Sunday, January 23, 2011

A Taste of Huntsville

In 1805 revolutionary war vet John Hunt, lured by plentiful game and fresh water, settled on a bluff overlooking what the indigenous population had named “Big Spring.” The name Twickenham was soon imposed after LeRoy Pope purchased the land from underneath Hunt. Named after the home town of Pope’s distant relative and renowned poet, Alexander Pope. It would be less than a decade later that Twickenham was renamed Huntsville when anti British sentiment ran high. The town would grow slowly until the second world war when Redstone Arsenal opened. The population began to explode as Redstone evolved into a missile development site after the war. Eventually, with the arrival of German scientist Wernher von Braun, the arsenal would be the first home of NASA. The opening of the new main artery Memorial Parkway saw an increasing population and many businesses move west, away from the courthouse and spring.
One of the businesses to head west was the little diner opened in 1928 by Troy Baucom, Big Spring Café. Initially the café was located in an old boxcar by Big Spring Canal it would move to a brick and mortar home on Jefferson Ave. Baucom would operate the restaurant until the mid 40’s when it was sold to Hazel Beene. The restaurant has remained in the family through 2 generations and the move west in 1970 to it’s current location on Governors Dr. Another move to a newer location is in the works but as of the end of 2010 has yet to happen. Beene’s niece, Pam Milam is intent on keeping the feel of the old place.
Well, enough of the chit chat. 

First off let me say I loved this place. The polite way to describe it would be to say it has “Character.” It’s a little grimy inside and out and it’s literally falling apart. There’s actually places where the brick is pulling away from the sheathing. You really do get a feeling of respect and nostalgia though. It just seems like this is the kind of place that’s seen what history can throw at it and it’s weathered the storm. Still standing, a little worse for wear but hasn’t lost it’s heart.
So on with the goods.

The slaw dog was interesting. A sweet ketchup and cabbage slaw with a Vienna style dog on a steamed bun. Not bad but nothing special outside of the uniqueness to it. It's on the list of "100 Things to Eat in Alabama."
I really liked the chili burger. Their regular burger topped with a ladle of their chili. The chili was more like taco meat in texture and flavour. All in all, quite tasty. It too is on the list of "100 Things to Eat in Alabama."
It’s not a cheeseburger, it’s a hamburger with cheese. If you order a cheese burger you get something different. Their burgers are cooked and then held in an au jus until serving. Bunned up and a quick trip to the sandwich press before serving. Very tasty and juicy. The standard is pickle and mustard. It’s slider sized and if you added mustard would be very much like a Krystal burger but much better. It ranks #5 on the list of "Huntsville's 20 Most Distinctive Dishes."
The double cola is pretty interesting. You could probably replicate the taste by combining 3 parts Coca-Cola with 1  part root beer. (maybe 4 or 5 to 1 but you get the idea).
You can find Big Spring Café at 2906 Governors Drive SW in Huntsville, Al.

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Big Spring Cafe on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now sports fans. See ya next time.


Friday, January 14, 2011

“Pure Country Cookin’”

Late in January of 1951 the Greater Nashville Area was pounded by snow and freezing rain for 4 days. In it’s wake, the storm left middle Tennessee under 8” of snow and ice, grinding it to a stand still. Roads were closed or otherwise impassable. Trees were downed taking power lines with them. Thousands were without power, heat, telephones and ultimately food for days.
One of the few businesses to remain open during the storm, Dotson’s Restaurant in Franklin became an oasis.  The little restaurant kept the locals fed with the “Stick to your ribs” food that keeps you warm on a winter’s day. They also went above and beyond the call, making home deliveries to those unable to get out. For many of Franklin’s old timers, the “Great Blizzard of ‘51” and Dotson’s are forever linked in their memories.
Opened by Clara and Chester Dotson in 1949 serving home cooked meals (They’ve since relocated to the banks of the Harpeth River; 1978) the now 63 year old restaurant is an institution for the locals. The building and it’s wood paneling and creaky floors is pretty typical of a meat n 3 place in appearance.  In other words, with most of them, the money is in the steak, not the sizzle. Decorated with autographed pictures (mostly country music stars) and memorabilia it’s almost a hall of fame. Perhaps the biggest stamp of approval is the framed face of Martha Stewart. 
Rumour is, another move is in the works as the city tries to redevelop around the river.

So let’s get to the food.

I had the meatloaf, mac and cheese, mashed potatoes with gravy and cream corn. Mrs. Sippi went with chicken and dumplin’s with white beans and sweet potato casserole. We also sampled a piece for fried chicken.

The meatloaf, oft thought of as the best in Franklin was excellent. Nicely dense yet tender covered with a tomato sauce that tasted very much like salsa. A bit of an odd choice that seemed to compliment very well. The mashed potatoes were very good, simply seasoned and the gravy was excellent. I like my gravy a little on the salty side and this was perfect. I opted for the dinner roll to sop up any gravy or other goodness that may have been left on the plate.
The fried chicken was very tasty but not the earth moving experience I’d convinced myself it would be. Supposedly a perennial winner of best fried chicken it was simply seasoned and fried crispy but not VERY juicy.  The cream corn is cut fresh off the cob in the kitchen and it shows. It had a nice bright, fresh corn taste and was easily the best part of my meal.
Mrs. Sippi’s chicken and dumplin’s hit the spot as she said. A rich chicken broth with dumplin’s, topped with shredded chicken. As down home southern as it gets. The casserole was tasty and not as cloyingly sweet as I’d expected with marshmallows as part of the recipe. The white beans were very nice with a simple seasoning to highlight the earthy flavour of the beans. She also very much liked the corn bread. Straight ahead southern.
The famous cream pies were fantastic. The meringue was nice and thick and the fillings were very creamy. The crust also had a very nice flavour.

Mrs. Sippi had the coconut.101_0296
I had the chocolate.

All in all, Dotson's doesn't measure up to the standards set by Stan's and Bell Buckle Cafe but it's still good solid food, worthy of praise.

You can find Dotson’s beside the Harpeth River in at 99 E. Main St. in Franklin, Tn.

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You can also “Like” them on Facebook
 Dotson's on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. See you again in the food court.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Nawlin’s Style

Call it a submarine, a hoagie or a grinder. A sandwich on a long bun loaded with everything from meats, to cheeses to vegetables. In New Orleans they call it a “Po’ Boy.” Served on a French style baguette these sandwiches are filled with either fried seafood, roast beef or sausage. They are “dressed” with tomato, lettuce and mayo with pickle and onion being optional. Mustard, usually creole, is smeared on when the sandwich isn’t of the seafood variety.
Po’ boys are rumoured to have been invented in 1929 by one time trolley conductor, Clovis Martin at the family restaurant during a streetcar strike. Martin served his former colleagues, known to restaurant workers as “Poor boys” free sandwiches during the 4 month strike. The sandwich would earn the nickname  and with the “Nawlin’s” drawl being what it is, is forever known as the “Po’ Boy.”
For Slidel, Louisiana native Donnie Thigpen the restaurant business was not his game. He was a builder. Settled in Huntsville, Alabama with his wife Marie (yes Donnie and Marie) they decided that the restaurant scene was lacking in the food on which Donnie grew up. With only a dream in their hearts, they opened a small New Orleans style café in an old house that would serve the staple food, po’ boys. Initially the only two employees, Donnie manned the grill and the effervescent Marie undertook the rest of the operation. Slowly, steadily the word got out. Business improved. And improved. So much so that an addition to the main building would follow. A second building next door was purchased to handle over flow on weekends and a large full time staff is now employed.
The Thigpens, are committed to high quality food at reasonable prices. They import as much from Louisiana as possible and make the rest. Making the 12 hour trek to Patton’s in Louisiana for the hot sausage for example. Their own “Hot damn” sauce made the list of Huntsville’s “20 Most Distinctive Dishes” this last summer. We had a short wait at lunch before being seated. The efficient staff keeps things moving at a pretty good pace. The cozy dining room is practically a shrine to all things Louisiana, New Orleans and LSU Football. The non descript building outside is a dress in Mardi Gras style.

So without any further adieu.

We both had the Scruffy’s Special. A sandwich (which comes with fries) and choice of side. You can’t go to the Po’ Boy Factory and not order po’ boys right??

I went with the spicy sausage and gumbo side with Mrs. Sippi selecting the crawfish and ettouffee side. The crawfish is a little milder flavour than I’m used to and was nicely battered. The sandwich came with lettuce, tomato, mayo and was very good. I loved the baguette. Soft enough that the innards didn’t squirt out the back yet still chewy enough.
The ettouffee was fantastic. Nice and rich with a good shrimp flavour to it. A touch of Tabasco complemented it perfectly.
The sausage was just plain excellent. Patton’s sausage is almost a staple in southern Louisiana and it’s no wonder why. Not overly hot but very seasoned it just plain tasty. The bread is of course the same and as it was not a seafood po’ boy came with creole mustard. I added some of the hot damn sauce as well.

The gumbo was nice and complex with a good amount of chicken and shrimp. It too was complemented nicely by a few shots of Tabasco.

I wish I could say the “Hot Damn” sauce was damn hot but alas it’s not. It had a subtle afterbite but Marie assures me that as it ages it gets hotter. The mayo based sauce was made that morning and a batch will last at least a couple days. By the time the next day rolls around she says it’s very potent.

We skipped desert but a gorgeous looking chocolate layer cake was on display at the counter. Next time perhaps.

You can find The Po’ Boy Factory at 815 Andrew Jackson Way in Huntsville, Alabama.

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You can also visit them on the web or become a Facebook Friend.
 Po Boy Factory on Urbanspoon

Well that's all for now, see you next time in the food court.


Monday, January 3, 2011

“This is not Fast Food”

By the 1880’s railroads were ferrying people and cargo all cross the nation. In northern Kentucky rail lines linked the Cincinnati/Lexington/Louisville corridor with points beyond. The small railway known as the Georgetown, Midway, Versailles Railroad was part of this system but was eventually bypassed. The line continued to service a series of small “Bluegrass towns” along it’s tracks for several more years though. One such town was named Wallace for the family that owned the farm on which the train station would sit. Not much more than a general store in which were the depot and post office, it served the local phosphate mine for decades until the mine was depleted and closed in 1940. As the mine dried up so did Wallace. The tracks were removed the town was formally absorbed into the larger towns of Midway and Versailles. It’s now just a memory but for the old general store which has persevered through many incarnations.
When Ouita Michael of the Holly Hill Inn wanted to open a more casual sister restaurant she found the old general store in what was once Wallace to be an ideal location. Together with her sister Paige Richardson and their husbands they would open a bakery that would both serve the Inn baked goods and act as a sandwich shop on it’s own. In 2003 they founded Wallace Station on the picturesque Old Frankfort Pike. “There’s nothing like a good sandwich” I’ve always said and the people of Kentucky seem to agree. Relying mostly on business from the nearby horse farms the business has grown quickly and is now catering events at those local farms. Locals loved the little sandwich shop so much they wrote Guy Fieri and the Triple D gang who paid them a visit in the spring of 2010. (scroll down to watch the show) It was this episode that got my attention and loving sandwiches I had to pay a visit.
The restaurant is rather small and line ups are common. “This is not fast food” they tell you up front and the proper time and care is given to all the food. So you may have to wait a little bit but good things do come to those who wait. Sharing of tables is common and even encouraged as the sense of community is the general feel of this place. Farm owners and stable hands will share a table, a meal and of course, horse tales. It carries a horse racing theme with the menu board reads like a race form and the food is named after horses or race tracks. Wallace Station is also about as “In house” as you’ll get. With the exception of the hot sauce they pretty much make everything from scratch. Right down to the salad dressings, dips and even the various mustards. They source as much produce and meats as is possible locally making them “Kentucky proud.” With this dedication to detail you know everything is first rate.
So, enough with the yakkity yak.

All sandwiches come with regular, crinkle cut potato chips on the side.
I opted for the Big Brown burger. Hailed as one of his top 5 all time by Guy, it’s a cross between a burger and a Kentucky Hot Brown. A griddled patty with ham, bacon, tomato and a white cheddar mornay sauce. It was a terrific burger and may crack my top 5 but it had the unenviable task of competing with my favourite (Blimpy Burger) which I ate the day before.
Another thing conspiring against the Big Brown was how good Mrs. Sippi’s East Hampton sandwich was. Ham and melted brie on the house white with sliced apple and honey mustard. It’s then put in a sandwich press. It was fabulous. IMHO the honey mustard really set the whole sandwich off.
I got a couple cups of mustard (honey and spicy bourbon) as well as their Mediteranian dip. All were great but the dip was perfect for dipping the chips. Mayo based with feta and capers it’s terrific.
For desert we had an apricot cookie. It was very light and not overly sweet. We thought it was okay but not worth another try.
What was however worth another try is the Danger Brownie. This dense fudge brownie had chopped pecans inside and sitting proudly atop was a chocolate truffle. It’s a chocoholic’s dream.
If you’re ever in horse racing/bluegrass country a drive out to Wallace Station is wonderful way to spend an afternoon. The surrounding farms and scenery are stunning. You’ll find the restaurant at 3854 Old Frankfort Pike. 

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You can also find them on the web or become a facebook friend.
 Wallace Station Deli and Bakery on Urbanspoon
Well that’s all for now race fans. See you another time in the food court.