Saturday, March 26, 2011

Old Time Family Cookin’

There’s very little that separates “Southern (comfort) food” from “Soul food.” Both found in the south and made of the same basic ingredients they’re now inseparable. But soul food is dishes that can trace their DNA back to the time of slavery. Enslaved Africans were forced to subsist on the scraps left over from the “Big House” along with their meager rations. Food was too scarce to be wasted so ingenious cooks would take the tops of things like turnips or the few handfuls of black eyed peas and make wonderful dishes. Adding leftover bones or lard and seasonings into the cooking process to substantially improve the flavour were other tricks. 
There were no recipes either as slaves were not allowed to read and write so everything was done by rote. Young girls would learn at the feet of their elders and in turn, pass the knowledge on to their children. It wasn’t until well after emancipation that cook books first started to pop up on this type of cooking that is so beloved in the US. 
It would evolve and become the back bone of the Meat n 3 type restaurants that are synonymous with the southern states.

Today a younger generation is taking what their mothers and their mothers, mothers have passed down and feeding an appreciating crowd. It was noted around the turn of the last century that slaves hadn’t changed their diets since their freedom and it seems they just know a good thing when they find it. Now everyone enjoys some good down home cookin’ made from time honoured recipes that have been in families for decades or even generations.
In Huntsville, Alabama there’s no better example of this institution than G’s Country Kitchen. As family run a restaurant as it gets. Every employee is part of the family and you can still find Grandma in the kitchen whiping up lunch from time to time. You’re treated like family when you arrive and get the feeling you're at their house for dinner. Staff would come by all the time to ask if we needed anything, were we enjoying ourselves or just to say “Hi.” 
The dining room is simple but that also lends to the charm IMHO. The walls are bare but for some pictures and a mural. The floors and tables are there really just for functionality and it needn’t be anything more than that. The clientele all seemed to be regulars (with the exception of us of course).

In the kitchen it’s all fresh. Food is cooked to order even if it takes a little longer. They don’t reheat from cans and they don’t have heat lamps holding food. This non fast food approach may take a bit longer but the wait is well worth it.

Where to start with the food. It was all so good.

Mr. Fritz’s catfish was the best I’ve had. Nicely corn meal battered and fried to golden brown, the delicate fish inside melted in your mouth. The potato salad and turnip greens were also good.
Mrs. Sippi’s white beans were great with chunks of pork. In fact, there was even a hunk of bone from which the marrow had cooked out. A hint of pepper flake made the whole dish that much better. The fried green tomatoes, while looking like they’d sat under a heat lamp for hours were excellent as well. Thinly sliced and battered like the catfish. Super tasty.
She proclaimed the fried corn to be some of the best she’d had and it was hard to disagree. The fried okra was also good and was battered as the catfish was.

My fried chicken was some of the best I'd had. This is not the Colonel and his secret recipe style. This is made to let the chicken flavour shine and shine it did. The batter, different from the catfish was extremely crispy and basically encased the bird. Sealing in the juices and flavour.
The black eyed peas were fantastic as well. A little soupier than usual but very tasty and they too had a hint of chili flake in them. I’ve always maintained that a little heat can really open up your taste buds and this is a perfect example.
The mac and cheese. Oh baby the mac and cheese. Simply the best of it’s kind. This is not "nouveau" mac and cheese but the old school, cheesy, “To die for” kind you remember from your childhood. Only better. Just phenomenal.
A slice of sweet potato pie for desert was in order. Much different than what I’d expected it was more like a pumpkin pie made with sweet potatoes. It came in a pie shell and was spiced the same way. It was great as well.
I’m not a big fan of Red Velvet Cake having had it twice and not really seeing a point to it. This however has helped to change my mind. A nice red cake with a sublime flavour and tasty cream cheese icing topped with chopped pecans.
I think we ended up spending more time talking to family and patrons alike as we did eating. Too bad my picture taking wasn’t very good that day.

You can find G’s at 2501 Oakwood Ave. NW in Huntsville, Al.

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You can also find them on the web or become a facebook friend here.
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Well that’s all for now food lovers. ‘Til next time.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Fill ‘er Up

In 1917 the Ford Motor Company began construction on the ambitious Ford River Rouge Complex in Dearborn, Michigan. Upon completion in 1928 the mammoth 1 mile by 1.5 mile, 93 building complex would be the largest integrated factory in the world. Raw materials would be spun into glass, steel and anything else needed to manufacture automobiles in the mills and forges. At it’s height (in the ‘30’s), the plant employed more than 100,000 people. Still Ford’s largest industrial complex it’s currently being restored to it’s former glory and will be home to 9 different vehicle models.
In 1926 the Shell Oil Company opened a service station at the corners of Tenny and Monroe. Not too far down the street from the massive Ford Complex. The quasi Art Deco building still stands although it has long since been turned into a different type of filling station. The kind that fills humans up. 60 years after it’s birth it would begin life as one of the smallest deli’s anywhere. Mati’s Deli is a throw back to it’s roaring twenties roots. The old swivel stools and colours, long since retired harken back to the days of flappers.
The hat of the old gas attendant still hangs in the dining room along side a picture of the old station. A really nice touch.
In the kitchen, fresh soups and salads are prepared as well as home made deserts. All deli meats are cooked in house and are complemented on the menu with ethnic specialties. Fuel that’ll get you where you wanna go, it’s regarded by some as the best deli in the Greater Detroit Area.
Our visit was for lunch and we arrived just after it opened. A small crowd had started to gather with several “To go” orders keeping the place humming.

Time to roll out the food.

First up was a nice, thick,  slightly spicy, very meaty chili. A solid, well rounded chili all in all.
Mrs. Sippi of course had the Rueben sandwich. Again, a good solid offering. I prefer caraway seed rye which this wasn’t but the grilling of it worked really well.
I went with the pastrami with Swiss on rye. A great pastrami with a good kick from the cheese. The mustard was enough to provide a good flavour and not be dominate or be lost. The pickle was a little on the raw side. It tasted mostly of cucumber and not particularly for me.
For desert they offer an award winning chocolate cheesecake brownie that is absolutely terrific. Oddly enough my first couple bites were a little less that exciting but the more I ate the more it really started to grow on me. By the time I finished I wanted another.
All and all a fantastic visit. Food ranging from solid to very, very good is always welcome. I think it’s a good sign that you look back and remember it fondly. As I put the finishing touches on this review I have a sudden hankering for one of their pastrami on rye sandwiches.

You can find Mati’s Deli at 1842 Monroe St. in Dearborn, Michigan. 

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You can also find them on the web or become a facebook friend here.
 Mati's Deli on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now folks. We’ll see ya next time in the food court.