Saturday, December 31, 2011

Smallest Town I’ve Visited

In the early decades of the automobile, Alabamians shuttling from Huntsville to Decatur traveled along highway 20. In 1952 Jack Webb decided that he needed to cash in. The small town of Greenbrier would be where he would build his take out restaurant. By hand no less. The single room building would serve BBQ, Hushpuppies and catfish. The latter stored in a barrel out back. If you didn’t see it you’d probably hear it. Jack would hire country music stars to play atop the roof to pull in the crowds.180
In many ways Greenbrier was then as it is now. Little more than an intersection along the highway. Much has changed around it though. Highway 20 was replaced by another highway 20 which was replaced by I-565. The restaurant is no longer on well water and has grown substantially in size. Jack Webb is long gone too. A string of owners have put their touches on the place but through it all, the orginal corrigated steel and wooden signs have remained. Now part of the interior décor.172
Along with the original signage that graces the dining room you’ll find some original tables, build by Webb himself. Rustic would be a great way to politely describe the interior. The concrete floor has had the paint worn off. The pannelling harkens back to a renovation from the 70’s and pictures celebrating the history of the area are scattered about the place. In one true oddity, in a rundown roadhouse in the middle of nowhere they provide WiFi. Go figure.179
The reason for our visit, outside of seeking great food in a unique and legendary place of course, is the Hushpuppies. On the list of Huntsville’s 20 Most Distinctive Dishes these deep fried cornmeal dough balls (finger shaped here) are rumoured to have been invented by hunters as a way to keep their dogs satiated. As meals were prepared a simple cornmeal dough ball was fried as a treat to “Hush the puppy.”

So with all this build up, could the food live up to the billing??

Greenbrier’s Hushpuppies are complimentary and limitless. They put them down as they serve you and constantly top up the basket.
The standard cornmeal batter was augmented with a good hint of onion. Being an onion lover this was preaching to the choir. The two BBQ sauces were excellent for dipping.170
The white BBQ sauce was good but nothing special in my mind. Conversely I loved the red sauce. Rich and tomatoey with a good smokiness to it. It was fabulous on the ribs.178
Mrs. Sippi couldn’t say enough good things about her catfish. I’ve really enjoyed the fish finger style, flour and cornmeal breaded versions we’ve had lately and this was not that. This was traditionally cornmeal breaded fillets. Don’t get me wrong, it was great but I’m less a fan of the all cornmeal breading. I really liked it but Mrs. Sippi was in catfish heaven.173
Both the chciken and ribs were perfectly cooked although lacking in that good smoke flavour I desire. The ribs in particular provided a good chew while pulling cleanly off the bone.
The sides of sweet potato and slaw were good as well. Simply done they didn’t stand out but were solid offerings. I have no problem with that. They give you some brown sugar, butter and cinnamon to dress up your sweet tater and sour cream for the regular tuber. The slaw was a vinegary concoction of pretty much just cabbage and vinegar. Quite good. 175
So there you have it. Great food at a legendary place serving a dish that has people coming from miles around. Doesn’t get a whole lot better.

You can find the “Old” Greenbrier Restaurant at 27028 Old Hwy 20 in Greenbrier (Madison), Alabama.

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You can also find them on the web and facebook.
(Old) Greenbrier Restaurant on Urbanspoon
Greenbrier Restaurant on Foodio54

Well that’s all for now folks. Have a good one.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Seaport Reunion

It was not with the happiest circumstances that I found myself in San Diego. As you may have read, my uncle had just passed away. His final wishes were to have his ashes spread in San Diego Bay. So there we were, in San Diego. This also allowed me to catch back up with my aunt and other cousin. Both of whom I hadn't seen in a few years.
After a few phone calls on the road we decided to use The Harbor House as a marshaling area. This boat house themed restaurant at the edge of the water across from the Naval Air Station served the purpose quite well. Close to everyone’s hotels, the marina and easy to find.101_1291Opened in 1980 the Harbor House has upscale dining on the ground level with a more relaxed atmosphere upstairs. The real treat is out on one of the terraces though. This beautiful late fall afternoon saw perfect weather at lunch. Our terrace, overlooking the afore mentioned US Naval Air Station North (Coranado) Island was beautiful. The station serves as quarterdeck for the pacific fleet. It’s also home to the USS Carl Vinson which sat prominently across the channel. Named for the 50 year Democratic Representative and "Father of the Two-Ocean Navy". It was the Vinson’s flight deck that served as a basketball court for the inaugural Carrier Classic. Played veterans day (November 11) 2011.101_1280Everyone in our group enjoyed their food but unfortunately I was only able to sample an oyster and my own lunch. Both of which were great by the way. So let’s have a look.

The oysters (on the half shell) of the day were Blue Point. Six plump, lovely bivalves. They were of course very fresh tasting but less briny than other’s I’ve had. They had a light, creamy taste. Hard to go wrong with fresh oysters. Hard to go wrong any food that comes with it’s own sauce for that matter.101_1283The fish tacos were fantastic. Battered and fried (California style) white fish with guacamole and shredded cabbage. Fresh salsa and hot sauce rounded this out very well. The only fish tacos I’d ever had I made at home. Occasionally grilled but mostly baked in a hobo pack. The crispiness of this style was a nice contrast.101_1284The local hot sauce was great. Made in El Cajon, just outside San Diego it was fiery and very flavourful. The Original Ring of Fire hot sauce is peppery, salty and cuminny (if such a word exists).101_1288I really enjoyed my visit here and will gladly return in the future. I can’t really attest to the rest of the menu but trip through Google shows mixed reviews. As I said above, everyone at our table enjoyed their lunch so take that for what it’s worth.

You can find the Harbor House in Seaport Village at 831 West Harbor Drive, San Diego, California.
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You can also find them on the web or facebook.
Harbor House on Urbanspoon
Harbor House Seafood Restaurant on Foodio54

Well that’s all from seaside in San Diego, California.

‘Til next time.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

For Families, By Families

An interesting twist on the family run establishment can be found at Country Boy Restaurant in Leipers Fork, Tennessee. Not one, not two, but four different families have held title to this community anchor since the Mealer family opened it in 1968.
The current owners, Shannon and Charlie Martin set out to give the oldest restaurant in Williamson County still in its original location a facelift. The structure itself would get the TLC that it needs and the menu would be reworked to feature more in house cooking. Seems the “Home cookin’” principals on which the restaurant was founded had started to slide. That needed to be fixed by ditching the pre made frozen foods and concentrating again on in house food prep.
The all day breakfast, a staple for the place since inception would of course remain. 

Locals had regaled me with tales of a dumpy, run down room that was in desperate need of attention. What has resulted after a renovation lasting more than a month and 5,500 man hours is a clean country home setting. Unfortunately, with the change the place loses a lot of that character. So it’s not all roses but I’m not complaining. Ambience is nice but what come out of the kitchen is really what matters.
So lets have a look at what is coming out of the kitchen then shall we??

The Fried Chicken was crispy and juicy but I like a heavily seasoned and herbaceous breading. It was a simple breading so I can’t rate it near the top on my scale. It was however perfectly done. Really good all 'round flavour.
The Greens weren’t as “Porky” as I’ve had but that said they were still fantastic. Of course a little pepper sauce always helps too.
The Mac & Cheese was outstanding. A creamy cheese sauce mixed into the noodles with grated cheese melted on top. Very cheesy. Very tasty.
The simple dinner roll was perfect for sopping.
028The Country Fried Steak was fabulous. Crispy breading that stood up well to the gravy and tender steak inside.
The Fried Okra was very good but not really my thing.
The Pinto Beans were very tasty too. Again, not too porky like the greens but all in all, had a really good taste that really allowed the earthiness of the beans to shine.
The Corn Bread was fine. It was true Southern style and as such, not my favourite.
029We were so full from dinner that we had to take desert to go. Country Boy also makes Fried Pies on site and that was too good to resist. We had a few options but we went with the “Elvis.” Peanut butter and bananas encased in pie dough and deep fried. It was fantastic.

You can find Country Boy Restaurant at 4141 Old Hillsboro Road, in Franklin, Tennessee.

You can also find them on the web, facebook and twitter.
 Country Boy Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Well that’s all for now. Catch ya later in the food court.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Best Tortillas in Town

I didn’t try them all in Phoenix but I’d be stunned if any were better.
A peek in Carolina’s Mexican Food kitchen at breakfast will reveal a platoon of women dedicated to the tortilla making process. They make that many daily. In fact, in the mornings the kitchen is quite populated since basically everything they serve is made in house. The only exception may be the soft drinks.
Immediately after booking my trip to Phoenix I started planning meals. Top of the list?? A hole in the wall, outstanding Mexican place. Some poking around on the internet (and in particular Chowhound) turned up Carolina’s.101_1404_thumb
Pronounced Care-O-LEEN-az this Phoenix institution has been serving up their crepe like flour tortillas since 1968. In fact, if you count selling food out of the back of their car, Carolina and Manuel Valenzuela got started in the business back in the 50’s. They’ve both since joined the great fiesta in the sky sadly but have left a strong legacy. Their kids and grandkids now operate the restaurant and catering ends of the business. If you take into account Carolina’s mom was the first employee it’s basically a 4th generation now.101_1405_thumb
The current flagship restaurant has been at it’s original location since 1986 having moved twice previously. Once to make room for the near by Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport. Business always flourished through the moves, family crisis and economic hard times. The reasonably priced and rather large menu has meant that the neighbours could always get a good meal without breaking the bank.101_1411_thumb
Inside the restaurant it’s rather lunar. The building once housed a coin-op laundry and has all the pleasing esthetics you’d expect from one. The once painted floor now shows the bare concrete. The tables are a mishmash of old Burger King, 80’s burger joint and flea market food court. Not to worry though, this place is clean but if you really don’t like the divey appearance or sketchy neighbourhood, it does full take out as well.
So not only did Carolina’s fit my Mexican dive restaurant criteria but several people hailed it as having the best machaca Phoenix has to offer.101_1421_thumb
Originally made from dried beef or pork that’s been rehydrated and pounded until tender machaca is a staple in north central Mexico. These days it’s more like the beef version of carnitas. Slow, slow cooked until ridiculously tender and shredded. The beef is then returned to it’s juices and stewed until the desired consistency has been achieved.
Anyway, let’s have a look at the goods. I’ve had both lunch and breakfast and I’m pretty sure you could throw a dart, blindfolded at the menu board and hit a homerun. It’s that good.
The tortillas were as good as advertised. Paper thin with a delicate yet sturdy feel and very good taste.
The salsa could easily be confused for ketchup. Served in little paper condiment cups from a red pump action (ketchup) dispenser. That’s where the similarity ends though. This sauce is salty, garlicky and spicy. A perfect compliment to the entrées. 101_1410_thumb
The tamale was very tasty but not the best I’ve had. First of all, it seemed to be pretty sloppily made. Simply unwrapping it saw the filling spill out. It seemed they didn’t use enough dough to fully encase the meat. Now that said, having a too much meat to dough ratio is far better than the other way around. And as usual, taste trumps all. The red beef stuffing was quite good.101_1407_thumb
The chorizo, egg, beans and potato breakfast burrito was terrific. A little heavy on the potato which meant the beans were a little over shadowed but that could just be a personal taste issue. The chorizo is fantastic in spite of having very little heat. 101_1406_thumb
The machaca is everything it’s cracked up to be. Juicy, flavourful and very tender. I copied a standard order from a fellow Chowhounder which was a “Red machaca burro, foot long, enchilada style. Don’t skimp on the brown sauce.” Again the tortilla was great. The “Brown sauce” is really red enchilada sauce and was certainly better than any other I’ve had. It had it’s usual chili flavour but fortified with a brown beef gravy component. It was very interesting and incredibly addictive.101_1417_thumbChorizo, tamales, tortillas and salsa are all available for sale as well.
So if you’re ever in Phoenix and on the prowl for some great Mexican food head to the hood and check out Carolina’s.

You can find Carolina’s (south) at 1202 E. Mohave St. in Phoenix, Arizona. 
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There are also north Phoenix and Peoria locations as well.
You can find them on the web or like them on facebook
 Carolina's Mexican Food-The Original on Urbanspoon