Savannah Bee Company’s whipped cinnamon honey.

The blended taste of the Mead and pumpkin bread elicited instant memories of a holiday inspired dessert.
Miller said chocolate lovers can pair their Halloween treats with either their Rose’ Ambrosia or their Razzmatazz Mead.
She said they always set out small pieces of dark chocolate for customers who are trying the Meads.

“The cherry notes in the Rose’ Ambrosia pairs really well with the chocolate which is local from Adam Turoni a chocolatier here in Savannah,’” she said.
Miller said the chocolate can add to the undertones of the Mead.
“First it comes off a little dry and once you eat the chocolate, depending on if it’s the Rose’ of the Razzmatazz it is going taste more like chocolate covered raspberry or a very deep Rose’,” she said.

Brannen said Meads pair extremely well with a variety of cheeses.
“We carry Tomme (cheese) from Sweet Grass Dairy. It was a cheese I had never heard of before but it is like a white cheddar, parmesan only slightly chalky and it pairs well with any of the sweet or dry meads,” Brannen said. “It is a people pleasing cheese.”

“We have the Gouda that would go well with our Sunshine Nectar,” she added and said the Sunshine Nectar is effervescent and comparable to a champagne.
She said their Nectar of the Hops Mead would pair well with turkey on Thanksgiving.
“It is made with a sparkling wine yeast but they also use caramel and Amarillo hops which are very subtle,” she said. “It doesn’t have the bitterness that an IPA has. It is a very nice and light Mead.”

In fact Brannen said people are likely to find a Mead to match any meal.
“We have some (Meads) that are sweet because it is a honey beverage but you can balance that with something salty or savory when you are pairing it,” she says. “We also have a few that are surprisingly dry when you consider they have honey in them. And they work well with a myriad of dishes. These meads are really versatile.”
Savannah Bee Company offers Meads at their Broughton and River Street locations. There are four Savannah Bee locations, three in Savannah and one in Charleston, S.C.
The stores offer the full line of their honey products which also includes raw honey comb, body care, hand care, lip care and hair care items, candles, children’s books about bees, tote bags and more.

Many of Brannen’s recipes as well as educational information about bees can be found online at:

Monday, June 26, 2017

Love me some Chef Jerome from Old School Diner

From the carpeting that lines the parking lot to the hundreds of pictures that give life to its interior walls, much can be said about the eclectic look of the Old School Diner.

But it is more than just the ambiance that lures Coastal Georgia residents and tourists to the hidden gem. And while the perfectly cooked shrimp, saucy ribs and delectable hush puppies are what people hem and haw over, it’s the man behind the food who truly symbolizes the restaurant’s soul.
The eatery is nestled along the bend of the South Newport River, not far from the pristine Harris Neck Wildlife Refuge. Chef Jerome Brown doesn’t just think of his diner as a place to have a meal. It is his home away from home, and — should they need a special sanctuary — his customers’ home as well. Those who frequent the restaurant are not just closed-out bar tabs and paid receipts — he sees them as members of his family.

Born in Waycross, Webster Tyrone Jerome Brown cultivated his cooking skills at the Buccaneer Club in Townsend. He still was a teenager when he got the gig, which he worked for 31 years.

Feeling he had learned every aspect of the job but was not given the opportunity to advance, Chef Brown left and briefly traveled around the world cleaning boilermakers. He also worked for a wood company in Florida. The ability to work with his hands is a gift from above, he says, and his passion to leave an artistic imprint on the world was apparent when he settled in McIntosh County and opened the diner in 2005.
“I’m an artist, and this is my art work,” he says, scanning the hodge-podge of movie posters, drawings and paintings inside the main dining room. The exterior is bright pink, and a collection of hub caps and Georgia license plates adorns the building, making it look like an antique store. Dated farm tools and old pans hang above the entrance.

And, of course, there is the parking lot — a mish-mash of carpets thrown across the dirt driveway cover every inch of visible space.
“A lot of people want to know about the carpet,” he says with a slight grin. “It’s simple. I don’t like sand in the building, and for the women who wear high heel shoes … they won’t get stuck in the sand and twist their ankles and fall and hurt themselves. And if they happen to fall on the carpet, they are less likely to get hurt because the carpets will cushion their fall.”
Brown says he uses the skills he picked up at the Buccaneer Club and adds his own flair to the recipes on his menu.

“I started out with a two-car garage, one office, one dining room and no kitchen. I had two little fryers with two small baskets where I would cook up my French fries, chicken, shrimp and whatever. I branched out and built this room here, and I named it the Ben Affleck room because he was the first celebrity that came,” the chef says, all while stroking his beard and basking in the warmth of his wood-burning fire place. He relaxes on a sofa next to the fire during a rare break from his work routine.
Chef Jerome says the actor’s visit in 2010 was an answered prayer and paved the way for the continued success of the diner. Since then, it has undergone two expansions and construction of an outdoor dining gazebo, which he built himself using pieces of wood form an old floating dock someone planned to discard.
Affleck placed the little diner on the map and still occasionally drops by for dinner when staying at his Hampton Island vacation home in Liberty County, Chef Jerome says.

But it’s his loyal customers — who have spread the word about the chef’s unique style, delicious cooking and warm hospitality — for whom he truly feels blessed.
“Money doesn’t make me, everyone who comes out here and enjoys my food — that is what makes me,” he says. “When folks don’t come to visit, it makes me sad.”
He steps into the kitchen and begins to prepare some shrimp. The chef works alone when it comes to his menu items, and he has his reasons.
“I don’t trust anyone else cooking my food,” he says with a laugh. His work days begin at 4 a.m., and he doesn’t mind putting in the long hours.
“I like to come in early and get the pies and stuff out of the way,” he says. “I don’t want people to be around me when I’m doing my thing — they want to ask questions, try and get my secrets like, ‘What did you just put in there?’ And my response is always ‘A little bit of this and a little bit of that.’”

The diner also is his private chapel.

“This place is my peace of mind, my spirituality,” he says. “When I get lonely or feeling down, I just walk in here and look at the walls and look at the faces and look at the smiles … I look at those and I know I’m doing something right.”
Another thing he says he did right was marrying his wife of 38 years, Lauretta Brown. She was the one who convinced him to open the diner and go back to what he does best — cooking.

And it helped him heal as the customers began to pick up pieces of his heart once held by others.
“I don’t care if the world knows, but most of my immediate family threw me away,” he says, his smile slowly fading. “Hardly any of them are around me because I cut them off. I said enough is enough — my wife keeps telling me you can’t save the world … some of my family was just a bad influence, and I trusted too many of my family members … I adopted the community. The people who come here are my family.”
So he threw his passion and soul into the diner and tempts his newfound family with mouth-watering meals fit for a king and big enough for a royal court.

Inside the main dining room, the chef points out a cluster of photos.
“I enjoy meeting other people. I try and come out here and greet every customer, and I ask my waitresses to take all the customers’ pictures, especially if I’m busy,” he says, adding that he tries to pose with all his customers unless he gets stuck in the kitchen. “I want to know who came to the restaurant and I take the pictures so I can remember their faces. I remember one gentleman who came in around two to three years ago and I was able to tell him where he would be able to find his picture hanging on the wall.”

He points out a wheelchair positioned in the corner of the dining room and says most people need it after they order his infamous wheelchair platter. The platter serves a party of two or larger and consists of whatever the chef chooses.
“Trust your chef,” he says. The motto also is on the menu, and many follow it. They know the platter is bound to include a little bit of everything on the menu. Should a patron leave any room, the chef will come back to the table, pull up a seat and offer his dessert menu for the day.
“We had two couples come in, and they sat at this table by the fire. They ordered the wheelchair platter, and the one guy had two pieces of my strawberry cheesecake, and when he got through with that last piece of cheese cake, he had to come and lay down,” Chef Jerome says, laughing. “He sat right here by the fire and all of a sudden, he went to sleep, and that was beautiful. I like for folks to come here and feel like they are at home. I tell a lot of my customers, ‘If y’all don’t feel like driving home, y’all can go to my house,’ and I really mean it. … That’s how I roll and that’s not going to change.”

Photos by Geoff Johnson

Thursday, June 22, 2017

If there's good food I will find it, especially along the coast

The best thing about Coastal Georgia is the easy access to fresh local seafood. Locals tend to know where you can find the tastiest places offering up fresh dock-to-diner delights. Some of these best kept secrets are nearby, tucked away off Highway 17 near Shellman’s Bluff.

These no frills diners have been around for quite some time, a testament to the scrumptious meals they place before their patrons. Some are well-known to visitors from around the world, simply by word of mouth.
You may have to ask for directions and be willing to venture a little bit further off the beaten path but the meals, atmosphere and southern hospitality makes it all worthwhile.

We stopped in and had a meal at two of these hidden gems. We also spoke to a few locals who offered up a few more suggestions within the area.

The Fish Dock at Pelican Point, Crescent
Formerly called Pelican Point Restaurant, The Fish Dock has been pleasing palates since 1986 when Michael Phillips opened the eatery that sits on Blackbeard Creek. The big draw then, as it is today, is the all-you-can-eat buffet offering up locally farmed clams and oysters, fish, Georgia shrimp and even choice cuts of prime rib, snow crab legs and scallops. The buffet also offers a salad bar and desserts.
The restaurant is currently owned by Charlie Phillips who bought the place in 2015 from his dad. He is also the co-founder and current owner of Sapelo Sea Farms, Georgia’s oldest clam farm established in 1997. It’s pretty much guaranteed that Phillips is hand picking the best clams and locally caught fish and seafood for his diners’ experience.

We visited during lunch time on a weekday. The diner is expansive and the decor is what you would expect for a place on Blackbeard Creek. The pirate and nautical theme was reminiscent of a few places we’ve dined at along the ocean in the Florida Keys.
Being lunch time, the buffet was not open but after perusing the menu we opted for an order of fried pickles and a cup of crab stew as an appetizer. For the entrée, the half-pound order of fresh, steamed Georgia shrimp was reasonably priced.

The waiter brought out the stack of fried pickle chips with a side of Ranch dressing. It was an ample order. They were lightly battered, crunchy and the perfect amount of tangy tartness as well. The crab stew was thick enough to hold up a spoon. The creamy stew was full of chunk claw and lump crab meat. It was delicious and with a hit of Texas Pete it could cure the common cold.

The view can’t be beat and customers can watch as the fishing boats arrive with the day’s catch. The buffet is only available Wednesdays through Fridays from 5 p.m. until closing, Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m., and Sundays from noon until 9 p.m. But the restaurant offers an array of menu items, with lunch, dinner and children options, in addition to the buffet.

Dinner prices range from $12.95 to $32.50 for the adult buffet. There are buffet prices for children ages 11-14 and a child buffet price for ages 4-10. The restaurant has a full bar with specialty drinks and an extensive beer selection.

Hunter’s Cafe
The dirt road to tasty paradise stops at Hunter’s Cafe on River Road in Shellman’s Bluff. This place has served diners since 1967 as a restaurant but has been delighting taste buds for even longer. During our visit our server Marie Harn says the bungalow style building was originally an old Fort Stewart barrack that was brought to the location. When it first opened in 1951, Harn says the owner served coffee and ice cream to the fish dock workers.
“And it just grew from there,” she says.

In addition to an extensive lunch and dinner menu, Harn places a hand written appetizer list on the table. The first item that catches our eyes is the Boom-Boom shrimp.
She may have noticed our curious looks and explains that it was a shrimp covered in a secret spicy sauce. We decided to try a few seafood items, as well as their version of crab stew and fried pickles for comparison.
Of course we had to try the Boom-Boom shrimp appetizer and also got the grouper sandwich, fish taco appetizer and chicken tenders. The chicken tenders and grouper sandwich also came with a side of their famous Bluff battered fries.

As we waited for the food we scanned the building. The walls of the secondary dining room and bar were covered with one dollar bills, all bearing little messages and stapled to the walls and roof.
“We’ve been written up twice in the New York Times and we’ve had customers from Denmark...well just from all around the world,” Harn says.
The fried pickles and Boom-Boom shrimp were brought out, soon followed by the cups of crab stew we requested.

The Boom-Boom looked like what you normally get when you order buffalo style shrimp or wings. But the taste was quite different. There was a sweetness to the sauce that was pleasant and unexpected. The heat was not overwhelming. Instead it crept up from behind the sweet sauce and was a flavor I had not tasted before, but knew would want to come back for more of.
The crab stew had hints of that same sweet, secret sauce without the spice. It was a little less thick than Fish Dock’s but more creamy with its own distinctive flavor notes. Hunter’s Cafe has their own unique take on the fried pickles too. Instead of pickle chips these were entire pickle wedges deep fried in a crispy herbed batter.

The crunch factor of the batter and wedge cut pickles was superior.
When ordering your fish and seafood you can get it fried, grilled or blackened. The fish tacos were made with grilled grouper, the sandwich with fried grouper.
The grilled fish tacos laid on a lightly, grilled, flour tortilla and were topped with red and green cabbage.
“The best thing is to take some of that Ranch dressing and mix it with some of that leftover Boom-Boom sauce and put it on your taco,” Harn says.
Following her advice we mixed a small batch of Boom-Boom and Ranch and topped the tacos. The softness of the grilled grouper and the crunch of the cabbage and grilled tortilla was elevated by the creamy Ranch and sudden punch of Boom-Boom.

The Bluff battered fries, chicken tenders and grouper sandwich were all delicious and nothing was left behind.
Hunter’s Cafe overlooks Julienton River. The diner sits across from the waterway and offers views of Harris Neck and Blackbeard Island. They have a full bar and a large beer list.
While dining a couple spoke with us saying we need to come back to Hunter’s Cafe as they also have the best hamburgers on the Bluff. It’s a challenge we plan to accept. They also asked if we had ever eaten at Speed’s Kitchen. It has been a few years, but we were happy to hear that the local landmark was still going strong.

Speed’s Kitchen
Unlike the name, there is nothing speedy about the food service at Speed’s Kitchen. But that is part of the novelty of this trailer turned diner. It serves as a reminder that food should be made to order and nothing that has sat under a heat lamp gets served here. They serve steak and seafood and offer broiled platters of fish or scallops or stuffed shrimp. The crab au gratin and deviled crab casserole are unique to Speed’s kitchen.

Unlike our previous two eateries, Speed’s Kitchen does not serve alcohol, nor do they accept debit or credit cards. It is strictly cash and carry here. If you truly need to have a beer with your oyster stew and combination platter then you need to bring it with you.
The we-take-things-slow-here approach is a great way to get absorbed with good conversation among friends before indulging in mouth-watering and massive servings of food.
Speed’ Kitchen is not waterfront but just three blocks away from the Julienton River and Hunter’s Cafe. The same couple then asked us if we’ve ever been to Clay’s Sapelo Station.

Clay’s Sapelo Station
We didn’t get a chance to dine at Clay’s Sapelo Station during this trip. It was still early and they primarily open for dinner service except for Sundays.
The diner which sits on Highway 17 is highly rated by Tripadvisor. We definitely plan to try it out and compare their version of Boom-Boom shrimp to that of Hunter’s Cafe. Clay’s is a steak and seafood eatery offering up seared tuna salads, po’boys, shrimp and fish tacos and even a low-country boil. And that is just part of their menu. The day we drove up they had a poster naming Sunday’s special which included pecan crusted shrimp and shrimp and fried grits, crab cake sandwiches, potato skins and a bacon barbecue burger.

The chalk board by the front door noted Thursday’s specials of local blue crab, fresh mussels and clams, flounder and shrimp alfredo.
Although still full from our previous meal, we were disappointed that it was too early to go in and grab a taste. But it is sure to be our next adventure and we recommend, based on what we’ve heard, you stop by Clay’s Sapelo Station and give them a try.
There are likely a few more hidden gems along the coast to explore. Next time you seek a seafood feast be sure you stop and ask a local. They are likely to point you in the right direction.

The Fish Dock at Pelican Point
1398 Sapelo Ave
Crescent, GA 31304
(912) 832-4295
Sunday- Thursday, noon until 9 p.m.
Friday-Saturday noon until 10 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted

Hunter’s Café
River Road
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-5771
Open Monday through Friday 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. and then for dinner from 5 p.m. until 2 a.m.
Saturdays from 8 a.m. until 2 a.m. and Sundays from 8 a.m. until 11 p.m.
All major credit cards accepted.

Speed’s Kitchen
1191 Speeds Kitchen Road NE Townsend, GA 31331 (912) 832-4763
They have special hours during the winter making it best to call ahead for service hours.
Cash only

Clay’s Sapelo Station
15600 U.S. Highway 17
Townsend, GA 31331
(912) 832-2013
They are open Wednesday through Saturday 5-10 p.m. and Sundays from noon until 10 p.m.
All major cards accepted

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Beach body ready - NOPE

Summer is here and time to get beach body ready...right?

Hell no, not me.

Let me tell you my summer fun plans.
This summer I plan to use my food processor and slow cooker more often and truly expand my food palette. I'm going to dust off all my cook books and make my grocery lists. Heck maybe even splurge and buy a new stove and oven.

What? No plans to hit the gym harder and fit into that new tankini?
Hell no! And luckily for you I don't own a tankini or any beach wear right now.

Come on people. We are halfway through June. Before you know it, it's back to school time and fall. Why bother to get in shape to just lie out in the hot sun, get sand in places you shouldn't and swallow salt water as you fight ripe tides?

It's way too hot for that nonsense.

It’s too much pressure to work that hard for three months (less than that now) of possible beach time. It’s more likely that you'll spend weekends mowing the lawn or running from thunder storms than lying on the beach sipping Margaritas (although that sounds good).

Plus if you're just getting beach ready now...IT'S TOO LATE. Even if you started to exercise and follow a strict diet it takes 4-6 weeks (half your summer gone) to start seeing results. And it's not like you are going to wake up tomorrow and BOOM your mind is reprogrammed to follow a full-proof diet and exercise program.

In fact my brain on summer mode screams outdoor grilling and frozen mixed drinks!! (Oh and ice cream but we all scream for ice cream don't we?)

And to top things off, I still have cupcakes in my fridge that need to be eaten. And, leftovers and BEER.

I have that bottle of Bacardi rum….oh wait…nope that’s done.

And that’s just the stuff in my fridge. My freezer is packed with good stuff too.

I have a few friends who typically start a diet by discarding these "bad" foods to avoid temptation.

Those people are insane!

Why throw out perfectly good foods like frozen tamales, burritos, a pint of Breyers Rocky Road ice cream (my all-time favorite…hint…hint), some Klondike bars and frozen pizzas. You know darn well that within a week you will crave those foods and be right back at the store buying more.

Food is too precious to WASTE...especially good stuff and all that I just mentioned is good stuff….trust me.

Shame on you, wasting food and money like that.

So instead of trying to make DRASTIC changes in a short span of time, I'll create a long term goal.

This summer I’m making a list of new things I want to experience and that lists includes new recipes and culinary food choices.
I'll start by using what is currently in my fridge and freezer in creative new ways, like maybe bacon wrapped burrito bites. Or mix some of that ice cream in a banana, raspberry smoothie.

I plan to try new foods, especially new recipes all while making healthier choices. Start off by cooking things I've never tried before.

And of course I will try and get some exercise in as much and as often as possible.
But maybe this summer I'll try activities I’ve never done before like a mixed martial arts class, a real boxing class, learn to water ski or take up underwater basket weaving (Is that really a thing?). Sometimes, when you least expect it, a new experience can transform you in ways other things can’t.

After all it was the summer of 2010 when I randomly signed up for derby as a reporting assignment for the newspaper. The thrill of a new sport and group of friends resulted in an effortless 50 pound weight loss. And I kept it off until I stopped skating at the end of 2014 (Stupid concrete floor crashing into my shoulder like that).

Now I'm not knocking the beach or those of you who plan to DIET themselves to skinny and a cute new 2 piece bikini. Have at it and I wish you success. But the beach is not really my thing.

Kayaking down a river and jumping in to cool off every once in a while sounds better to me. Or finding a secluded but safe lake or swimming hole.

And I have been trying my hand at growing my own food, something people call gardening and farming (both VERY foreign to me, for sure).

That adventure actually started last year, also in the dead of summer, with two bell pepper plants.

And I got nothing. Zip. Only one small tiny pepper and the plants looked dead.


It turns out I didn’t kill my bell pepper plants like I thought. I ended up transferring both plants from their pots to the ground. I waited until recently to do so because I had kept them indoors during the winter.

At first, it appeared things would go south (again). The leaves looked like they were dying, despite my best efforts.


Not one, two or three but six. Yes, count them, six whole peppers are sprouting on one plant. My other plant, which is a bit smaller, has two and this is after I already harvested one large bell pepper just a few weeks ago.

Food. I grew my own food. Pretty darn cool.

Okay, I would starve if I had to just live off the few peppers that are starting to pop out but I SUCK at growing things and could literally kill a cactus, so being able to produce a few peppers is, as Trump would say, HUUUGE.

And I actually found out I enjoy gardening...AND I KNOW I ENJOY IT MORE THAN GOING TO THE BEACH.

So I went hog wild this past weekend and instead of dragging out a cooler, blanket, towel, chair and everything else you need for a fun day at the beach...I bought seeds and plants and added to my garden. I’ve transplanted some basil and rosemary from their pots to the ground. I also planted, from seed (which is how I started my pepper plant and is much more difficult to do) some lavender, Brussel sprouts, eggplant, lemon, cilantro, summer squash and zucchini.

I see a vegetable lasagna in my future, all from stuff grown in my front yard (unless of course they all fail to sprout, which is another HUUUGE possibility).

All that gardening led to some serious numbers on my daily step count and Fit-bit. In fact I sweat my arse off this past weekend...It was like doing exercise without realizing you are actually working out.

Gardening is no joke!

If I manage to produce a healthy, sustainable garden and can efficiently use the stuff in all my NEW recipes then maybe...just maybe...I can try a new project the following summer - producing my own eggs (From chickens not from me...jeez get your minds out of the gutter).

And honestly chasing chickens around my yard...or better yet chasing my cats away from the chickens...and then keeping the dogs away from the cats and chickens..still sounds better than a day at the beach for me.

HOWEVER...nothing...and I mean a NIGHT at the beach!!! (Just a few good friends, no crowds, a bon-fire, marshmallows, cold beers a cozy walk and maybe even a midnight swim).