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Friday, April 28, 2017

What the CLUCK?

In trying to be more vigilant of what I eat on a daily basis I’ve started to read many of the ingredient labels or learn how certain foods are produced.
Nobody told me you would need a degree in chemistry just to understand some of the stuff in your foods. Also some of the information on food labels just doesn’t make any sense or are completely misguiding.

For example, there is a lot of discussion as to what is best for you in terms of your choices in meats and poultry.
Some say it’s more humane to pick meats that are free range or farm raised or natural or organic. They say it’s also best to make sure it’s hormone free or raised without antibiotics.

But what does that all really mean?

Let’s took a look at poultry.

According to Chickopedia (No, I didn’t make that up, it is the nickname for the National Chicken Council), there isn’t a true federal government definition of the term “free-range.” So when a company wishes to use that claim for their label they send their request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture which will approve the use on a case by case basis. The USDA will generally grant permission if the chickens have access to the outdoors for at least some part of the day whether the chicken decides to go outside or not.

Me: Here you go little chick, chicks. The door is open and the sun is shining.
Chicken: Look lady it’s the dead of summer and 100 degrees out. My feathered backside is staying right here on this nest and nice little air fan you set up.


And it appears we have a lot of lazy chickens in this country. Either that or they can’t find their way toward the exit door. Chickopedia reports that less than one percent of chicken nationwide are raised as free range chickens.

That’s a lot of chickens just hanging around inside doing far less than me on a daily basis.

Then there’s the issue of the use of antibiotics. If you look at the food labels on many chicken products most if not all say “Raised without Antibiotics.”
Well here’s a news flash for you. According to Chickopedia a package of chicken labeled “Raised without Antibiotics,” indicates that the flock was raised without the use of products classified as antibiotics for animal health maintenance, disease prevention or treatment of disease. Animal health products not classified as antibiotics, some of which control parasites may still be used.

Me to farm neighbor: What the heck is that rash on the back part of your hen?
Farm neighbor: Not sure but I gave her some animal health products. Something called Methamphetamine to “speed,” that healing process along. It’s not an antibiotic so it’s OK.


And the more I researched the more confused I became. Several articles I came across said antibiotics have been used in poultry farming in large quantities for years. Some say since the 1940s.

So I started to dig a little deeper and found that many of those animal health products (code word for non-antibiotic, antibiotics which are given through feed or injected into the eggs) helped in promoting growth. (Think, heck yeah bigger chicken breasts).

Chicken Producer: Woohoo, bigger breasts mean bigger bucks. Put those babies in smaller cages so they can’t walk around and lose weight. Better yet keep them indoors in tight cramped rooms by the thousands!!


I’m sure many of you have seen the commercials from a well-known chicken company saying their chickens have always been antibiotic free. Their claim being No antibiotics ever.

Liar, liar your chickens on fire!

It turns out this particular company started going antibiotic free in 2002 in response to consumer’s wishes. And even then they still used antibiotics (you know those animal health products) for disease prevention and treatment.

In 2007 this company removed all HUMAN antibiotics from its feed. And in 2009 this company began phasing out the COMMON practice of using antibiotics with vaccines in eggs in the hatchery. It wasn’t until just two years ago that this company completely removed all the ROUTINE use of humane antibiotics from its hatchery.

Well what the cluck, cluck? Did chicken producers use antibiotics or not?

So I went back to Chickopedia to find this.

All chicken is “antibiotic-free” in the sense that no antibiotic residues are present in the meat due to the withdrawal periods and other precautions required by the government.

Does that mean they have to place the chicken in detox before they can sell the meat?


Poor chickens those withdrawals must be awful.

Folks I’m just starting to scratch the surface on this stuff. For me the jury is still out as I can understand a farmer wanting to care for their flock and tending to those that may get sick or in need of healing.

But to what extend and for how long?

On the other hand some of this stuff is scary to say the least. I can understand why some folks choose to become vegan. Or why most stay content in NOT knowing anything or than whether their chicken is roasted, Bar-B-Queued or as in my case - fried.




I said plantain not banana...omg

Sometimes I get these weird cravings and they will not subside until they get fed. There are days where these craving border from somewhere beyond normal. Like when an order of Wendy’s French fries dunked into a frosty will do the trick.

For those of you who just thought yuck, try it. It’s much better than dunking your fries in mayonnaise.

Then there are the rare occasions when I have to binge down on a big can of Peanut Patch boiled peanuts.

Nutty, salty and sloppy goodness.

Normally my cravings tend to be more rational, or at least what I believe to be rational. Like when a slice of pizza (or two) will be the only thing that cures the hunger pangs. Or when you just need that home cooked comfort food you grew up with, and for me that always means Cuban food.
Lately I’ve been craving two of my favorite Latin side dishes – plantains.

I’ve heard some horror stories from some of my friends who have visited Miami and tasted cooked sweet plantains (what we call maduros) and the crispy fried and cooked plantains (we call tostones, which are different than mere fried plantain chips…but I digress).
Often my friends will tell me how they desperately tried and failed to recreate the flavor of the more popular sweet plantain dish. The conversation often goes like this.

Friend: I tried to make those maduros I ate while in Miami but the taste was completely off.
Me: What kind of plantain did you use?
Friend: A sweet banana.
Me: (stares back at friend with head slightly cocked to the side, you know the look you get when you say something to your dog and they are like, huh?) You used a banana?
Friend: Yeah bananas are sweet, plantains are hard and not sweet so….
Me: (face palm) Oh boy.


OK, so let’s get a little plantain 101 talk going on here. Yes a banana is sweet to some extent and can be cooked in specific ways, especially when used in desserts like banana foster.

Oh great now I’m wanting to take a trip back to New Orleans and hit Brennan’s, the birthplace of banana foster since 1946.

Plantains are from the banana family but they are unsuitable served raw and must be cooked. The have less sugar and are starchier than bananas.
Maduros and tostones are made from the same plantain.

Most plantains you see at the store are green and firm to the touch. You might see a few that are yellow with brown and are softer. Those are the same plantains. They are picked while still green and firm and as they ripen they turn yellow, to brown and from firm to squishy.

Take note people the yellowish, brown soft and almost way too squishy, might be time to throw out looking plantains make the perfect maduros.

Why you ask?
Because as the plantain ripens the starch starts to break down and releases the sugar.

Simply and carefully peel the plantain and cut the slices on the diagonal about an inch thick each. Place enough cooking oil in a pan that will cover half the plantain while cooking and set the temperature on medium high. Once the oil is heated place in your slices and turn them over after a minute or two. Turn the temperature to low and continue to cook and turn on each side until the plantains caramelize to a golden brown color. It’s important to keep vigilant because of you leave them on too long the sugar from the plantain will overcook turning black and taste charred.

Yep I did that when I first tried to make these without mom, had to throw out the whole batch, wait for my other plantain to ripen and try again.

Tosotones are just as easy to make and since there is no waiting for the plantain to ripen, they can be done the minute you unload the groceries at home.
Take the green plantain and cut off the two ends. This makes it a bit easier to peel the plantain since the skin on these is still thick and tough to peel. If necessary use a paring knife and peel the plantain completely. Cut the plantain into one inch chunks. Heat some cooking oil in a large skillet and then cook the chunks for about 3 minutes on each side.

Have a cooking tray or cutting board ready and place the cooked plantain chunks on the tray or board. Use a small plate, or the back of a wide butcher’s knife to press down and flatten each chunk. Once each plantain chunk is flattened put them back in the cooking oil for another one or two minutes on each side. Remove from heat, salt to taste and serve.

You can use a tortilla press, if you have one, to flatten the tostones. I’ve even used my mom’s favorite flattening tool a folded brown paper bag.

Now that is old style.

Give it a shot and let me know what you think. Looking for other Cuban treats drop me an email.
pleon@coastalcourier.com

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Clear the way for the buffet

Did you ever get so involved in your activities that time seems to fly by and you happen to skip your normal lunch break?
Suddenly you hear your stomach gurgling out in complaint. The rumbling is so loud people on the opposite side of the building look up wondering where the noise is coming from.

It’s a category five hurricane hunger roar from hell.

You’re no longer just plain hungry. Nay, at this point you need food now. You are living out the Snicker’s commercial, you know the one where the person is ready to bite your head off until he is fed a Snicker’s bar. It’s that moment when no one should cross your path and even a happy hello gets the evil-eye look in return.

You’ve reached HANGRY!

So you start to ponder your food choices. Hitting McDonald’s just won’t do, the drive through line is too long, and not quite the fast-food that is required at the moment.
That also rules out going to a restaurant where you have to wait on someone to take your order. Then you have to wait on your food.

NOPE. I said I’m HANGRY…ain’t nobody got time to be WAITING on food right now.
It’s time for sustenance, grub, bring on the food and bring it NOW!


It suddenly hit me. No line, no waiting, and all food – Yep I’m hitting the Golden Hibachi Chinese Buffet.

The hardest thing is having to drive there but within minutes – I’m IN.
“One please, sweet tea and get out of my way lady,” I say dropping my purse and cell phone at the table and running over to grab my plate. (OK I really didn’t tell the nice waitress to get out of my way, but I thought it).
Looking across the different buffet tables, I can see the steam coming off the hot food and the aroma of a variety of succulent offerings fills my nostrils. I have to try and decide what to pick first.

YES, food and lots of it and I can have as much as I want….muuaaahaahaahaa.

I load up on chicken with broccoli, egg rolls, fried rice, green beans and some won-ton soup, trip one complete.
Yum, the broccoli and green beans are delicious. The rice tastes good as well.
I dunk the egg roll into the won-ton soup and take a big bite. I slurp away at the soup and devour the won-tons. Round one is done.

Yes! Instant gratification and the Hangry starts to subside.

For seconds, I hit the sushi area for some shrimp sushi, California rolls, tuna rolls and assorted what-nots I think I may want to try. I add a little wasabi to the plate to mix with the soy sauce and head back to the table. I mix the soy and wasabi, grab the chopsticks, pinch the first sushi piece, dunk it in the mix and gracefully into my mouth it goes.

HOT. Yep too much wasabi in the soy sauce. The sinuses clear, eyes water but it’s oh so good.

The food starts filling the spot. The temper is no longer flaring, I slow down.

“OK, round three, I’ll eat slower and savor it more,” I think to myself.

I place some chicken wings on my plate and walk over to the lo-Mein noodles and serve some up as well. I grab a big spoonful of mushrooms, two spring rolls and more green beans (which are my favorite).

“Pace yourself,” I say in my mind.

But within minutes the plate is empty, the waitress refills my sweet tea and reaches for the empty dish.

“Don’t look at me like I’ve eating too much,” I think to myself without looking back up at the waitress. “I mean it was your boss’ idea to make this an all-you-can-eat place, not mine.”

But the waitress simply proceeds to smile picks up other empty plates in the tables that surround me and walks away. Simply doing her job.

Well all-righty then, no judgements…this is my kind of place…good thing I wore my stretchy pants today…time for round four!

I waddle back over to the sushi bar for a few more exotic picks. I place a few dumplings on my plate, more green beans and a few more mushrooms.
The pace has slowed dramatically since rushing in the door just 20 minutes prior. I take a few minutes in between bites and check social media updates on my cell phone.

I finish my plate (because I hate wasting food…you know there are starving people in….).

I pay my bill and head back to the office.

Revitalized from the nourishment I dive back into work but soon the storm of Hangry gets replaced by the arrival of food coma.

My belly is so full…a nap would be perfect right about now. People, the struggle is real!

Golden Hibachi Buffet is located at 503 W Oglethorpe Highway. They are reasonably priced with buffet lunch starting at $6.99. The buffet is also open during dinner hours for $9.99 and includes seafood items like mussels, crawfish and shrimp. Crab legs are offered during dinner buffet for an additional $4.99. Meal prices don’t include the cost of drinks and Golden Hibachi Buffet does not sell alcoholic beverages. Carry out is available, but why limit yourself, go in sit down and EAT!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Breakfast of this champion

There is an old saying that circulates among foodies, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper. The saying is meant to encourage folks looking to stay healthy or lose a little weight to intake the bulk of their calories in the morning and burn those calories throughout the day.

This might be true to some extent.

The literal translation of the word breakfast came about in the 15th century and meant a break from the fasting period since your last meal of the prior evening.
Sounds about right to me.
I mean if my last meal was at 7 p.m. the evening before and I get ready to start my day at 7 a.m. the following morning that is 12 whole hours since food has crossed my lips.

Today for breakfast I shall eat like a King (King Henry VIII for sure).

Seriously if it’s been 12 hours, serve me up some eggs, over-medium, bacon, grits and a side of hash browns covered with diced ham and grilled onions.

Don’t forget the toast and it better be buttered.

Nothing wrong with having that bacon cheeseburger in the morning instead of mid-day. Hey it has all the staples of most breakfast meals. There is bread, bacon and fries instead of hash browns but potatoes are potatoes aren’t’ they? And there is nothing stopping you from topping that burger with a poached or fried egg, so there you go.

Then there are the days where I might take more of an untraditional approach to my morning meal. There is nothing and I mean nothing set in stone that says you must start your day with eggs. I have found that two slices of leftover meat-lovers pizza will do at times. However if you are going to go Italian nothing beats morning spaghetti with meatballs. Toss in some garlic toast and the meal is complete.
Anything goes for breakfast because, according to that saying, you have all day to burn the calories away.

Get creative and have at it.

I can recall when I had yet to make it to the grocery store and all I had in the fridge and cupboard was two slices of cheese, two slices of bread, some butter, a little bit of Captain Crunch Cereal and maple syrup.

I took the two slices of bread and topped them with the two slices of cheese and then closed it up like the beginnings of a grilled cheese sandwich. I put the Captain Crunch in the food processor and ground it up fine.

I melted some of the butter and poured it over the cereal and then pressed my sandwich into the mix making sure it coated both sides of the bread evenly. I put the remaining butter in a pan and grilled my sandwich.

I topped that with the maple syrup and it was the best grilled- cheese- Captain Crunch- French toast breakfast- sandwich-thingy I’ve ever had.

Think about it, during your waking hours there is no way you are going to go 12 hours between meals.
Your stomach would growl in the middle of a business meeting. You start feeling light-headed the minute you smell your co-worker’s meal heating in the microwave. You scroll through Facebook and every other post has a quick 5 minute recipe for a bacon and cheese tater-tot pie.

OMG – YUM who thought of that? They are geniuses.

So make breakfast count.

It’s go big or go home on this one.

I must admit the breakfast like king, lunch like prince thing has yet to do anything for my waistline. But maybe that’s because when I think of lunch like a prince I think about Prince Harry or Prince William.

They seem to eat pretty nice meals from what I’ve seen so maybe they are not the prince examples I should be following.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Stone Crab Claws offer great treat and fond memories

During a recent visit to Miami last fall, I had the opportunity of eating one of my favorite seafood items and best of all it was free.

Trust me, free was the right price when you consider that this item can cost anywhere from $15-35 a pound depending on their size.

Nope it wasn’t a Florida lobster tail (or what true Northerners call a great big crawfish). It was something much rarer making it a delicacy usually fit for those with deep, deep pockets.
The decadent, plump, sweet yet briny lusciousness I was treated to were fresh Florida stone crab claws. There is nothing else like them and the best are plucked right out of the Gulf Coast waters.

Stone crab claws are only available Oct. 15 through May 15.
The stone crab, Menippe mercenaria, is unique in that the bodies are relatively small but the claws can grow incredibly large and strong enough to break open oyster shells. During their harvest period commercial fisherman trap the crabs and remove one of the two claws and toss the crab back into the water alive. The claw that was removed will grow back, usually within a year, and by leaving the other claw intact the crab can still fight off predators and survive.
This system of harvesting the crab claws has sustained the population of the stone crabs for many years unlike other fishing practices that have nearly depleted entire
species of fish and crustaceans.

Once the claw is removed it is immediately cooked sometimes RIGHT ON THE BOAT, most times as soon as they reach the dock. This is done to prevent the crab meat from sticking to the inside of the shell. The cooked claw turns a brilliant red hue with the claw tips becoming a deep black color, completely different than any blue crab claw you’ve likely seen cooked. The typical claw is the main claw portion where the pincers are located and the next two flexing joints.
After being cooked they are placed on ice, sorted by size and sent off to markets and restaurants around the world.
Stone crab claws are normally sorted as medium (6-7 claws in a pound), large (4-5 claws per pound), jumbo (2-3 to a pound) and colossal (1-2 per pound) and they normally recommend you order 2 pounds per person if you plan to serve them as an entrée.

THEY OBVIOUSLY DON’T KNOW ME OR MY APPETITE.

My cousin is a restaurant manager for a seafood place in Miami. Knowing that my mom LOVES stone crab claws he made sure to get some for us to feast on during our visit. He brought several pounds of large crab claws which would retail for a pretty penny at any seafood store or restaurant. He managed to get these right from the commercial harvester and luckily for him, at a wholesale price.
Getting them as soon as possible and right from the source is the best way to ensure you are being served the cream of the crop and something that was never frozen.
He served up the crab claws with the creamy and spicy mustard sauce they are typically served with.

Then WE WENT TO WORK.

If you love eating crab then you know part of the fun is getting all into your food as you crack the shells and pick the meat. Had I known ahead of time I would have packed up my plastic rain coat, placed a baseball hat on my head and started slinging the crab cracking mallets he placed on the table.

CRACK!

The mallet hit the shells, cracking and releasing some of the water. Specks of the shell flung across the dinner table but no one cared as we pummeled away at the hard exterior shell and exposing the precious bounty of claw meat.
I knew exactly where to hit the shell so it would crack in the right spot allowing me to pull the claw away from the shell in one whole piece. Grabbing the claw by the pincer I dipped it into the mustard sauce.

Ahhhhhhhhh Yeah!


The last time I had a stone crab claw was about 15 years ago. In my mid 30s I would often drive to Everglades City and Chokoloskee Bay. There was a seafood store there were you could purchase the claws right off the boat at nearly wholesale price. After spending a day out kayaking around the bay I would hit the store and buy a huge bag full, place them in the cooler and head back home to feast well after a hard day out paddling the waters.
The taste is unique. The meat is firm, yet flaky and sweeter than blue crab and Dungeness.

After chomping down on the claw portion I cracked opened the first joint which housed a big chunk of crab meat. I cracked opened the other joint. I used the mini crab fork to poke at the meats and extract them from the shell, dunked them in the mustard and down they went.

This action kept repeating itself around the table. Forget catching up on the events of your life the past year with auntie or cousins. We were all too busy cracking claws for that nonsense. But one thing did come to mind for me.

There is a well-known restaurant in Miami Beach called Joe’s Stone Crabs. They’ve been in business since 1913 and are credited with introducing this tasty crab to the public around 1921. That evening while dining with family it brought back the memory of that one time I did dine there. While it was quite expensive it was worthy of the visit and the memory it created.

I definitely think it should be on everyone’s bucket list of places to experience at least once if ever in Miami and South Beach. Be prepared to spend a few bills though. They have an extensive menu besides the stone crab claws too, all prepared by professionals.

Last week after recovering from my turkey coma, my mind drifted back to that night of cracking claws with the family. I googled Everglades City…there is still a seafood store there, willing to ship them fresh from the waters. I don’t know if it’s the same place I used to go to. It may be as it appears to be in the same place I recall.

They say their 5th generation owned and run so it seems worthy of a try…their prices seem reasonable. Either way I plan to give them a call and place an order.
Here’s their information but of course you can always shop around.

Grimm’s Stone Crab, Inc: http://crabsr.us/

The Sunbury Crab Company

Head east on Highway 84, passed Trade Port East, passed the Dorchester Civic Center and follow the signs that point the way to the treasured and long established eatery.
When you can pull up to a seafood establishment that is tucked away, yet right on the water with its own marina and purveyors of crabs, oysters and shrimps you know you are pulling up to a great meal.

And there isn’t a bad seat in the house.

The diner overlooks Blackbeard Creek. The scenic marsh setting is breath taking. Just next door the shrimp boats are docked offering a look at the majestic vessels that go out to pluck the sweetest tasting shrimp from the coastal waters.

The family run diner has a staff that routinely go out to bring and catch the blue crabs, oysters and fresh fish. It is farm to table – seafood style.
October brought in the beginning of oyster season and I can’t think of a better place to go locally for freshly picked and steamed oysters or a fried oyster basket with a side of their Cole slaw.

My all-time favorite at the Sunbury Crab Company is their blue crab bucket.

Just give me a bucket of those blue crabs, a few Land Sharks (that’s beer folks not a real shark), a wooden mallet to crack the shells, a bib and then stay clear folks –
I’m going in.


Sometimes it takes a little work in getting the crab meat out of those tight areas in the carapace (the back shell) and legs but the succulent lump crab meat is well worth the fight. And I consider the struggle my work out for the day.

If I happen to be in the mood for shrimp I often order two of their appetizers – the spicy garlic shrimp and the buffalo shrimp. Then, just to make sure I end up in a full food coma, I’ll add an order of bacon cheese fries.

At this point just hand me a stack of wet towels, a beer or two to wash the food down and a spot outside in the patio area where I can lay down a pillow and sleep afterwards.

Their fish sandwich has always been tasty and fresh and their food portions are always more than plenty. Add in the ambiance and the cool marsh breeze on a November afternoon and you’ll see why the Sunbury Crab Company is a perfect get-away during a frenzied holiday. If you have family visiting it is also a great place to share new experiences and create long lasting memories of a special holiday retreat.

The Sunbury Crab Company is located at 541 Brigantine-Dunmore Road in Sunbury. They are open Wednesday-Friday from 5 p.m. until 10 p.m. Saturdays from noon until 10 p.m. and Sundays from noon to 8:30 p.m. They will be closed Thanksgiving Day but will be open for that Friday escape by 5 p.m. For more information call (912) 884-8640.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Tacos aren’t just for Tuesdays

First published in the Coastal Courier Newspaper in December 2015

I never know when a specific food carving will hit me. There are times when I can eat fried chicken every day of the week and it would suit me just fine. Then there are times when pizza can only fill the void. And yes there are times, thankfully when only salads will make due.
Then there are the days which can sometimes stretch into weeks and months when nothing but Mexican food will do.

I don’t normally cover chain restaurants for my foodie column but I’m not sure that having only two locations in all of Southeast Georgia qualifies as a chain brand like Chili’s and others. Therefore I will take some time to toot the horn of my favorite local Mexican restaurant, Rodeo.
I am pretty much on auto-pilot when I’m hankering for Mexican food and ready to order the number 15 combination meal as soon as the waiter walks over with the complimentary chips and salsa.

That combo meal is a taco, a burrito and is served with rice and refried beans. Of course the beans have a delicate layer of queso fresco melted on top.

I love cheese, especially melted.

I also can’t avoid ordering an order of the guacamole dip. If I’m really in the guacamole mood I order the guacamole deluxe, which is chunkier with a little pico-de-gallo thrown in the mix. When guacamole alone just won’t do I order the trio-dip, which is a regular order of the guacamole dip, a cheese dip and a bean dip.

Did I mention that I was dining alone? Don’t judge I don’t do this every day!

I love the traditional taco and burrito meals but if you aren’t scoping out the rest of their menu you are truly missing out on some amazing entrees.
Their carnitas dinner (roasted pork tips cooked in their red sauce) is sublime and comes rice, beans, tortillas and guacamole for less than $10. I’ve ordered this many times and have always been served pork that was perfectly seasoned and not dry. This meal will fil you up but isn’t spicy.
If you are looking for some heat the Baja Shrimp meal offers a delectable kick.

It was just recently that I tried this dish which is grilled shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, red onions and bacon topped with chipotle sauce and served over a bed of white rice. It comes with a side salad topped with guacamole.

Did you catch it! BACON! I mean how can you go wrong with any meal that is topped with bacon?

The Cozumel special is a delicate balance of textures and flavors as well. It is a burrito stuffed with shrimp and rice and cheese sauce, served along with a crabmeat quesadilla.
And if you haven’t tried any of their steak entrees you really haven’t experienced a great meal. They have Rib-eye steaks that are either smothered in their rancheros sauce or topped with grilled green peppers, onions and tomatoes. My personal favorites is the Steak Patron. That steak is cooked with onions and a spicy Mexican sausage (chorizo) and then topped with three cheeses.

Melted Cheese!

Deciding on what to order is part of the fun and each time I visit Rodeo I try and order something new. However the process of the dining experience normally goes something like this.
I am seated and the waiter brings the chips and salsa and I’ll go ahead an order my appetizer of choice.

Don’t fill up on the chips and dip, don’t fill up on the chips and dip…CRUNCH.

Hmmmm, what do I want….CRUNCH…..the combo or something new…..CRUNCH….Oh look they have fish tacos I have yet to try…CRUNCH…maybe fajitas today….CRUNCH.


I finally decide on my meal, place the order and wait.

CRUNCH…don’t fill up on the chips and dip….man the guacamole is good….CRUNCH.

The good thing about Rodeo is that the food is served quickly, piping hot and always delicious.

OMG, this is awesome. I take a few bites. Yum this is so good. Take a few more bites. I am getting stuffed. Dang it I filled up too much on the chips and salsa! I’m still going to eat it all (well sometimes I take the rest to go).

Everything on the menu is reasonably priced and there is something for everyone at Rodeo. There are vegetarian suggestions for those who do not eat meat or seafood. You can choose items from the favorite selections and build your own meal. They serve salads and soups, the prices are ideal and did I mention they have a full bar.
Tequila, beer, daiquiris, Margaritas, whiskey, rum…you name it. The mango Margaritas are great. I speak from experience on this…trust me.

Rodeo is located at 304 West Oglethorpe Highway in Hinesville. For more information or to place a to go order call (912) 877-2040.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Guten Tag everyone.

First published in the Coastal Courier Newspaper October 2015

It’s October, the time of month where the wind kicks up, the temperatures start to plummet and families prepare their Halloween costumes.
I do happen to fancy Halloween but there is another thing I quite enjoy far more than a Hershey’s Kiss or Snickers Bar.

BEER!
Man downtown Hinesville was sure a hopping place (ha, get it as in beer hops…but I digress), at least for two years in a row in October of 2009 and 2010. For those two years the entire community crowded into Bradwell Park for October Fest celebrations that were put together by the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority, Fort Stewart’s Morale, Welfare and Recreation and of course, Zum Rosenhof German Restaurant.

For an entire weekend downtown transformed in to Bavaria. It was amazing.

Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, oi oi oi

Yep, I can still hear the constant singing of that traditional German toast as folks gathered up their beer steins and gulped down some Warsteiner or Hefeweizen brews.
Before then my only experience with German beer was Becks, Heineken and Lowenbrau, you know the Americanized version of German beer.
It was during these festivals that I got my first taste of Tucher, Warsteiner, Hefeweizen and Gaffel Kolsch beers.

Funny, don’t quite remember much after that.

We haven’t had the street fest the past few years but October definitely pulls my thoughts to munching down a bratwurst sandwich and tipping back a Warsteiner. We might not the festival but we still have Zum Rosenhof.

I have tried nearly all their version of Schnitzels, with my favorites being the Jager Schnitzel and onion Schnitzel.
The pork loin is beaten thin and lightly breaded and fried crisp. The Jager Schnitzel is topped with a rich brown mushroom sauce, while the onion Schnitzel is covered with a mountain of grilled onions.

I love their side salad. The first time I saw the sliced cuts of lettuce and red cabbage topped over some green beans and drizzled with a light creamy sauce with vinegar and dill I wasn’t too sure how it would taste.

Verdict: It was delicious.

Their bratwurst sandwich is hefty and it goes well with their home fries, which are well spiced and different than just regular cut fries.
Their creamy grilled chicken breast lunch special is rich and savory. The sauce is poured over the chicken and regular cut fries. It’s enough to fill you for the rest of your day and it’s definitely worth the price.

I tried their Schweinebraten, a pork roast they slowly simmer until it falls apart at the touch of your fork. It is covered with a thick, savory and deep flavored brown sauce. The potato salad has a distinct zesty flavor and their spatzle is to die for.
Don’t even get me started on their daily selection of decadent cakes and desserts.

But the food at Zum Rosenhof is just half of the experience.

Every time I walk into Zum, the staff is quick to offer a boisterous Guten Tag and the wait staff that know me well enough are also quick to bring me a cold brew.
I love how all the waitresses are decked out in traditional dirndl attire.
It is another one of those Hinesville locations where you feel like you are walking in to have a meal with your family. I’ve often sat at the bar area for dinner next to complete strangers only to walk out knowing I’ve made new friends.
Owner Anka Hinze is quick to offer you a smile and sometimes a hug. Birthday celebrations should always include the two liter Das Boot beer challenge.

I think I did that – once. Can’t remember.

What I do remember was when a fire threatened to take away the one place I knew I could go and get my German on.
It was three weeks before Christmas 2008. An employee came in around 10 a.m. to set up for lunch. She unlocked the front door and slightly opened it when she saw smoke and smelled something burning. It was an unfortunate situation happening just a week after the restaurant had finished an extensive renovation.

But fortunately the fire was contained to the bar and despite a lot of smoke and soot damage the food and the beer was flowing by the second week of February 2009.
That was followed by those two wild and crazy October Fest years.

Nowadays the bars is covered with hanging $1 bills painted in the colors of the German flag or brandishing a personal message written with a sharpie marker.
Even more exciting is the new addition Anka Hinze said they hope to open shortly – Speisekammer German Groceries right next to the restaurant.
I’m looking forward to being able to buy some German staples and take plenty home to experiment with.
The bottom line is that the family friendly and intimate atmosphere found at Zum Rosenhoff make it October Fest all year round.
You don’t have to take my word for it just pass by the place on a Friday and Saturday night and you will see the cars parked along Midway Street. Roll down your window and you can hear folks just having a good time.

Ziggy Zaggy, Ziggy Zaggy, oi oi oi

About Zum Rosenhof
Zum Rosenhof German Restaurant is located at 103 B Midway Street. The owners David and Anka Hinze opened the restaurant in 2007 in an old building that once housed the first branch of the Hinesville bank (now known as the Heritage Bank).
Food service runs from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Friday. The full bar runs from 11 a.m. until the last person leaves the place. On Saturday dinning is open from 2-9:30 p.m., with the bar open until midnight. They are closed on Sundays. For more information call 876-2191.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pour me up some sandwich, soup and burgers, please

First published in the Coastal Courier Newspaper in October 2015

When I first moved to this area, there was a place the locals all flocked to for lunch, happy hour and evening celebrations called El-Rods.

Man, it was a happening place. It served great steak and burgers, was the gracious host to several fundraisers that aided local charitable organizations, and was a place where literally everybody knew your name.

Cue the theme song from “Cheers.”


The first time someone had mentioned the place to me was when I asked where I could get a decent steak or burger that was not from a chain restaurant. Granted, I was a bit leery when I learned it was housed at the end of a strip mall. You had to drive behind the building to get to the entrance.

The entrance led to a side-patio sitting room and a few feet away were the bar and restaurant.

I spent many nights chomping down on burgers and washing them down with a cold beer or two. It was a place where I would often meet my co-workers for lunch or on weekends meet up with friends.

I was sad when it closed, even sadder when it remained closed for quite some time.

About a year ago, a sign was posted announcing the restaurant was going to open again as a place called The Pour House Bar and Grill. It opened in July and finally, about a week ago, I walked in for lunch to give it a look and try a burger.

I paused upon entering. The room that was once divided in two was now an open space. The bar remained where I remembered it to be, and the once-open patio area was now an enclosed space. The back entrance was also where I remembered it to be, but the new place also has an entrance that faces the front section of the strip mall.

I perused the menu and glanced at the listing of burgers and sandwiches. Then something caught my eye. Among the selection of po’boys and sandwiches was a ribeye steak sandwich. The menu claimed it was the best “Sam-ish” in town.

Say what? Challenge accepted.

The waitress came around and took my order. Along with the sandwich, I got some sweet tea and a side order of coleslaw. As I waited, I looked around. The far corner wall near the kitchen had a neat chrome industrial look that fit well with the new open space, lighting and new ambience. On the wall across from the bar, a chalkboard listed all the available beers on tap and bottled. It was an impressive list. It has a few flat-screen TVs placed throughout the restaurant, all displaying different sport channels.

I glanced at the long list of specialty brews and waited for my sandwich. Much like a few places I have written about recently, The Pour House cooks your meal to order, which I can appreciate instead of a reheated or premade meal that sits under a heat lamp.

And it didn’t take long. Suddenly before me was this thin — but massive — ribeye steak, spewing out beyond the reach of the toasted French bread-style bun that struggled to hold it in place. It was topped with lettuce and tomato. The sandwich is served with a specialty sauce the restaurant calls “horsey” sauce.

The sandwich was cut in half, and I hoisted up the first half and took a bite.

It was delicious, and then I tried the next bite by dipping the tip of the sandwich into the sauce.

Wow!

The best way to describe the sauce would be to say it is like a creamy ranch dressing with the addition of horseradish. The perfect topping for a steak sandwich. I will concede The Pour House has the best ribeye sandwich in town.

Realizing I went for a burger and was distracted, I returned to The Pour House a few days later and this time, I focused on their burger selection. I settled for the bacon cheeseburger, especially pleased the restaurant lets you pick the cheese you want.

Once again, I looked over the beer list. Knowing my boss would not appreciate an inebriated writer, I stuck to sweet tea. There were three people seated at the table to my left. The woman was bragging about the crab soup featured on the menu.

She convinced the man seated across from her to order a bowl.

My burger arrived. Again, it was massive. Yet much like the steak sandwich, I finished the whole thing. It was perfectly cooked, still juicy. The pepper jack cheese held the thick and crispy slices of bacon in place. I had to cut it in half just to get a handle on it for the first bite.

I devoured it and was munching on the fries when the man was served his crab soup.
This is the best you will ever taste,” the waitress said to him, adding that the chef won’t even tell the staff the recipe other than it has cream and blue crabs.

We all watched him take the first taste.

“Lawd in heaven, this is good,” he said.

Suddenly, I realized I would need to come back again and try it one day.

In fact, I started looking at the nearly seven-page menu and started making a mental list.

The soup will be my next adventure, then maybe the buffalo shrimp appetizers. Or maybe the crab-cake sandwich. Maybe I should sample the crab cake from the appetizer menu and save room for their daily lunch specials.

Oh, look they also have a shrimp po’boy. And on Friday, the pulled-pork sandwich is the lunch special for this week… Decisions … Decisions.

But I think next time, I’m coming after work so I can finally sample the brews, too.



The Pour House Bar & Grill

• 135 W. Hendry St., Hinesville
• Hours: 11 a.m. to midnight every day except Friday, when it’s open until 2 a.m.
• Phone: 912-368-7687

Monday, April 17, 2017

First published in the Coastal Courier Newspaper July 2015

Last week, I got the hankering for some Chinese food, but instead opted to try something slightly different. So I stopped in at Seoul Restaurant, Fine Korean Dining.

Honestly I didn’t know what to expect because my only experience with Korean food had been watching Andrew Zimmern and Anthony Bourdain talk about and consume it on Food Network and Travel Channel.

The two TV foodies visited many places featuring Korean food that was typically spicy, with lots of specialty soups and noodles. Everywhere they went, the popular side dish, kimchi, was served as well as a variety of other side plates.

I’m always down for something spicy. But kimchi? Fermented food?
When the word fermented is used my thought goes straight to two things; (1) heck yeah, they are making beer or wine, and I know it’s five o’clock somewhere; (2) oh heck no, they’re letting my food rot and grow bacteria. The fear with the latter is that I would pay the price the next day.

Looking for a new dining thrill, I ventured into the restaurant.
I looked over the menu. I noticed they had those noodle soups Bourdain and Zimmern raved about.
“Cool beans,” I thought. “Time for some spicy ramen noodle soup thingy.”

The waitress came by, and I asked about the seafood soup.
“No seafood soup today,” the woman said.
I swear, for a brief second, she sounded like the infamous Soup Nazi from the former popular TV show, “Seinfeld.” At least that is how I heard her in my head. I panicked. I recalled how badly things ended for Elaine in that episode. I looked down at the menu and picked another soup.
“OK, how about the chicken ramen soup?” I asked half smiling, half ready to cry.

“No ramen, no soup, not today,” she said.
I looked over at my co-worker, who had joined me for the experience, and she looked just as wide-eyed as I did.

“Soups are special orders, you have to call ahead to order,” the waitress explained.
Happy that I could, eventually, try the seafood soup (take that, Elaine!), I fumbled through the menu and ordered the Tak Go Gi (chicken with fried rice and fired dumplings). My co-worker ordered the Bul Go Gi (beef with fried rice and fried dumplings).
When lunch was served I looked over to my co-worker’s plate. The beef was coated with a bright red chili paste.

“That’s going to be hot,” I said. My order looked delicious with sliced chicken in a spicy sauce, two fried dumplings and fried rice. Along with the dish came the side plates, what they call banchan, of regular kimchi, cucumber kimchi (normally called Oi Sobagi) and fish cakes (Eomuk Bokkeum).
“What’ this?” I asked pointing at what the waitress said was fish cakes.

“We puree the fish, make into paste, ferment it … season … try it,” she said.
Reluctantly, I reached for a fish cake and gave it a try.
“That’s amazing,” I told my co-worker. “If the rest of the meal tastes as good as this, I may never go back to work.”
The rest of the meal was divine — yet spicy. I looked over to my co-worker and saw she had beads of sweat on her forehead.
“Hot, but it’s so good,” I said in between the sniffles to clear my sinuses. She let me sample her spicy beef dish.

“That’s even hotter than mine,” I said, noticing that the red chili paste had stained my chop sticks and was probably doing the same to my lips and mouth.
“Happy-happy-joy-joy, happy-happy-joy-joy,” I sang quietly to myself, remembering the funny little tune from Nickelodeon’s “The Ren and Stimpy Show” cartoon years ago.

I was content. It was definitely a new taste experience unlike any Chinese or Asian meal I’ve had before. Later, the waitress explained that everything is cooked to order. The seafood soup I had asked for was a specialty item that required one day advance notice to make. She said the cook needed the extra time to prepare the soup the proper way and with freshly gathered seafood.

Anything that took that much care and attention was something I had to try. A few days later I went back and ordered “the soup,” (Jjam Bbong, yeah I am not even going to try and pronounce now or ever).

“I didn’t place the noodles in the soup because it would expand too much,” the cook, a thin but strong-looking woman, said as she stepped out from the kitchen the next day. “You take this, place some noodles in bowl, pour soup over it and hope you enjoy it. You come back, you let me know.”

Along with the soup, they threw in some pickled fruit, kimchi and the cucumber kimchi as side items. One order was enough for three people, and I had placed two orders to share at work.

I followed the instructions and placed some noodles in my bowl and opened the soup. The aroma was intense, briny and spicy, and the broth was a bright orange-red. I could smell the shrimp and mussels and tons of vegetables. As I ladled my soup into the bowl, I squealed with joy — octopus!

“Noodles, yum,” I thought and then — slurp!
“Must have more,” I thought to myself, lifting the bowl up to my lips and slurping the broth down, too.

The heat was on point. It’s the kind of spicy flavor that stays with you but doesn’t have the overkill of detracting from the rest of the flavors. I could taste each component of the soup.

Alas, most of the news crew was out of the office.
“Muahahaha — no soup for them,” I thought to myself, quickly hoarding the soup and feasting on it for dinner for the remainder of the week at home.

About Seoul Korean Fine Dining

• Located at 844 E.G. Miles Parkway, the restaurant is open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. The staff does take a lunch break between 3 and 5 p.m., so the diner will be closed during their break.

Bring your patience. Each meal is cooked to order, so don’t expect to be served as quickly as you would in a fast-food establishment. Their meals are well worth the wait.

They have lunch specials that are budget-friendly and filling. Certain items are available with advance notice only. The waitress is extremely helpful in explaining menu items.

Don’t judge the place by the outside appearance.

Seoul Restaurant has served customers in Hinesville since it opened in 1982. The food — and staff — is definitely the reason people keep coming back.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Feeling a bit crabby

My father was an avid fisherman and whenever he got vacation time, we would pile up in the family station wagon and head to the West Coast of Florida for some Gulf Coast fishing in Fort Myers, Naples or Sarasota.

Sitting in the backseat in between my brother and I was the family dog, April. Her placement between my brother and I was purposeful as it kept my older brother from pinching me in the leg or jabbing me in the side, thereby causing me to wail and scream, “Dad he is hitting me.” This tantrum, in turn, caused my parents, to cringe in the front seat, to have nervous breakdowns or worse turn around and yell at us.

During this particular trip to Naples my parents had booked a motel room along the bay. Dad was intent on crabbing and the motel had a full kitchen mom would use to make us some fresh cangrejo enchilada (Cuban style Crab in Creole sauce).

I was about eight or nine years old during this trip but it is one vacation I always remember. My brother decided to stay with friends instead of making the trip to Naples so the back seat was just April and I. We checked into the motel and the bay was across the street. Dad prepped the crab traps with chucks of chicken and into the water they went. We hung out by the pool, played in the bay with my dog and went to sleep later that night. The following morning dad checked the traps and they were LOADED – success.

Then the fun began. Mom had the pot of boiling water going and dad was reaching into the traps with kitchen tongs and pulling out the crabs. One by one they went into the water until one of them, possibly realizing his future demise, jumped out of the trap and started running across the kitchen floor.
Curious about the strange creature my dog started to chase the crab and the crustacean went into defense mode, pinchers up and ready.
“Stay away from the crab it will pinch your snout off,” dad yelled at April in Spanish. Being a bright and obviously bi-lingual German shepherd April backed away. For the next 20 minutes dad and I chased that crab around the motel room, mom watched as she continued to prepare the ones we managed to get in the pot.

April cornered the crab next to the front door, I used another pot and quickly covered the crab, “Got it,” I yelled. Dad came over with the tongs, grabbed and grabbed the sucker. I thought he was ready to toss the crab into the water but instead walked outside, across the street and tossed him back into the bay.
“But dad, we had him,” I said.
“That S.O.B. fought for his life, so he gets a chance to swim again,” dad said laughing.

Two years ago mom and dad were visiting and we talked about that vacation and the meal we did finally enjoy once the fiasco was finished. Mom said she wanted to make the dish again but only trusted markets where the crabs could be purchased while they were still alive.
I called around and came across Bobo II Seafood in Hinesville.

“Yes we have live crabs,” the person on the phone said when I called. I drove there with my parents and we were able to select the size and quantity. We placed the box of crabs in the back seat of my car and you could hear them moving around. Brought the box in the house and dad used my kitchen tongs to place them in the boiling water. One crab jumped out of the box, my dog Chelsea approached the curious beast and the crab stuck out his pincher in attack mode.
My dad and I looked at each other and broke out laughing. “Here we go again,” I said. It didn’t take as long this time, however and soon we were feasting on mom’s delicious dish.

That was my first time visiting Bobo II Seafood but it was definitely not my last. The place is not a restaurant but a seafood market. However during that first visit I was surprised to learn they sold a low-country boil lunch. The Tibetan owners will offer you the savory meal with a spicy topping if you want to add a little heat. Be warned that spice has a mean kick to it and is the best way to clear your sinuses while enjoying the fresh boiled shrimp, corn and potato dish.

Since then the owners have expanded to offer a variety of takeout meals. In 2013 they started selling fried seafood in addition to their boil. Folks come in and buy the fresh fish of their choice and the staff will offer to cook it up.
I’ve had the fried snapper. The staff cut the head and tail off, butterflied the fish and deep fried it. They placed my cooked fish in the takeout plate and I think I had pretty much finished it off before getting home.

Some folks get the fried shrimp or scallops, but I keep coming back for the boil. It is simple yet tasty and after a while you get used to the spicy heat. And of course you can get the heat sauce on the side or ask for their garlic sauce instead.

Everything here is to-go but well worth it.
And yes, I have even returned to get more live crabs. Mom shared enough of her recipe. She was never one to measure. It was always, “Add a little of this, some of this and a lot of that,” as she would say in Spanish.

I’ve mastered it enough to make it at home for friends or even for myself and it always takes me back to that trip in Naples.

Cangrejo Enchilado
5-6 large live blue crabs
Olive Oil
One sweet onion, chopped
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 large green pepper, chopped
One cup chopped parsley
2 bay leaves
1 large can of tomato sauce
1 cup red wine (the kind you would drink as my mom would say)
Salt and hot sauce to taste

Have a large pot of salted boiling water going and cooked the crabs for about 5 minutes. Drain the water and let the crabs slightly cool so you can handle them with your hands. Remove the carapace and clean away the gunk and lungs leaving only the clean crab meat. Break the chest of the crab in half, remove the legs and claws and set aside until the sauce is ready.

Sautee the onion, garlic, green pepper and parsley in the Olive Oil until soft. Add the wine, tomato sauce, bay leaves, salt and hot sauce and let that simmer for 20 minutes. Add the crabs and let it simmer for another 10 minutes so the flavor is infused into every crevice of the crab. Serve in a bowl or over rice and have plenty of hand towels ready. I add a few slices of Cuban bread to the table for sopping up the spicy goodness as well.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Ya' Man!

I grew up in Miami where the influence of Caribbean cuisine could be found in many areas of the downtown, Little Haiti, Little Havana and Wynwood communities. Those pockets of immigrant settlements were the cornerstone of creole and curry, something my palate has not quite savored since I left Miami 11 years ago.

At a previous place of employment, in North Miami Beach, my co-worker and best friend was Jamaican. I loved it when he used to bring ‘extra’ leftovers to share (yes I begged him to, don’t judge me).
I can remember the one time he brought a few Jamaican sodas with him and offered one up.

“What’s this?” I asked.
“Ting,” he said in his thick Jamaican accent.
“Yeah what is this thing?” I asked again.
“Ting man, it’s called Ting,” he replied.
“This thing is called Ting, seriously?”
“Ya man,” he said before turning away obviously annoyed. “Take ya sip woman.”

To this day I’m not sure if he turned away because I had annoyed him or to secretly laugh at me knowing the drink was an acquired taste. Something like drinking a tart grapefruit with a sugary after taste, at least for me. I’m pretty sure the face I made was the kind you see when someone sucks on a lime.

“Good ya? tis tart,” he said now looking at me with a grin.
“Um dude is that curry goat you got?” I asked trying not to give him the satisfaction of knowing he got me.
“Ya man,” he replied laughing.
“Now you’re talking, I’ll swap you my Ting for some if that,” I said giving in.

His wife’s curry goat, curry chicken, ox tail, ackee and salt fish was some of the best I’ve tasted. After all they both grew up in Jamaica and had the recipes passed down from family member to family member.
It had been more than a decade since I had an authentic Jamaican curry, or jerk dish. Sure I’ve had what some folks call jerk chicken here and there but not the real deal – until last week.

I often drive along E.G. Miles and had spotted a place called Good 2 Go. For years the thought of walking in and sampling the menu had not crossed my mind, not sure why.
But there was a time I attended the free SCAD Alumni Concert that was held at Forsyth Park. Maybe about three years ago. The show’s headlining band – The Wailers.

As in Bob Marley and the Wailers; as in the same boys that have kept Marley’s Reggae brand of music alive; as in FREE SHOW with a kicking nationally known band.
Since that night the lyrics of “One Love” have been floating in my head and the desire for curry goat whetted my appetite.
That band whetted my taste buds and after a much to long delay I made my first stop at Good 2 Go. I can tell you now that it won’t be my last.

The interior walls were brightly painted in the colors of the Jamaican Flag. Several pictures of Bob Marley adorn the wall immediately activating my internal Pandora Radio and taking me right back to the concert. Now with the music setting the rhythm in my head it was time to see if the food would hit the right notes with my taste buds and tummy.

Being my first time I quickly glanced at the white erase board with the meals listed on it. They had all the classics and then some. Third down from the list was what I craved and walked up to the counter where Liz Cochen patiently waited for me to place my order.

“Curry goat,” I said adding that I wanted it served with the rice and peas and side of fried plantains.
“Small or large?” Cochen asked.
Now much like the rest of America, I too am trying to watch my waistline, which has grown substantially in the past year since an injury sidelined my physical fitness activities a bit. But come on now, an opportunity to eat curry goat, the first time in almost a decade – YES I CAVED.
“Large and thank you for pointing that out,” I said.

I sat down and within minutes my plate of goodness was placed before me.
I could smell the curry as the steam wafted its way towards me activating the salivary glands. The plantains are what we Cubans call ‘maduros,’ meaning they are fried but soft and sweet. The plantains are allowed to ripen to nearly full brown before peeling, slicing and frying them in a shallow pan with oil.
Just like my mother still makes when I go for a visit.

The curry sauce had that wondrous yellow hue and the goat was stewed the way it should be, cut into bite size chunks, bone still attached.
That signaled good times ahead and I savored sucking all the meat and juices off the bone, as lady like (picture the cookie monster eating his favorite cookie, got it…OK proceed) as possible so as to not draw too much attention to myself.
It was Jamaican perfection. I think I even saw Bob Marley’s picture nod his head in approval. Spicy but not over powering, the look of contentment must have been obvious on my face.

“First time here?” Cochen asked as she brought me a meat patty I also ordered (which was later devoured in much the same way for dinner).
“Yes,” I answered and somehow I knew she understood I would be back for more. After all they had ackee and salt fish, curry shrimp, snapper stew and the real jerk chicken yet to try.

I looked around and saw a customer reading a piece of paper, folding it back up and placing it on the counter. Curious, I stood up walked over to the counter and opened the paper. It was a list of foods.
“We cater and we deliver,” Cochen said as she handed another customer a bottle of Ting.
I smiled.

“One love, One Heart. Let’s get together and feel all right,” was all I could hear from then on.
About Good 2 Go

This Jamaican eatery has been in Hinesville for years and quickly earned rave reviews on Trip Advisor when Dwayne Smith and his wife Glennis Smith, of Jamaica and Antigua, bought the place from the previous owner.

They are reasonably priced, carry a barrage of Jamaican snacks and goodies in addition to their menu items and the folks are friendly. The atmosphere is casual and as the Jamaican’s say – irie.
They are located at 812 E.G. Miles Parkway in Hinesville and typically open from 11 a.m. until 9 p.m. They accept all major credit cards. For more information call (912) 369-3933.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The heart of the Hispanic Caribbean here in Hinesville

The fragrance of freshly made ‘pastelitos,’ the lyrics of the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, heard from nearly every open window, the smoke from a hand-rolled cigar and the sounds of the dominoes hitting the table at Domino Park.

Calle Ocho, the main strip, the heart of Little Havana, Miami and my fondest memories of my free spirited youth.
Well, OK, my early youth. From the age of too young to remember how old I was when we moved there, until about eight. The time in one’s life where you could eat A-LOT, and trust me I did, and still stay trim. Back then I burned all the excess calories during school recess, playing outside with my friends after school for hours until it got dark (what a concept) or dancing the salsa with my dad (well he danced and he let me stand on his feet).

Growing up in Little Havana, meant morning walks to the corner bakery, with mom, to pick up a ‘colada,’ a traditional cup of Cuban coffee. It’s what Americans would call a shot of expresso except the Cubans found a way of making the tart brew taste sweet by adding at least five teaspoons of sugar per ONE CUP of coffee (and this is a conservative figure).

That one colada could actually serve a household of four; the rich elixir served in tiny cups about the size of a half a shot glass of booze. If you were bold, or in serious need of a wake-up call, you might have more than one shot from your colada. But be warned, you would have the energy of a running Gazelle for a few hours followed by a serious comatose sugar crash only fixed by grabbing another colada and this time drinking the whole thing.
At the bakery we would also pick up beef ‘pastelitos,’ a fluffy baked pastry stuffed with either beef, cheese, guava or better yet both guava and cheese, some ham ‘croquetas,’ a divine fried ham finger-food specialty and a variety of other tasty morsels to get our day started and have extras to pack for lunch.

Evenings always meant mom’s home cooked meals. I had many I enjoyed like ‘arroz con pollo,’ (yellow rice and chicken), ‘ropa vieja,’ (shredded beef, usually flank steak, simmered in a tomato based creole spiced sauce) and ‘bistec de palomilla,’ (basically a top round or sirloin steak pounded paper thin, seasoned with garlic, salt, pepper and lime and fried in oil) but my all-time favorite dishes were ‘carne con papas,’ (Cuban style beef stew with potatoes) and ‘lechon asado,’ (roasted pig and I mean the WHOLE DANG PIG).

One of the first places I found when I relocated to Hinesville and needed a Miami meal fix was D&M Hispanic Restaurant. Venecia and Jose Morel opened the place 10 years ago and offer up authentic Puerto Rican, Dominican and Cuban food.
“Basically all the same…but sometimes with different names,” son and waiter Randy Morel said when asked what the difference was between each ethnic dish.
There are a few dishes that are associated with one Caribbean Island versus another, like mofongo, a specially made plantain dish, is tied more to the island of Puerto Rico than Cuba but it is well known and made throughout the Caribbean chain of islands.
And thank goodness D&M Hispanic Restaurant has all my favorites on their menu. Morel said his family is Dominican. He said he also grew up in Miami where his parents ran a restaurant for many years.

Morel said his cousin Ronald DeLeon convinced his family to move to Hinesville and open a restaurant. DeLeon already lived in the area, being military and stationed at Fort Stewart. DeLeon, affectionately known to many as ‘Chubby’ owns and runs Walthourville Meat Market.
I visited the restaurant twice this week dining in on one occasion and getting take out the next. During my first stop I ordered my ‘carne con papas,’ with white rice, black beans and ‘tostones,’ which are fried plantain chips but cooked while the plantain is still pretty much green and hard.

My second visit I picked up an order of ‘lechon asado,’ with the white rice, black beans and ‘maduros,’ the fried plantains that are sweet and soft, cooked when the plantain is fully ripen extracting all the sugars during the cooking process.
The carne con papas sat in a deep red ocean of ‘sofrito,’ a traditional tomato based sauce made with garlic, bell peppers, onions and herbs. Spanish olives and sliced carrots were in the stew and the portion was huge. The potato was easily cut with a fork as was the stewed beef.
The roast pork is served in its own juices and cooked onions. The chunks of meat were tender, yet had bits of roasted edges adding that crunch texture and savory roasted flavor.

For the past nine years I’ve sampled their Cuban sandwich (the real deal), ‘pan con lechon,’ (roasted pork sandwich on Cuban bread…come on, it doesn’t get any better, wait yes it does…..wait for it…) and their ‘chuleta frita,’ (fried pork chops topped with onions – BOOM there it is).
I still need to try their version of ‘bistec de palomilla,’ and don’t even get me started on their ‘flan,’ dessert (think caramel custard, dripping with soft caramel topping, soft sugary goodness worth the extra hour on the treadmill). Pure heaven.

The only thing D&M Hispanic Restaurant can’t duplicate is the experience of mom cooking in the kitchen or watching my dad dig a pit in the back yard and preparing a whole pig for roasting for ‘Noche Buena’ our version of Christmas Eve, complete with feast.
My dad would marinate the pig, split in half yet whole from tail to snout, the day before cooking it. The next morning with the pit already dug he carefully layered the hot coals in place, placed the pig on a rack he designed on top of the coals and cover the pig with a box he also designed based on what he used as a child in Cuba. The top of the box was aluminum and more hot coals were placed on top and the pig would cook the whole day.

Meanwhile family gathered, salsa music played all day long and I would step on dad’s feet and dance until it was time to eat.




Friday, April 7, 2017

Went for steaks, stayed for the chocolate

Yep, I did my civic duty March 4, and participated in the test run and employee training for the new Hinesville LongHorn Steakhouse.

Man did I have my fill.

I purposely had an early brunch that day which meant I was more than ready to sample the goods by my 7:30 dinner appointment.

And sample I did!

Yeah, it was tough ordering that 12 ounce medium-rare New York strip. OK, I did get the side salad and the loaded baked potato.

I sliced into the freshly baked honey wheat bread and slathered my piece in butter. Within minutes the steak arrived and it was delicious. Perfectly seasoned and juicy.

I had expected to dine on my own, but found two co-workers there. I joined them and they informed me that each table would get either a complimentary appetizer or dessert. They had chosen dessert, which was fine by me.

So once dinner was done we ordered the Chocolate Stampede.

Within minutes this mountainous tray is placed before us. There it was in all its glory, two slabs of chocolate cake with layers of chocolate mousse on top, and covered in more chocolate, served with vanilla ice cream — COVERED IN CHOCOLATE.

OK, so here is something you might not know about me yet. I like sweets, but I can also do without for long periods. So when I do splurge on dessert I always go for something chocolate.

And this was way beyond my chocolate expectations.

It was as if my tablemates and I were suddenly a pack of wolves going after the same prey. We eye-balled each other, grabbed our spoons and started cutting into the cake and ice cream and loading it on our individual plates.

This piece here is MINE all MINE, (picture the three of us suddenly hovering over our plates, nose deep in chocolate and only coming up for air or a second serving).
Not a word was spoken at first. Then occasionally a whisper of, “yum,” or “Oh man, this is good,” or “winning is knowing I wore my stretchy pants for this.”

It was 2,178 calories of sheer bliss (divided by three, so technically my portion was only 726 calories).

Y’all know what I’m talking about. It’s the type of dessert that you think to yourself, this is awesome while telling your friends, “I’ll walk this off tomorrow,” even though you know you won’t.

It’s the type of chocolate overload better enjoyed at home (thank goodness for carry out). That way once you finished the cake and ice cream you could still enjoy licking the plate and not just the spoon.

Oh sure, go ahead and act like you don’t do that when your alone at home. And for those of you brave enough to do this at the restaurant — BRAVO, I bow down to you.

Bottom line, it was an indulgence I can’t wait to repeat soon. Very soon. And thankfully now I can do so without having to drive out of town.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

We all scream for Ice Cream but mine has booze in it, WINNING

As temperatures outside climb it’s time to ditch the chili and soups and head on over to the ice cream isle.
Ice cream? That’s not a healthy meal.
Well sorry, but I beg to differ.
I’m willing to wager that my ice cream is a far better choice than your Quarter Pounder with cheese or Whopper.
I love Ben & Jerry’s, Breyers and Haagen-Daz brands.
Hey why settle for one brand! The more the merrier, right?
And those three brands are making efforts to make my cold and creamy indulgence better for my body.
Okay, a tad bit healthier.
Take for example Haagen-Daz. Its ice cream has always been produced without using artificial ingredients, gums or stabilizers. But in 2016 it took things one step further producing nine flavors without genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Those flavors included chocolate, chocolate peanut butter, coffee, pineapple coconut, chocolate-chocolate chip, rum raisin, strawberry, vanilla and vanilla bean.
I’m a sucker for all things chocolate and can attest to the fact that their non-GMO chocolate-chocolate chip and regular chocolate were just as tasty, if not better, than their regular product.
Breyers’ brand has long taken pride on using simple ingredients for better flavor. It also decided to start producing flavors that are non-GMO, use milk from cows not treated with artificial growth hormones and use sustainably farmed fruits and vanilla.
I think my all-time favorite Breyers’ flavor is rocky road, or maybe their chocolate truffle, or both mixed together.
Both brands offer gluten free, dairy free, nut free options as well as sorbets. Breyers also has half the fat options, lactose free and fat free flavors.
Ben & Jerry’s was based on creating a more socially conscious ice cream. It started the non-GMO movement long before other brands and was the first to fight against the use of milk from cows treated with artificial growth hormones. Ben & Jerry’s respects fair trade for farmers, advocates for civil rights and environmental issues and sustainable food systems.
Right now, Ben & Jerry’s has developed something I can truly stand behind and support. I don’t understand why this wasn’t developed sooner as it brings together the best of two of my worlds.
This year, Ben & Jerry’s released a new flavor called Urban Bourbon.
Heck yeah!
Ben & Jerry’s describes it as a burnt caramel ice cream with almonds, fudge flakes and bourbon infused caramel swirls.
Yes, please. That sounds like something perfect. Enough to satisfy my taste for whiskey and love of ice cream, with no hangover to boot.
And, of course, imitation is the best form of flattery so Haagen-Daz has thrown a bourbon infused flavor into its repertoire.
It is set to release their bourbon praline pecan soon.
That just sounds like Georgia in a bourbon cup to me. Can’t wait.
Now I just need Breyers to jump on the bandwagon. Either that or develop my own.
Hmmmm.
I wonder how a Breyers’ extra creamy vanilla and Not Your Father’s Root Beer float would taste.
All that creamy vanilla ice cream covered in that new tasty adult beverage that duplicates your childhood root beer, but with 10.7 percent alcohol per volume.
Sounds like Heaven to me.
I’ll let you know how the experiment went.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Adobo Filipino in Hinesville

I was pleasantly surprised the other day driving into work.

There, in the Kroger shopping plaza, was a new eatery called Adobo Filipino.

I’ve heard good things about Filipino cuisine but had never tried it. Now I can and so I did.

And plan to do so again and again because it was that delicious.

The shop opened about a month ago and aims to offer real, authentic Filipino foods. In order to maintain that integrity and attention to detail the entrée menu changes daily.

The little bit that I knew of Filipino food was that it has a unique combination of Asian and Spanish influences.

The first time I went, they were offering pork adobo, chicken adobo, pork sinigang and bicol express. Adobo I’m somewhat familiar with, as there are similar dishes in the Cuban and Spanish cuisine that cook with adobo.

Adobo is a marinade. In the Cuban cuisine it relies heavily on garlic, oregano, salt and a few other herbs and spices. Filipino adobo has more of an Asian influence, including paprika, soy sauce, ginger and other spices. But the concept is the same. The meat is often marinated in the adobo, cooked and then served in the marinade sauce.

The diner offered a combo special that day. For $8.99 you could get two entrées (sample size) with a side of steamed white or fried rice.

I opted for the combo platter and chose the chicken adobo and bicol express to go with my steamed white rice. Within minutes the server placed before me a plate with a massive pile of rice and two smaller bowls.

The chicken adobo had a familiar taste, similar to what I’ve made or had at mom’s house, yet definitely scrumptious.

The bicol express is pork, chilies and green beans simmered in coconut milk. This was a first for me and it was amazing.

The chilies, simmered in the coconut milk, gave the dish a pastel pink hue which at first caught me off guard. In the broth were chunks of pork and green beans cut on the diagonal. I took my first taste and — POW.

The chilies kicked up the spice factor. Not enough to burn, but enough to let you know it’s there.

OH yeah I’m hooked baby.

I’m glad they offer something different each day. So much so I was back just a few days later and tried the chicken afritada and the lechon (pork) kawali combo, this time with fried rice.

Afritada is a tomato based sauce used in several Filipino plates. This chicken afritada had red peppers, potato and peas. Once I poured the chicken and sauce over the rice the blended flavors reminded me of my mom’s Cuban style chicken and rice.

The lechon kawali was described as a crispy pork belly dish. That immediately brought to mind chicharrones, or as they are known in English fried pork rinds. But not the kind you would find in the chips aisle of the grocery store.

Those are not true pork rinds my friends. Put the bag back on the shelf, and go try the real deal.

The real deal was served up to me at Adobo Filipino. The skin on the pork belly was crisp and crunchy. The meat and fat was perfectly tenderized with spices before they were deep fried. The combination of crispy and melt in your mouth meat took me back to the days when the family would gather around a whole roasted pig. My aunt and I would fight over who got the best sections of pork skin.

It was just the right amount of skin to meat ratio and then the server brought out the dipping sauce.

"What is this?" I asked.

"It’s the sauce... dip the kawali in the sauce... trust me," she said.

Where has this sauce been all my life? It had a hint of peanut and paired so well with the pork it was all gone in minutes.

The owners say cooking specific meals daily in just the right amounts helps to ensure they keep their food tasting of the Philippines.

They’ve succeeded!

I look forward to trying their beef kare kare. It is one of the entrees offered after 4 p.m. It is beef cooked in peanut sauce with vegetables.

They also offer desserts like buko salad: young coconut meat mixed with tropical fruits in cream and milk.

That’s my next order for sure.

They have a variety of noodle plates that also change daily.

They typically offer vegetable and Shanghai lumpia, which are rolls served with a dipping sauce as appetizers. But some days they have additional appetizers to try.

Plates range in price from $3.99 to $8.99 and, trust me, you will leave their full and satisfied. Eat in or take out and come often. I plan to go as often as possible until I’ve sampled every option.

Adobo Filipino is at 549 W. Oglethorpe Highway and is open 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sundays.

Check the daily menu at www.facebook.com/adoborestaurants.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Aloha, Island Cafe

On a recent stroll around the Farmers Market, I glanced over at what used to be one of my favorite stops, Uncommon Grounds.

Wait! Can this be true? Island Café now open!

When did this happen? What do they serve? More importantly can they measure up to the delectable goodies my taste buds had become accustomed too?

The door to my former stomping grounds was open and wafting out was the distinct aroma of coffee. In the background a gentle whirring sound beckoned, a blender in action preparing someone’s creamy smoothie.

The sign was lit and said open. So I ventured in. I walked up to the register area and grabbed a menu.

“Coffee & Friends make the Perfect Blend,” was their motto written on the menu.

Yes!

It felt like home, familiar and comfortable. I ordered the Hawaiian sliders, which is barbecue pulled pork served on four slider buns with a pickle wedge, and lightly salt and peppered. The combo comes with a drink and a side of chips. I walked around the diner as I waited for my lunch.

Chalkboards hang from the wall by the entrance. Brightly colored chalk list the menu items and daily specials. All their coffee comes from Kona Coffee in Hawaii. They have breakfast combos, pastries and a variety of coffee blends and an expresso bar.

People trickled in. A host of familiar faces filter in and out. All appear pleased to see the building house a new food establishment. I know I am. Orders start coming in. Soon the humming of the blender fills the room.

“The smoothies are completely natural and sugar free,” owner and blender master Mary Dorleus said.

Dorleus moved to Hinesville in 2003 from Oahu and for the past 13 years was a general manager at a hotel. She said she worked long hours, but felt disconnected from residents of her hometown.

“In the hotel industry we cater to the people that are from all over the place that came into town,” she said. “But now, what I’m able to do here is actually cater to the community. I want to get to know my customers. ...these are the citizens of this community and we hope to cater to them and in return they return as consistent customers.”

Behind the counter, Dorleus’ employees were prepping paninis while she whipped up tropical smoothies.

What flavors do you have?” I asked.

“Strawberry, mango, pina colada, black raspberry and Hawaiian blend,” was the quick reply.

“What’s a Hawaiian blend?”

“Two flavors mixed together.”

“Awesome,” I thought to myself.

I grab my chips and water and sit. Soon Ms. Betsy (no last name please), the general manager, brings my plate.

Yes!

The sliders were neatly packed with pulled pork. The meat was tender and the sauce had a distinct balance between salty and sweet.

“How is it?” Betsy asked.

“Freaking awesome,” I said and looked at the man seated next to me. “How’s yours?”

“Delicious,” he said after he chewed down a big bite from his club sandwich.

It did look delicious and is likely my next lunch order when I return.

I took another look at the menu.

Cuban bread!

Most of the paninis are served on either white or flat bread. But they have a roast beef panini and chicken panini, which may be served with Cuban bread. The chicken panini is grilled chicken, sliced mozzarella, leaf lettuce, tomatoes, salt and paper on Cuban bread.

Why didn’t I see that sooner?

Must try that on my third or fourth visit.

They also have salads.

“I like to offer healthy options,” Dorleus said. The eat-in diner is an add-on to her existing mobile smoothie truck called Maui Wowi which focuses on their Hawaiian coffee drinks and smoothies.

Before heading out, I spoke with Betsy and learned she is from Puerto Rico and was the inspiration for adding Cuban bread to some of the sandwiches.

“My goal is to bring an authentic Cuban sandwich here too,” she said.

OMG…I’ll be a customer for life!

Honestly it was going to be hard to live up to the expectations of Uncommon Grounds. But Island Café did just that and a tad more.

Mahalo and aloha.

Island Café is at 110 S. Commerce St. It is open from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m. Monday through Friday and Saturdays from 7 until 5. They are closed Sundays. Visit their Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/islandcafedowntownhinesville/?ref=br_rs.