New Orleans 031 (Working for my dinner – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)
 

“Noncooks think it’s silly to invest two hours’ work in two minutes’ enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet.” – Julie Child 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36–foot motorcoach searching for wonderful, interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Please come and join us!

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Motorcoach Beignets”) and a chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

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It was an interesting drive along the Gulf Coast through Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi to see the new roads, new houses, new businesses and then the stark contrast of New Orleans, still with complete neighborhoods vacated from Hurricane Katrina with house after house boarded up with plywood, holes still visible in rooftops, rusted out automobiles lining city streets.  I won’t stand on my soap-box and rant about the current state of American politics in this blog – but it is amazing to see the visible contrast between teaching someone to fish as compared with simply handing someone a fish…Remarkably sad, totally disheartening but true.

 

We could not visit New Orleans without a trip to Cafe du Monde for morning cafe au lait and beignets.

 Beignets  (Beignets and coffee  –  Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA)

Now my intellectual brain knows that beignets are nothing more then fried dough coated with an overwhelming amount of powdered sugar – a glorified doughnut…but my creative brain goes into over-drive whenever I taste these little jewels and my taste buds dance and sign for what seems like hours.  Cafe du Monde is world famous for their beignets and their New Orleans coffee with chickory.  This early Monday morning was no exception and the place was bustling with locals and tourists alike.  Thank god we had parked the car about a mile away as I definitely needed to burn off a few calories. 

Service at Cafe du Monde is fast and attentive, but one would hardly call it formal or friendly…polite – yes, friendly – no.  Cafe du Monde has packaged beignet mix ready for purchase for those that can’t be bothered mixing a few dry ingredients together.  For the more adventurists, this weeks recipe is for what I am calling “Motorcoach Beignets”, they are fairly simple to make and take less then 20 minutes from beginning to table.

Cafe du Monde (Cafe du Monde, New Orleans, LA)

 

Cafe du Monde” rates: Spoon3for a delicious Louisiana breakfast.

Directly across from Cafe du Monde is Jackson Square and the beautiful St. Louis Cathedral which is well worth a leisurely stroll before you experience the true “beat” of the “French Quarter”.

New Orleans 005  (Jackson Square with St. Louis Cathedral behind – New Orleans, LA)

After our much needed walk back to the car, Cindy and I headed out St. Charles Street to visit Tulane University and Audubon Park, this is a lovely section of the city and well worth a visit by anyone traveling through New Orleans. 

On Tuesday, we made our way over to Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, located near the town of New Iberia, LA.  The drive to this park was an interesting one to say the least as our GPS kept directing us to travel upon this old Army Corp of Engineer’s levee roadbed which was not paved and only about 7 feet wide – remember that we are in a diesel motorcoach which is about 8 1/2 feet wide, 36 feet long and weighs over 28,000 pounds.  We opted to not follow the directions be given to us by the GPS so we had to find our way around Lake Fausse which is huge.  This will sure prove to be a memory that we will often look back upon and simply chuckle! 

Wednesday found Cindy and I heading down Route 14 to Avery Island, LA to visit the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory and Country Store.  In a little over an hour, we had learned so much about Edmund McIlhenny, his family and company he started back in 1868.  We also learned that Avery Island is not really an island – but rather a huge dome of rock salt, 2 1/2 miles wide and 3 miles long and sits 152 feet above sea level. The island is surrounded by marshland and the Bayou Peiti Anse and was formed when an ancient seabed evaporated, depositing pure salt, which rose up and pushed the ground into a hill.  The hot “Tabasco” peppers are picked by hand as soon as they ripen to the perfect shade of bright red. On the same day the peppers are picked, they are mashed, mixed with a small amount of Avery Island salt, placed in white oak wooden barrels, and allowed to ferment and age for up to three years. When ready the aged mash is then blended with a natural, high grain white vinegar and placed in larger oak vats and stirred for 28 days. Then and only then, the pepper skins and seeds are strained out and the finished sauce is bottled and labeled “TABASCO”.

Tabasco workers (Tabasco workers “mashing” pepper sauce, Avery Island, LA)

The tour is free, is a fun time and is very informative – but the real treat is in the adjoining “Tabasco Country Store” where you can taste almost everything “Tabasco”… Tabasco cola (tastes a bit like Dr Pepper) and even Tabasco Ice Cream in two flavors “Habanero” and “Sweet & Spicy” (these were actually much better then I expected – don’t know if I would want a full Tabasco Ice Cream Sundae – but a little taste of each was rather refreshing).

Country store tasting (Tasting table at Tabasco Country Store – the ice cream tasting is on the far left, Avery Island, LA)

New Orleans 024 (Tabasco Country Store – Avery Island, LA)

The Tabasco Country Store also sells a few “Cajun” and “Creole” dishes on a daily basis.  On the day of our visit the menu consisted of “Red Beans and Rice with Andouille”, “Crayfish Etouffee” and “Boudin” (a pork and rice sausage dish).  Cindy and I decided to try one of each and we really liked the “Red Beans and Rice”, the “Boudin” was okay but neither of us really cared that much for the “Crayfish Ettouffe” as the crayfish flavor was so overpowering that you could not taste anything else.  We choose not to finish this last dish and instead offer it to the dogs who both actually turned their noses at it as well!!!  Despite the Ettouffe, we had a great deal of fun on Avery Island and the Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory – well worth a day trip.  *There is a $1.00 toll to entire Avery Island, although the tour and tastings are free.

 

Thursday morning we packed up camp and traveled north to the Longfellow Evangeline State Park near St. Martinville, LA.  Longfellow Evangeline is home of both a “Creole Plantation” and a “Cajun Farmstead”.  Here visitors learn the distinct differences between the Creole and the Cajun cultures as well as the similarities.  I could not help but see so many correlations between the Cajun culture and the Acadian culture of northern Maine and Nova Scotia, which is where the Cajun+’s originate from.  

New Orleans 026 (Creole Plantation – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)

 

New Orleans 043 (Cajun Farmstead – Longfellow Evangeline State Park, LA)

After our visit to Longfellow Evangeline, we headed further north to have lunch at “Mulate’s Original Cajun Restaurant” in Breaux Bridge, LA.  This place is more of a band/dance venue then a restaurant with pictures of famous musicians and celebrities adorning the walls.  A cup of Shrimp Gumbo proved good, especially after adding some of the Ms. C’s Cajun Spice Blend.  Cindy enjoyed the Blackened Catfish with a side of Jambalaya and Corn Bread.  I had a really nice Muffeleta Sandwich with an accompaniment of Red Beans with Rice.  We finished with a nice Bread Pudding laced with a strong pour of rum.

 

Mulate’s Original Cajun Restaurant” rates: Spoon3Make sure to pick-up some of Ms. C’s Cajun Spice.

 

New Orleans 089 (Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

After lunch it was back on the road up to Rosedown Plantation which is a beautiful park complete with lovely manicured gardens and the fully restored and stunning plantation home of Daniel and Martha Barrow Turnbull, Rosedown was built in the 1830’s and stayed in the hands of their descendants until the 1950s.  In it’s hayday, Rosedown encompassed over 3,400 acres and employed over 450 slaves and trades-people.  The plantation was so large that the Turnbull’s had a full time doctor on staff as well as a doctor’s office.  Today, Rosedown is still a large property of almost 375 acres. 

 New Orleans 099 (Kitchen building – Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

This is a “must visit” if you ever find yourself anywhere near St. Francisville, LA.  Tours of the main house are given on the hour by knowledgeable, friendly volunteers.  There is so much to see and learn and the gardens offer such a lovely reprise – highly recommended.

New Orleans 095  New Orleans 100  New Orleans 102  New Orleans 093 (The gardens, Rosedown Plantation – St. Francisville, LA)

It was a full day as we pulled the motorcoach into the Riverview RV Park & Resort in Vidalia, Louisiana – just across the river from Natchez, Mississippi.

For dinner, we went into the lovely town of Natchez and dined at the Magnolia Grill, located on Silver Street.  From the very moment we spotted this little eatery I wanted to love it as it is the oldest continuously operated restaurant found in the “Under the Hill” historic section of Natchez.  The dining rooms  are minimalistic with exposed brick and old wood beams, the tables made of golden oak with the now popular parchment paper on top, we where seated on the enclosed deck which overlooks the Mississippi River.  To start, we opted for a bottle of La Crema Pinot Noir as we looked over the menu.  I was a bit surprised to find that the vast majority of the menu consisted of sandwiches and salads – what I would expect for lunch but not necessarily for dinner.  Cindy and I decided to share a cup of the Shrimp, Chicken and Okra Gumbo – which was delicious (we both felt that it was superior to the Gumbo we had at Mulate’s earlier in the day).  Cindy selected the Magnolia Shrimp with garlic, scallions and mushrooms over angel hair pasta.  The shrimp were properly cooked and the dish had a nice, well balanced flavor.  I was in the mood for steak but was less then inspired by the choice of either the grilled Filet Mignon or the grilled Ribeye steaks – which neither had any sauce or interesting accompaniment – so I inquired if the chef could melt some Bleu cheese over the grilled Ribeye and the server assured me that the kitchen could handle the request and stated that he thought it would taste “fantastic”.  It arrived cooked to a perfect medium-rare with a huge amount of Maytag Bleu which was broiled to a lovely golden-brown color.  This dish was delicious and I couldn’t help but think that the chef should add the Maytag Ribeye selection to the menu.  Entrees come with your choice of one of the sides; Stuffed Potato, Baked Potato, Steamed Broccoli, Curly Q’s, Sweet Potato Fries, Mixed Vegetables, or Magnolia Salad.  Overall, we had a very nice meal at the Magnolia Grill although I would have expected a somewhat more creative menu but with that said – we enjoyed ourselves and ate every morsel.  Our server was pleasant, friendly and fairly attentive, I did have to request a steak knife when my entree arrived.

Magnolia grill  (Magnolia Grill – Natchez, MI)

The “Magnolia Grill” rates: Spoon3Good, comfortable dining choice.

After dinner we were definitely ready for a good nights sleep as the next day marked the beginning of our drive up the Natchez Trace – one of the prettiest roads in America (actually, the Natchez Trace is a “national scenic trail” and maintained by the U.S. National Park Service).

 

Remember that this weeks recipe is a tribute to the wonderfully sinful New Orleans beignets, my rather easy Motorcoach Beignets…you can get it, and others by simply subscribing to our GYPSY KITCHEN Family.

Have a great week, please keep sending those suggestions and comments along – We really are using them as guiding posts for our adventure.  Also, please tell your friends about our wacky travels and have them join our growing family.

Remember to support your local restaurants and let them know that their hard efforts are appreciated.  No government stimulus programs are going to help these tireless soles out and they really do rely on us for their livelihood and right now so many independent restaurants in America are offering some great, wonderful and tasty “Special Offers” to entice us with! 

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

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For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Motorcoach Beignets”)  and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

BrokenSpoon= Hopeless, Would Definitely Not Return (A new addition to the rating scale)

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

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 St George Island 035 (Is this what you call “Dry Docked”? 
– Apalachacola, Florida)
 

“A man seldom thinks with more earnestness of anything than he does of his dinner.”  –  Samuel Johnson 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36–foot motorcoach searching for wonderful, interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Please come and join us!

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Easy Oyster Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Well Cindy and I have just recently logged our 4,000 mile on our GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 thus far and am now in Louisiana.  We have experienced some rather stormy weather of late and watched intently as the local TV stations warned of several tornado alerts in the area.  It’s a little scary riding out a severe storm inside the motorcoach as each and every raindrop sounds like armor-piercing rounds above your head.  The dogs keen sense of sound made for a couple of sleepless nights.  All in the name of research!

 St George Island 005  (St George Lighthouse  –  St George Island, Florida)

After leaving the Tallahassee area last week, we made our way to St George Island, which is part of the “Forgotten Coast” of Florida – an area lying between Tallahassee and Pensacola.  They refer to it as the “Forgotten Coast” because it is void of the huge strip malls and sprawling housing developments seen so dotting the Florida landscape today.  Instead, this area highlights the small “mom & pop” businesses, single family real estate, lovely sandy beaches and some of the best oysters I’ve ever encountered.

St George Island 012  (The lighthouse, rebuilt for the fourth time  –  St George Island, Florida)

St George Island is considered a barrier island, accessible from either the one main bridge, by boat or by private plane.  Home to some 700 homes, the island has a tiny “downtown” spotted with mostly tourist type shops, a few restaurants and several real estate offices…we are told that there are some “real bargains” here on waterfront lots & homes.  One girl told us that homes that were selling for $2,000,000.00 are down to a mere $600,000.00.  Most of the homes built over the past decade are built up on stilts to help ward-off flooding during hurricane season.  Yes the “Forgotten Coast” shows signs of weather related damage inflicted over the past couple of years.

After checking into our campground and setting up “camp” (which now takes us seasoned RV’s all of 6–8 minutes), we made our way into “town” for dinner.  We started at a small local watering hole called “EDDY TEACH’S RAW BAR”, located just off of Third Street.  This place on first appearance seems more like a rowdy bar then a restaurant and most of the seating is outside at wooden picnic tables or at several wobbly wooden bar stools, each with a plastic bag filled with water hanging above.  The decor (if you can call it that) is “more-than-rustic” and black “Sharpie’s” are used by patrons to leave their witty musings upon the walls, floor, ceiling and yes even on the plastic bags filled with water hanging over each bar stool.  A statue of a scantily dressed, buxom female pirate stand guard just outside the restroom doors complete with eye-patch.  On the floor are several large white plastic buckets filled with water for the many canines who visit with their somewhat intoxicated owners.  The bartender seems to know everyone, everyone except Cindy & I and at first seems a bit put out that we have no clue what Eddy Teacher’s Raw Bar is all about.  As we take our seats on two of the wobbly bar stools and attempt to take the whole experience in, I notice that chalk board highlighting the multitude of draft beers and spot not only the “Black & Tan” (Guinness and Bass) but also a “Black & Blond” (Guinness and Stella Artois), “Brown Mixed” (Smithwicks and Yuengling), “Poormans” (Guinness and Strongbow) and “Dirty Cracker” (Boddongtons and Strongbow) – maybe this place isn’t so bad!!!

St George Island 038  (Eddy Teach’s Sidekick, St George Island, Florida)

Our bartender/server turned out to be extremely friendly, attentive and informative and suggested that we had try a dozen of the Apalachacola Bay Oysters on the half shell – sold.  Within minutes we were presented with twelve of the plump-est, most tender and juicy oysters that I can remember ever putting in my mouth.  The only thing better then the oysters was the house-made cocktail sauce which was absolutely fantastic!  And the oysters seemed like they had been put on this earth only to accompany yet another “Black and Tan”.  We learned from our friendly bartender that the plastic bags of water keep the flies out as there are no windows.  I had never heard of this but I must say that there was not one fly to be found in or around Eddy Teacher’s Raw Bar. 

We had seen another restaurant down the street a ways and decided that we should give them a try for dinner as Eddy Teacher’s Raw Bar was after all a bar – not a restaurant.  So we departed and made our way down three blocks to “HARRY A’s RESTAURANT AND BAR” on Bayshore Drive.  HARRY A’s has live entertainment daily and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Upon entering we were greeted by a warm and very bubbly hostess who proceeded to seat us at a table right next to the front door and apologized but informed us that they were far busier then expected and that the entire staff was over-run…not what one wants to hear.  After a couple of minutes, our bubbly hostess checked back to see if we had been offered beverages yet – no not yet.  So she then proceeded to take our drink orders.  Our waitress appeared and asked if we were ready to order – not asking if we had any questions, not offering to go over any special the kitchen might be offering this evening…just place your order so she can try and get to yet another table.  Let’s just say that the meal was adequate and leave it at that.

HARRY A’s RESTAURANT AND BAR rates: Spoon1Typical tourist destination.

 St George Island 020  (Historic Lafayette Park, Apalachicola, Florida)

The next day, Cindy and I ventured off the island over to Apalachicola, a small seaside community that has re-invented itself numerous times.  In the early 1800’s, Apalachacola grew to be the third largest shipping port in the Gulf of Mexico, shipping cotton to ports-of-call all over the world.  In the early years of the 1900’s Apalachicola became known for it’s vast cypress trees and become home to several huge lumber mills.  By the end of the 1900’s Apalachicola became famous for it’s bountiful fishing and shrimping industry.  Today, Apalachicola Bay and the surrounding waters are considers some of the most productive and cleanest waters in the nation.  The area harvests more than 90 % of Florida’s oysters and more than 10% of the total oysters consumed within the US – more than 2 million pounds of oyster meat is shucked in Apalachicola annually.  The town streets are lined with beautiful old historic homes, many now run as Bed and Breakfasts.  The downtown area, at first has a feel of a by-gone era, and parts look run down and abandoned – but after spending just a little time in several of the shops, you get a sense that this town is on the rise.  The shops are unique, upbeat and friendly, there is the strong and popular Dixie Theater which hosts an ongoing list of live professional theater as well as musical events throughout the year…There is a strong sense of pride in this town and you can actually see it and feel it on the faces of the people you meet here.

St George Island 016 (Old lumber mill, Apalachicola, Florida)

Right next to the Dixie Theater, on Avenue E is a lovely little restaurant called “THAT PLACE IN APALACH”.  Actually, the owners of this place operated a very successful eatery over in Eastpoint called “That Place on 98” until Hurricane Dennis caused havoc along that section of Route 98, so the owners decided to move the operation to Apalachacola.  We entered and were immediately greeted by an extremely friendly and polite server who showed us to our table and exuberantly described the specials for the day.  After taking our beverage order, he was back in a flash with our drinks and proceeded to take our order.  Cindy went with the Jamaican Jerk Pork while I had to try the Panhandle Chowder and the Chopped BBQ Brisket Sandwich Special.  The Panhandle Chowder was delicious…creamy without being too thick, nice sized pieces of potato, onion and celery and loaded with fresh fish – I had to keep battling Cindy for the next spoonful!  Cindy really enjoyed her Pork as did I…it had just the right hint of Jerk without being over-the-top.  My BBQ Brisket Sandwich was also great – maybe not as great as Mrs. Burt’s but still delicious just the same.  It was great to see that each of the 18 tables filled up while we dined, some seated more than once.  The staff worked in unison and all seemed to really like working at “THAT PLACE IN APALACH”  Our server enthusiastically sold us on the house-made Key Lime Pie as well as the Chocolate Mousse Pie (his reason for working there, or so he said).  The Key Lime Pie was tasty with just the right amount of tartness, although it was served a drizzle of chocolate sauce, which to my palette tasted like it came from a can which drew my attention away from the pie itself.  I think that the pie could easily stand on it’s own without the addition of the chocolate sauce.  The Chocolate Mousse Pie was a hit, topped with fresh made whipped cream.  If I had to find a complaint on this dish it would have to be that the whipped cream could have used a tiny bit more sweetness and there could have been a tad more on the pie – other than that we loved this dessert.

St George Island 032  (“THAT PLACE IN APALACH”  – Apalachicola, Florida)

THAT PLACE IN APALACH” rates:Spoon4We would return in a heartbeat to dine here.

We wished we could have spent more time in Apalachacola and the surrounding area as there actually is a lot to see and experience here.  We are told that there are several really good places to eat in Apalachicola…”THAT PLACE IN APALACH” certainly makes that list.

St George Island 030  (Apalachacola fishing fleet  –  Apalachicola, Florida)

Tuesday was a somewhat lazy day for us…we spent the morning walking the dogs along the beach and doing laundry.  For lunch we both decided that another trip to “EDDY TEACH’S RAW BAR” was in order, so once again we made our way to Third Street.  This time, Cindy and I were the first to arrive and we were greeted by a lovely bartender whose smile and laugh were infectious.  She immediately became fast friends with Tucker and Panda (the dogs) and saw to it that the white plastic bucket next to our table was filled with nice cool water.  This place caters to dogs with people!!!  Because I wanted to mix things up a bit, I ordered a “Black and Blond” this time around instead of the “Black and Tan”, Cindy tried the “Strongbow Cider” which she enjoyed thoroughly (kind of like a mix between a lager and a fermented cider).  Of course we had to split another dozen of those delectable oysters along with that to-die-for cocktail sauce – yes these were as good as two nights earlier.  This time the oysters were shucked by the owner herself.  The menu at “EDDY TEACH’S RAW BAR” is limited somewhat but we were told that the burgers were really good so Cindy and I both opted for the Cheese burger with Chips.  Apparently, in Florida all ground meat MUST be cooked to medium-well – but our bartender/server assured us that the burgers would still be juicy.  When the burgers came they were gigantic, served with nice crisp lettuce and a slice of vine ripened tomato.  We couldn’t believe just how juicy and delicious these “well done” burgers were.  Incredible is a word that comes to mind easily.

St George Island 039  (“EDDY TEACH’s RAW BAR”  –  St George Island, Florida)

We learned upon this visit that Eddy Teach was the real name of Black Beard the pirate.  That maybe helped to explain the “booty” of women’s lingerie hanging from various rafters and wall adornments – maybe not!  “EDDY TEACH’S RAW BAR” is a fantastically fun experience…the place to go for a great chilled beer, some of the best oysters you will find anywhere and for a wonderfully juicy and tasty hamburger and on top of that, it’s a great place to meet some of the more colorful island folk.

St George Island 041  (I think this sign says it all  –  St George Island, Florida)

EDDY TEACH’S RAW BAR” rates:Spoon4This is a fantastic CASUAL place.

The oysters were so good that I decided to write a real easy recipe for “Easy Oyster Stew”.  Make sure to join the GYPSY KITCHEN Family to receive this and all other weekly recipes.

 

 
On Wednesday, we had to say goodbye to St George Island but have marked it as a spot we’d like to return to.  As we made our way west on Route 98, we drove along the coast through Port St Joe, Mexico Beach and Panama City Beach.  About the time we passed through Laguna Beach we were getting pretty hungry…driving in a 36–foot motor coach with a tow vehicle behind limits the available places one can stop.  As we drove through Destin, we noticed a “HOOTERS” with a very large and manageable parking lot so we opted for lunch at “HOOTERS”.  I don’t know if it’s my age or what but I simply DO NOT GET the whole “HOOTERS” thing.  Don’t get me wrong, like most members of the male species, I enjoy the sight of a young, perky taught female as much as anyone…but the bright orange short shorts I think went out in the early 1970’s if I’m not mistaken.  This place was more than loud, the tables and stools uncomfortable.  We both selected the Bone-less Chicken Wing Platter.  “HOOTERS” is the place to go for chicken wings right?  Wrong!!!  Both Cindy and my wings were beyond over cooked, the celery sticks were tan and limp, the Bleu cheese sauce lacked flavor.  I was hungry and wanted something to satisfy that hunger – I did not go into “HOOTERS” looking to become friends with our waitress, no matter how cute she was…so please DO NOT pull up a stool and chat with us.  I’d rather you pull up a stool next to the fryolator and make sure that my chicken wings aren’t burnt.  Here’s the deal – don’t call me “Honey” and I won’t call you “Babe” – okay?  Needless to say, I did not purchase any “HOOTERS” memorabilia to take home with me.  The ice tea was adequate and the parking lot was of good size for an RV.

Hooters_3

HOOTERS” rates:BrokenSpoonA firstthe “Broken Spoon” – it was just that bad!

 

A short time later we pulled into Big Lagoon State Park in Pensacola were we booked for two nights.  Again, after setting camp and after we thought our stomachs had recovered from our luncheon experience, we decided to travel down the road a bit to Perdido Key for what we hoped would be a decent dinner.  Based on the number of cars parked outside of “VALLARTA’S AUTHENTIC MEXICAN RESTAURANT” we thought this would be a solid choice.  Margarita’s seemed in order, so we ordered the Grande’s…when they arrived these were so big you could actually have bathed in them – HUGE!  As we sipped, you couldn’t lift them, we looked over the extensive menu and settled on two of the various “Combination Plates”.  Cindy’s consisted of a beef enchilada, a tamale, a beef taco and refried beans.  Mine was a combo of a chili relleno, chicken quesadilla, beef burrito and rice and beans.

Now I don’t know if it was still the knot in my stomach from the earlier “HOOTERS” experience or what, but I got about 1/4th. of the way through this massive dish and I simply couldn’t go on.  Cindy picked through hers as well, only eating a taste of this and a nibble of that.  We packaged the left-overs and returned to the coach with a massive treat for the dogs who really seemed to enjoy all of it.  Later that night, both Cindy and I had that horrible after-taste of MSG drying out the palette – again, not sure if it was the result of “HOOTERS” or of “VALLARTA’S AUTHENTIC MEXICAN RESTAURANT” – but my gut tells me the MSG is VALLARTA’S handy work.

Vallarta

VALLARTA’S AUTHENTIC MEXICAN RESTAURANT” rates: Spoon2Too much unappealing food piled on a plate, and watch the MSG.

 

 

We spent the next day recovering.

 

On Friday, we had to move all of about 10 miles down the road into Alabama to the very nice “Gulf State Park” were we stayed for two nights.  This is were we encountered the severe weather, tornado watches and sleepless nights.  I have to say that I’ve never experienced a more dramatic light show then what we witnessed on Saturday evening.  The lightning would light-up the sky with two, three and sometimes more steaks crackling and thundering down all around us.

We did get a break in the weather on Saturday, during the day and had the opportunity to take in the semi-annual German Sausage Festival in Elberta, Alabama were they expected to serve over 1,700 pounds of German Sausage before the day ended.  Based on the crowds, I would venture to guess that they hit that target.  Yes, the sausage was delicious and I would have made my Grandpa Willwerth proud as I enjoyed this tasty piece of grilled sausage, stuffed inside a large hoagie roll complete with sauerkraut and mustard and a nice cold Yuengling draft to wash it all down with.

Sausage festival

Remember that this weeks recipe is a tribute to the delicious Apalachacola Bay oysters, Easy Oyster Stew…you can get it by subscribing to our GYPSY KITCHEN Family.

Have a great week, please keep sending those suggestions and comments along – We really are using them as guiding posts for our adventure.  Also, please tell your friends about our wacky travels and have them join our growing family.

Remember to support your local restaurants and let them know that their hard efforts are appreciated.  No government stimulus programs are going to help these tireless soles out and they really do rely on us for their livelihood and right now so many independent restaurants in America are offering some great, wonderful and tasty “Special Offers” to entice us with! 

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Easy Oyster Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

BrokenSpoon= Hopeless, Would Definitely Not Return (A new addition to the rating scale)

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

Manatee 032 (And the coach is just about as wide as the road!)
 
“The long and winding road, that leads to your door.” – Paul McCartney
 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36–foot motorcoach searching for wonderful, interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Please come and join us!
 

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Cactus Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Cindy and I are staying on St. George Island, which is part of the “forgotten coast” in the Florida pan-handle between Tallahassee and Pensacola and this place is beautiful!!!  This is certainly not your Miami glitter or Tampa congestion…but rather a step back to a time of family gatherings around a roaring fire on the beach, a cookout with family and friends, a quite stroll along the miles of sandy beach…this is what the locals call “old Florida” and it is easy to see why many hope that the area remains “forgotten”.

It seems that the cell phone companies and internet providers have mostly forgotten this light slice of Floridian heaven as well…we have been largely without either for about a week now.  You actually have to go out of your way to find an internet signal in this part of the country, and you learn who has and who does not have a protected internet connection.  Although I have yet to try – I am told that some of the best sport fishing can be found in the local waters off St George Island and right now the pompano are said to be arriving.  The local oysters are out of this world delicious and some of the plumpest I’ve ever seen but you’ll have to wait until next week to read the reviews of the local eateries here as I am once again getting ahead of myself.

 

Last week we ventured from the town of Citra up to Manatee Springs State Park, located in the town of Chiefland, Florida.  One of Cindy’s quests on this trip was to see the endangered manatee so Manatee Springs seemed like the right place to head.  Upon arrival, we learned that the waters had been warming and that the manatee had just left and ventured out into the open waters of the Suwannee River.  Even though the manatee had departed, the Springs were lovely for snorkeling and swimming at a constant 72 degrees year round.  I cannot believe that this relatively small spring pumps out approximately 100 million gallons of clean, crystal clear water per day into the Suwannee River which eventually ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.  The park has a large deer population and on our second evening we came upon a doe with her new fawn who could not have been more than a few days old – a beautiful sight indeed.

In order to be guaranteed a manatee sighting, we we’re informed that Homosassa Springs State Park had six females in captivity – so off we trekked down Route 19 about 50 miles to Homosassa Springs, which used to be a privately owned zoo attraction until the late 1980’s when the state of Florida took over the operation.  (I have to admit that I wasn’t expecting too much in the way of excitement here – but was I ever surprised).  I was taken back a little when we pulled into the parking lot on this overcast Wednesday to find that the rather large parking area was completely filled and that the overflow parking on the grass was the only area available.  Entering the Visitors Area, I still had my doubts…but once we were actually in the park – it was amazing!!!  Clean, organized and an all-around good time.  The main spring has an underwater observatory which allows a very up-close and personal look at several species of salt water fish (living in a fresh water spring?) as well as the manatee, which are so lovely to see in this manner.  So graceful and docile…it’s sad to learn that we (MAN) are their only known threat!!!  In addition to the manatee and fish, the park has white-tail deer, alligators, river otters, bobcat, owls, eagles, pink flamingo and a friendly old hippopotamus – Lou (the only creature not native to Florida but he came with the park).

Manatee 132 (Lou – the friendly hippo, Homosassa Springs, Florida)

As I stated, I was not expecting much from our day at Homosassa State Park but I have to tell you that I had one of the best times I’ve had in generations at a zoo like attraction and for only $8.00 per person it was a bargain beyond bargains.  If you ever find yourself around the Hernando, Inverness area of Florida – please take a day and visit Homosassa Springs – you will thank me many times over for the tip.
(Here are a few pictures I took while at the park).

Manatee 049     Manatee 184

Manatee 188     Manatee 054

(If you’d like to see more pictures of the manatee and our trip, click on over to the GYPSY KITCHEN Photo Album).

Several people told us that we needed to go out to Cedar Key, which is about 20 miles South of Chiefland, and that Cedar Key is like stepping back in time about 50 years.  So on Thursday, Cindy and I made our way out to this tiny little coastal village and yes it is a step back to easier days.  With a year round population of about 900, Cedar Key has one bank, a small grocery store, a handful of shops and interestingly over a dozen restaurants.  In it’s day, Cedar Key was famous for the production of Faber and American Eagle pencils which were made from abundant cedar trees from which Cedar Key got it’s name.  This was before the days of forest management and so the cedar trees were basically clear-cut and then the pencil industry packed up and moved on.  We took a two-hour boat tour with Captain Doug Maple of TIDEWATER TOURS, out around Cedar Key and the adjoining islands and saw a family of porpoise, white pelicans, an American Bald Eagle and several other species of birds and had an opportunity to learn about this little gem of a town. 

Manatee 211 (Reduced oceanfront property for sale, Cedar Key, Florida) 

After the tour, we needed to try the local oysters, so we made our way to the BIG DECK RAW BAR, located on the touristy Dock Street and ordered up a dozen on the half shell along with a couple of cold drafts.  Although the oysters were fresh and tasty, the BIG DECK RAW BAR could stand a little more creativity in the kitchen…come on now, how hard is it to mix a little horseradish, ketchup, lemon juice and a dash or two of hot sauce?  No we had to make our own at the table because only horseradish and a wedge of lemon came with the oysters.  When asked about “cocktail sauce”, a few plastic containers of SYSCO cocktail sauce appeared from within the waitresses apron.

The BIG DECK RAW BAR rates:Spoon1Get with the program folks!!!

Island Hotel (Island Hotel & Restaurant, Cedar Key, Florida)

We had a lovely dinner at the ISLAND HOTEL & RESTAURANT (considered the up-scale dining destination on Cedar Key), the oldest commercial building on Cedar Key, which reportedly is home to several ghosts.  We had a lovely little table on the screened in veranda.  Cindy and I shared a cup of the Crab Bisque which was really delicious.  Salads accompanied the meals and were colorful, crisp and flavorful, all served with made-from-scratch dressings.  Cindy enjoyed the Artichokes Atsena Otie which is sautéed artichokes, scallops, shrimp and mushrooms splashed with sherry in a rich cream cheese parsley sauce.  The Stuffed Grouper split to hold an artichoke, shrimp and cheese stuffing, baked in white wine and butter sauce caught my eye and I enjoyed every bite.  Both dishes were served with a nice, simply prepared basmati rice and a medley of fresh vegetables…both good but not memorable.  Service was very polite, informative of the area and knowledgeable about the menu although a few service details were overlooked throughout out meal.

The ISLAND HOTEL AND RESTAURANT rates:Spoon3An enjoyable spot for dinner, especially the screened veranda.

 

Before we left Chiefland and Manatee Springs on Friday we stopped by this little BBQ joint called “BUBBAQUES It’s the Pits”, located in a strip mall on Route 19 just south of town.  This joint was so much fun and the staff was so upbeat – of course the food tasted great.  Upon entering you walk up to the “shack” and place your order, Cindy and I both opted for the daily special of Bubbaqued Beef Sammywich which was touted as “More fun than a tornado on a trailer park”.  Smoked beef brisket piled high between two thick pieces of Texas Toast, uhhh, excuse me, two thick slices of Bubba Bread, served with French fries and a pickle.  On your table is an array of Bubba’s BBQ sauces; Moonshine, Alabama Slama, Rib Lube, Ole Yeller, Panama Red, Tractor Grease, Rump Roaster, Mississippi Mud, Sugar Shack and Pine Tar – I’m not making these up folk’s!!!  Of course Cindy had to try each and everyone, I went for the “house” which is Rib Lube, a tomato based medium heat sauce – very good indeed.

Eating at BUBBAQUES is like being invited over to Larry the cable guy’s house for an afternoon BBQ…the intercom yelps out things like “Rita get in da truck” to signal that her food is ready for pickup.  In addition to BBQ BUBBAQUES offers a few salads “Rabbit Food”, “Fountain Beverages”, “Local Brew” and “Fancy Pants Foreigner Beer”.  There is a notice on the menu which reads “NOW LOOKEE HERE…Because of the wood smoke utilized in our cooking process, a pink color is imparted to the meats we serve.  All meat is cooked well done. So don’t get yer knickers all in a twist.” – I think that sums it up nicely!!!

BUBBAQUES It’s the Pits rates:Spoon3A really fun place for lunch or casual dinner.

After BUBBAQUES, we headed up Route 19 towards Tallahassee to spend the weekend with one of Cindy’s aunts whom I had not met before.  Shadow, as she prefers to be called is a whipper-snapper of a lady.  85 years old and could run circles around me and probably beat me in an arm wrestle.  Shadow is an avid outdoors woman and volunteers at “Saint Marks National Wildlife Refuge”, located just outside Tallahassee.  She is a bundle of knowledge with regard to all kinds of plant-life as well as wildlife and she’s a great little cook as well.  We dined on a delicious pot of Cactus Stew that she made with local venison, sweet potato, hominy, green chili and tomato.  I had to have the recipe, which she gladly shared and so I am passing it on to you as this weeks recipe.

Saturday was Shadows birthday and we spent the day visit the state capital building, where she seemed to know just about everyone, the outside farmers market just steps away from the capital steps and we had lunch at SIENYARD SEAFOOD RESTAURANT in Woodville (just south of Tallahassee).  This busy place is a favorite of the locals, serving up fresh local seafood, mostly fried but also baked or blackened.  Shadow had the Fried Oyster Platter, Cindy the Blackened Grouper and I choose the Fried Shrimp Platter.  The food was fresh, hot and tasty all-be-it typical for this kind of establishment.  A candle adorned a piece of homemade Key Lime Pie which was delicious and rich.

The SEINYARD SEAFOOD RESTAURANT rates: Spoon2Good, basic seafood in a clean, friendly atmosphere.

 

 

 

 

Have a great week, please keep sending those suggestions and comments along – We really are using them as guiding posts for our adventure.  Also, please tell your friends about our wacky travels and have them join our growing family.

Remember to support your local restaurants and let them know that their hard efforts are appreciated.  No government stimulus programs are going to help these tireless soles out and they really do rely on us for their livelihood and right now so many independent restaurants in America are offering some great, wonderful and tasty “Special Offers” to entice us with! 

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________

For information and/or directions for any of the places we’ve visited, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Cactus Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

Wikiwa Springs 048 (Did someone say Turtle Soup? – Wekiwa Springs, Florida)
 
“Food is so primal, so essential a part of our lives, often the mere sharing of recipes with strangers turns them into good friends.”   – Jasmine Heiler
 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36 foot motorcoach searching for interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Come join us!
 

For information and/or directions for any of the following establishments, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Pistachio Encrusted Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry – Zinfandel Sauce”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________

I just got back from playing 9–holes of Golf with Cindy at the Grand Lake Resort and Golf RV Park, (where we are staying for three days/nights) located in Citra, Florida.  My golf game is barely better then my fishing skills but we still had a good time out on the course.

I know I mentioned this recently but I have to say it again – I can’t get over just how friendly fellow RV’ers are!  We have met people from Canada, Massachusetts, Maine, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oklahoma, New Mexico and Texas and each and everyone of them have been welcoming, helpful, hospitable and just fun to be around.  I’ve never interacted with as many people while traveling before.  I can see why so many people spend 3, 6 and more months per year traveling in their RV.  If you’ve never tried RVing before – I would encourage you to give it a try.  It doesn’t matter if you are in a tent or a million dollar custom motorcoach – fellow Rv’ers treat you just the same.

 

Many of you have written, thanking me for witting the recipes for 2 servings.  You are very welcome – it just makes sense for us traveling, given that we are just 2 mouths; our kitchen is all of 6 feet big; and I recently read that more then half of the households in the U.S. are now occupied by 2 persons.  Sometimes the recipes turn out to be a little large – but when that happens, you have a nice lunch the next day.

 

Well, I guess it’s time to get down to business.  This past week, our daughter Jennifer came down for a few days break from the snow and cold weather in Boston.  We picked her up at the Orlando airport on Monday night.  After getting her stuff packed into the car, we headed back towards Wekiwa Springs State Park but decided to look for a place to have diner as we were all hungry and I knew I didn’t feel like cooking when we got back to the coach.  Jennifer spotted the MELTING POT Restaurant (which apparently is a large chain of fondue restaurants now located all over America).  I have not been to one before and I have tried not to review chain restaurants thus far on our traveling adventure – but because the concept is so unusual, I thought I’d share my thoughts.

For those, like myself, not familiar with the MELTING POT concept, it is a mix between a Benihana-style “cooking-at-the-table” and a “cook-it-yourself-on-hot-rock” type eatery.  The featured dinner is a 4–course meal for 2, which consists of a “Cheese Fondue Course”, “Salad Course”, “Entree Fondue Course” and a “Dessert Fondue Course”.  Three choices for the first two, a combination of meats and chicken for the entree and at least 5 choices for the dessert.

Mwlting pot 2 (MELTING POT, Orlando, Florida)

We selected the Cheddar-Ale Fondue, the California Salad and the Banana Foster Fondue for dessert.  Jennifer ordered the California Salad and the Vegetarian Entree Fondue and we all shared the cheese and dessert course.  The cheese fondue was very pleasant and was served with a mound of cubed breads, assortment of fresh vegetables and sliced apples.  We must have enjoyed it thoroughly as we devoured the whole pot in minutes.  The salad was really delicious – mixed greens with walnuts, bleu cheese and a black walnut and raspberry vinaigrette.  We opted for the court bouillon base for the entree fondue pot – a nice mild herbed broth which did not overpower the assortment of marinated beef and chicken.  Served with more fresh vegetables – good but not outstanding.  For dessert, Jennifer promised that the Bananas Foster was a sure hit – and it was.  Milk chocolate melted with caramel, sliced bananas, chopped pecans along with an assortment of fresh strawberries, marshmallows, more bananas, cheesecake, and sponge cake.  We could have skipped the entree and gone directly to dessert.

Melting pot 1 (Assortment that comes with the dessert fondue, MELTING POT, Orlando, Florida)

All-in-all, the MELTING POT is a fun, unusual dining event that’s a great night out for a couple or a group gathering.  Make sure to save room for the dessert fondue.

Melting pot 5 (Cheddar – Ale Fondue at the MELTING POT, Orlando, Florida)

The MELTING POT rates:Spoon3Don’t even try to figure the caloric value!

 

 

The next day Cindy, Jennifer and I spent the day exploring Wikewa Springs, taking a canoe trip where we spotted even more alligators, turtles everywhere, birds of all kinds and the water was as clear as I have ever seen.  The “pool” was a blast as we took turns diving down into the cracked floor where the spring water fills the pool and adjoining runs with over 45 million gallons of crystal clear water per day!!!  Dinner was vegetarian gnocchi alfredo that yours truly whipped up in the coach.

Gnocchi (Vegetarian Gnocchi in the coach)

 

 

Jenn at Universal (Jennifer being a kid at Universal Studio, Florida)

Wednesday, we headed over to Universal Studio to take in the “Island of Adventure” (this was Jennifer+’s request).  We rode all of the pure “fear-rattling” rides.  We had lunch at “MYTHOS” (rated the best them park restaurant in America for 6 years in a row).  Cindy and I had dined here a few years earlier and had a fantastic meal.  Dining inside MYTHOS is like eating in a huge natural cavern complete with waterfalls and pools.  After selecting a few Cosmo’s, we ordered the Tempura Shrimp Sushi.  Cindy and I had this on our last visit and it was so great that I have often recalled how much I enjoyed every morsel – unfortunately, on this visit, while still tasty – it was a lot more mediocre; the shrimp was much smaller, the rice lacked any seasoning, one spear of asparagus and the tempura crust was basically flavorless.

Tempura Shrimp (Tempura Shrimp Sushi, MYTHOS, Universal Studio, Florida)

Jennifer ordered the “Crabcake Mini’s” (think the burger slider)…she felt it to be okay, but wondered if the cakes were fully cooked.  After tasting them I would agree that they could have spent more time in the pan.  Cindy had the “Smoked Cheddar and Chicken Salad” served with a light herbed vinaigrette.  This was the highlight of our experience.  I made the mistake of ordering the Pistachio Encrusted Pork with Blueberry Sauce.  I could not detect any hint of pistachio what’s-so-ever. The pork was so dry and tough that I should have used a chain saw to have cut it.  The Smokey Cheddar Mac & Cheese which accompanied the lack-luster pork could have come out of a blue & yellow box.  This dish sounded so wonderful and turned out so horrid that I decided to write this weeks recipe for Pistachio Encrusted Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry – Zinfandel Sauce half hoping that the MYTHOS chef might read it and consider revamping his creation – “It needs it!” 

We finished the meal with the “Chocolate Banana Gooey Cake” which was supposed to be served warm – it wasn’t.  This was okay but again, not as good as it sounded on the menu.

I don’t know if the management has changed, the kitchen staff or what but given the current state of the economy, restaurants across the country are busting their butts improving value, quality and service on an ever decreasing profit margin – it seems that MYTHOS is not following this trend.

Mythos (Inside MYTHOS Restaurant, Universal Studio, Florida)

MYTHOS rates:Spoon2Great atmosphere but the menu and/or kitchen needs work.

 

Thursday, we had to say goodbye to Jennifer as she headed back up to Boston, I hope she got enough color while visiting.

Friday, Cindy and I made our way north to Grand Lake Resort & Golf RV Park, which is about halfway between Ocala and Gainesville, Florida.  After hooking up the coach, we made our way around the resort and found that the on-site cafe was featuring a Corned Beef and Cabbage Dinner as an early St Patrick’s Day special, complete with cornbread and cupcakes with emerald green frosting and live music provided by some of the resort guests.  Many of you know how I feel about corned beef and cabbage being associated with Ireland – but it sounded like a fun time.  I knew we made the right choice when upon entering, “Danny Boy” was being sung by an extremely talented gentleman, accompanied by both a steel and rhythm guitar. I couldn’t help but think about my Dad, as Danny Boy was his favorite Irish Ballard of all time.  The dinner was quite good and an ample portion and only $8.95.

 
 

 

 

Have a great week, we are headed towards Tallahassee on Monday and to dining destinations still unknown.  We still have 6 weeks left on our adventure, leaving Florida in about a week and heading into Mississippi and Louisiana – Please send your suggestions and comments along – I’m enjoying them all and hearing from so many of you!  Please tell your friends and have them join our growing family.

Please support your local restaurants and let them know how much you enjoy their hard efforts.

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________

 

For information and/or directions for any of these establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.

Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Pistachio Encrusted Pork Tenderloin with Blueberry – Zinfandel Sauce”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

 

Robert Is Here 015 (Jalapeno peppers at “Robert Is Here” Farmstand, Homestead, Florida)
 
“Next time I send a damn fool…I’ll go myself.”  – My Grandfather Willwerth
 
 
The “GYPSY KITCHEN” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the backroads and forgotten highways of America in a 36 foot motorcoach searching for interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Come join us!
 

For information and/or directions for any of the following establishments, please visit our interactive “GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Mrs. Burt’s BBQ Beef Brisket”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________

I need to apologize but somehow I have lost a week of time in our traveling adventure!  We are finishing our sixth week on the road but somehow I have only written four weeks worth of the GYPSY KITCHEN blogs.  I guess doing all this vacationing has taken it’s toll on me and I have entered into a time warp of some type.  Rather then writing two blogs back to back – I’ve decided to combine the past two weeks into this blog and hopefully get back to the present.  I’m going to keep this short as possible – but there is a lot to get threw so here goes…

 

 

 

I have heard from several of you asking various questions about our trip but several of you have asked how are we picking what places to eat at and review.  We are picking dining locations largely based on what you are suggesting!  Sometimes, our choice is due to what’s available at the time, where we can eat while having the dogs with us – but most of the eateries are from suggestions from readers and/or fellow travelers…so PLEASE keep sending us your suggestions.

Almost everyone we spoke to while staying on the Keys said that we had to check out the “NO NAME PUB”, located on Big Pine Key.  They are known for their pizza and claim that the “NO NAME PUB” serves the “Greatest Pizza in the known universe” due to the fact that years ago they employed a couple of cooks from Italy who mastered the recipe for the NO NAME PUB Pizza’s and when they retired, they wrote the recipe on the kitchen wall – that recipe is still used today!  This is a casual eatery and the owner has spent tens of thousands of dollars on interior decorations – well actually the customers have spent tens of thousands of dollars on interior decorations as the entire place is cover from floor to ceiling with dollar bills signed and/or decorated by visitors from both near and far.

No Name $$$2 (Dollar bills lining the ceiling and walls of the “NO NAME PUB”)

The menu is somewhat limited and they only serve beer and wine.  We dined on a cool Sunday evening and when we arrived around 8:00pm they were calling a 45 minute wait for a table but had two available seats at the bar – we choose the bar seats.  The NO NAME Amber Ale was deliciously refreshing, Cindy’s glass of red wine was okay.  We opted to try the Smoked Local Fish Dip Appetizer which was really tasty and obviously fresh, served with several packages of assorted crackers (the two pack variety), some lettuce leaves for color and served on a paper plate – did I mention that this place is casual?   We selected the Royal Pub Pizza which included Pepperoni, Italian Sausage, Fresh Mushrooms, Fresh Onions, Fresh Green Peppers and Black Olives atop a 12–inch thin crust dough complete with a classic red sauce.  This thing was loaded with toppings and was certainly a god reason to have visited.  Our bartender/server was extremely pleasant and accommodating and although we were more then stuffed (actually we had to package some of the pizza to take home), she sold us on a piece of NO NAME PUB Key Lime Pie, which we also took with us.  The next day we enjoyed the pie and found it to be good – not the best we experienced on the Keys but still enjoyable.

No Name PubThe NO NAME PUB is a really cool, friendly and delicious experience.

The NO NAME PUB rates:Spoon3Well worth the drive to experience.

 

Some new friends we met while in the Everglades told us we had to check out MICCOSUKEE RESORT & GAMING just outside of Miami on the corner of Route 41 and Krome Avenue.  Cindy and I are not big gamblers, although I have been known to sit at the Black Jack or Roulette Tables for a while so I thought that his might be fun.  Upon entering, we quickly realized that MICCOSUKEE RESORT & GAMING is 90% slot machines, 8% BINGO and 2% Texas Hold’em Poker…no other games of chance (i.e. slim to no chance of leaving with the same amount of money you entered with).  Anyway, we decided to stay for dinner.  We were seated next to a lovely baby grand piano being expertly played by a talented pianist/vocalist, overlooking and overhearing hundreds of “One Arm Bandits” with lights a flashing and bells a whistling.  Our server was extremely professional as well as friendly, we decided to try the Conch Fritter Appetizer due to the fact that they were being advertised as “the best north of the Bahamas” – these are some of the best Conch Fritters that I’ve ever had – they really were delicious!!!  The rest of our meals were pleasantly well prepared and of high quality.  If this eatery was not located in the middle of a smoky, noisy and flashy gaming room, it would have been a really great find – with that said, it was still an enjoyable evening.

MICCOSUKEE RESORT & GAMING rates: Spoon3for food and service

and rates: Spoon2 for atmosphere…

As we were leaving the resort we couldn’t help but notice a row of automobiles that would make any car buff jealous – 3 Rolls Royce+’s; 2 Bentleys; 2 Maybach’s and a Lincoln Town Car.  These are owned by the Miccosukee Elder Leaders.  I couldn’t help but chuckle at the fact that the Native Americans are finally gaining some degree of prominence – ironically by offering the “White Man” the opportunity to “waste” their money at “games of chance”.

Moccosukee Village 071 (Tiger Tail families “island” in the middle of the Everglades)

A short drive from MICCOSUKEE RESORT & GAMING, on Route 41 you pass by the Miccosukee Tribal Village which offers a gift store, village tour and air boat rides.  We couldn’t resist the latter, especially for $10 per person.  We purchased our tickets, waited about 10 minutes only to discover that our trip would be a private ride (just  crazy luck).  We set out across the Everglades, “the sea of grass”, on our swift air boat along with our private guide pointing out the alligators, birds, various grasses as we moved with such grace upon the shallow waters, making our way out to “Tigertail’s Hammock” (a home to the Tigertail family, who are part of the Miccosukee tribe, up until the early 1970’s).  Our total tour lasted about 35 minutes and was well worth the price.

 

We rolled into Naples around 3:45pm and checked into our RV resort, set-up the coach and headed down the street for a quick “fast-food” lunch.  We discovered “BUDDY’s BURGERS” located on the corner of Collier and Beck Boulevards.  A former “Checkers” location, BUDDY’s is an independently owned, single-unit burger joint which features fresh, juicy and delicious burgers, fries and more.  Cindy opted for the Buffalo Chicken Sandwich and I couldn’t resist the “Black & Blue Burger” (a blackened burger topped with Bleu cheese and sauteed onions, lettuce and vine-ripened tomato).  Both sandwiches were unbelievably delicious as were the fresh cut, cooked to order fries.  This is not a quick “fast food” restaurant due to the fact that everything is cooked to order…we waited about 10minutes for our meals to be prepared – but it was well worth the wait.

BUDDY’s BURGERS rates: Spoon4Well worth a check if in the area.

 

That evening, Cindy and I headed down to the popular 5th. Avenue area of Naples, full of unique retail shops, restaurants and realtors’ offices…this is where you go to “People Watch”.  All we wanted was a couple of cocktails and an appetizer to split.  We settled on a table outside at McCABES IRISH PUB and GRILL, a terrific place to take in all of the activities.  The “Black & Tan” was a refreshing libation which took me back to Dublin, Ireland – if only for a moment. 

McCabes2 (McCABES IRISH PUB & GRILL, Naples, Florida)

I was a little disappointed at the menu selection after reading how Mr McCabe had spent over a year searching the great pubs of Ireland for inspiration before building this landmark restaurant.  Having spent some personal time in many an Irish pub, I was a bit surprised to find menu selections such as Corned Beef and Cabbage (never seen in Ireland), individual pizza’s, chicken quesadillas, Key West Tilapia???

The Brie and Guiness Appetizer looked the most interesting…and it was.  Small wedges of brie cheese that has been dipped into a Guiness spiked batter, fried to golden brown and served with a raspberry coulis and dusted with powdered sugar…this was really tasty…Cindy commented that it reminded her of the beignets we had enjoyed at Huey’s Cajun Restaurant in Savannah, Georgia – and yes they did but the creaminess of the brie and the slight bitterness of the Guiness added a unique taste sensation and called for a second “Black & Tan”.  Our young server was very friendly and attentive and covered his section (which was rather large) with finesse and confidence.

McCABES IRISH PUB & GRILL rates: Spoon3Fun for a beer and quick appetizer.

 

 Naples Beach 033    Naples Beach 042 (The pier and beach, Naples, FLorida)   

The next day we visited Naples Pier, the beach and then ventured back to 5th. Avenue, visited several of the shops and had a leisurely late lunch at CAFE LUNA which offered a Bottle of Wine and Two Entree Special for $29.99.  In addition, we started with a traditional Calamari Fritti Appetizer which was good, we then shared a Caesar Salad which was fresh and full of garlic, yumm.  Cindy enjoyed the Lemon-Pepper Trout as I happily devoured the Veal Saltimbocca.

CAFE LUNA rates:Spoon3A great place for some delicious Italian. 

 

After that we headed up the west coast until we landed in the town of Ruskin and checked into the E.G. Simmons County Park.  The sites here are huge and most of them back up to a series of inlets off of Tampa Bay…the fishing is supposedly unbelievable, although I have yet to catch fish # 1 – I’m beginning to get a fishing complex!!!

A good friend from Maine emailed me and said that we had to go into the Ybor City section of Tampa (the old Cuban/Spanish section) and dine at one of two spots – the SILVER RING or the COLUMBIA RESTAURANT. 

Columbia Restaurant 005     Columbia Restaurant 006          Columbia Restaurant 002 (COLUMBIA RESTAURANT, Ybor City, Florida)

We thought we would check out the SILVER RING only to discover that it has gone out of business, so a short walk down 7th Ave in Ybor City brought us to the COLUMBIA RESTAURANT.  This restaurant opened in 1905 is is still run by the same family – 5th generation.  Through the years the COLUMBIA has grown from a small one room bar-like eatery into a huge, city long block formal restaurant which can accommodate up to 1700 diners!  The day we were here was very busy, but the service was impeccable and the food better then the service.  Each course is served tableside, beginning with a pitcher of fresh made Mojito’s.  Next came the House Salad which was a combination of a Caesar-style and a Chef salad, again tossed tableside – delicious.  I ordered the Half Cuban Sandwich and Gazpacho soup which was served again tableside (the soup comes in a cup and then the server offers brunoise of red pepper, onion, cucumber, tomato – all fresh, all delightful.  The Cuban sandwich was again wonderful.

Columbia Restaurant 007 (Dessert flambeed tableside at COLUMBIA RESTAURANT)

Normally we would have skipped dessert but spotted one of the house specialties which of course was flambeed tableside – so we had to give it a try – another hit.

The COLUMBIA RESTAURANT rates:Spoon4A must try if a visit to the Tampa area is on your agenda. (We learned later that Ybor City, although cleaned up recently, is a place to visit during daylight rather then at night, perhaps that’s why this place was so busy during the day).

 

On a different day, we were checking out the Ruskin area and asked a local merchant where we should go for lunch, he quickly suggested BEANIE’S SPORTS BAR AND GRILL, which was located directly across the street from his hardware store.  A bit reluctantly, we entered as I am not a big “Sports Bar” fan – at least from a food point of view.

Our server was very bright and cheery and extremely attentive.  She made a few great suggestions of which Cindy picked the Reuben and I opted for the Sausage and Sliced Beef Sandwich.  Both were served with house made potato chips that were out of this world good!  Both sandwiches were delicious and much better then either of us expected.

BEANIE’S SPORTS BAR AND GRILL rates:Spoon3Make sure to get the Potato Chips!!!

 

I often get asked if I learned to cook from my mother.  My mom has always been a very creative person and can do anything she sets her mind to – unfortunately, she rarely set her mind to cooking as she saw that as a task rather then a passion.  She would rather make new curtains for the entire house rather then worry about dinner. 

Fortunately for me, my mom was friends with a lot of people who were extremely talented and passionate cooks.  One such friend was Teresa Burt, who with her husband and three sons moved to our hometown from Kansas City, Kansas when I was in grammar school.  The Burt’s youngest son, Tim and I became quick friends and Mr. & Mrs. Burt and my parents became the best-of-friends.  I think out of pity for my family, Mrs Burt one day shared her recipe for Kansas City Barbecue Beef Brisket with my mom who would make this dish often for our family…we all loved it!

The Burts 004 (Visiting with Mr. & Mrs. Burt, Oldsmar, Florida)

This weeks recipe that I am sharing with all of you was inspired by Mrs. Burt’s dish.  Cindy and I had a great time visiting Mr. and Mrs. Burt this past week as they live in Oldsmar, Florida outside of Tampa and we were treated to delicious Strawberry Shortcakes with Fresh Florida Strawberries and Homemade Biscuits and Whipped Cream!!!  I love the Burt’s and thank them for their hospitality and their cooking skills.  I hope you enjoy the recipe for Mrs. Burt’s BBQ Beef Brisket, you must be a subscriber to get the recipe. 

 

Please support your local restaurants and let them know how much you enjoy their hard efforts.

Have a great week, our daughter Jennifer is coming down next week for a few days visit as the GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 continues it’s adventure up the western side of Florida.

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________

For information and/or directions for any of these establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.

Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Mrs. Burt’s BBQ Beef Brisket”)  and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 

Ratings Scale:

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

 

Key West 048 Small Web view (Sunset at Mallory Square, Key West, Florida)
 
“Red sails in the sunset way out of the sea, Oh carry my loved one home safely to me.”  – Paul McCartney 
 
 
The “Gypsy Kitchen” is the traveling culinary adventure of John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the back roads and forgotten highways of America in a 36 foot motor coach searching for interesting regional foods and delicious culinary treasures…Come join us!
 

For information and/or directions for any of the following establishments, please visit our interactive GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 Map.  Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Frogmore or Less Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

 ___________________________________________________________________________________________

Cindy and I are still here in the Florida Keys, taking in the sun at Long Key State Park…and yes, our site is right on the beach again!  And yes, we watch the sunrise from our coach each morning!!  And yes, the waters are a deep coral blue color, it’s 78 degrees and the beer is nicely chilled.  Our daughter Jessica emailed us today to inform us that Farmington, Maine (were she attends college) received 24–inches of snow yesterday!!!

 

Two of our children, Jessica and Chris, paid us a visit this past week for 5 days while on school break.  It was great seeing them…the dogs enjoyed the added attention and the kids liked being out of the cold weather for a few days.  Our oldest child, Jennifer is planning a visit in a couple of weeks as well. 

We have received several suggestions as to eating places for us to try out along our journey.  One of these suggestions was for Annette+’s Steak and Lobster House located in Marathon, Florida – right on the Overseas Highway (Route 1 for us ol’ timers).  Sunday night Cindy & I decided to give this place a try to see if it was as good as we had been told.  Upon entering, we certainly had our doubts as the interior was certainly dated with that late 50’s – early 60’s motif with dark wood walls, floor and tables – the lights turned all the way up so it felt like eating at a night game at Fenway Park.  Cindy looked over her shoulder at me as we were being shown to our table, as if to ask “do we really want to stay”.  The place was busy, but a quick scan of the other diners only proved that we were amongst the “youngest” patrons in the place.

 

The menu was the “classic” plastic laminated version and was pages in length (usually not a great sign).  Our friendly server arrived at our table within a minute or two and suggested the Sunburst Martini for Cindy and the “House” Margarita seemed the appropriate choice for me.  Our second round consisted of 2 more Margarita’s!  We decided to split the Conch Fritters Appetizer (Conch is a local mollusk much like our New England clams) which was served fried with a nice lemon buerre blanc style sauce -wow these were done perfectly.  For dinner Cindy selected the Sesame Encrusted Tuna Steak and I opted for the Macadamia Encrusted Grouper…the salad bar (a la 1960’s) comes with the meal – but you are not entitled to the soup or fresh fruit selections without an additional charge!!!  Ashlea, our server brought over a few deliciously warm rolls with whipped butter served in a small plastic cup.  The salad was fresh and crisp and altogether enjoyable.  When our dinners arrived both Cindy and I were impressed with the presentation of each plate.  Cindy’s Tuna, which she ordered “Rare” had simply kissed the grill and was done to perfection.  My Grouper was moist and fork tender and the Macadamia crust was just golden brown and the mandarin orange cream sauce was an excellent accompaniment.  Our conversation halted as we dove into our meals with total abandonment…each bite was better then the last.  Cindy had ordered the coconut sweetened sweet potatoes for her starch, which she found to be just a tad too sweet.  My garlic smashed potatoes were “spot-on” and the vegetables served were in fact fresh and properly cooked!

As we nearly licked our entree plates clean, I spotted a remarkably decedent looking dessert being served at an adjoining table.  It was so good looking that I had to excuse myself and ask the patron’s at that table if it was in fact as good as it looked – “Better” was the reply.  A Caramel Souffle arrived at our table about 15 minutes later accompanied by a homemade Cinnamon Ice Cream – this dish is a 12 on a scale of 1 to 10!!!  Ashlea informed us that Annette makes all of the desserts herself – I now love Annette!!!

As we were finishing our dinner, I noticed that the last several tables of diners entering were of a younger generation then those mentioned previously.

All-in-all, our meal at Annette+’s was a very pleasant surprise.  After originally entering, I had set my hopes low but left feeling that we had received an excellent dining tip and well worth our trip to discover.

Annette's  (Interior view of Annette’s Steak & Lobster House, Marathon, Florida)
Annette+’s
Steak and Lobster House rates: Spoon2for atmosphere
But rates:Spoon4for food and level of service.  I could recommend this place to anyone looking for a great meal, but Annette – please turn the lights down a bit!!!

 

 

Of course the kids wanted to visit Key West while they were visiting so on Wednesday we made our way down to the Southern most point in the U.S. and had a nice day visiting the Butterfly Conservatory, the many unique shops, Earnest Hemmingway’s Florida home and the pet-friendly Pasta Garden for lunch.  Roman, our server brought out two cardboard water bowls for Tucker & Panda while we enjoyed a very nice lunch on the terrace which is set back off Duval Street which was nice as it was out of the sun.  We shared the Calamari Fritti which was good although very traditional.  Jessica had the Ocean Caesar Salad served with nicely grilled, plumb, juicy shrimp; Cindy enjoyed the Antipasto Salad; Chris really liked the Blackened Mahi Mahi Sandwich, and I was intrigued by the sounds of the Italian Sausage Roll with Mozzarella cheese, garlic, olive oil and Parmesan – I did not realize that this creation could have fed the entire table.  It was delicious as we all enjoyed it, including Panda & Tucker.

Pasta Garden (Patio dining at Pasta Garden, Key west, Florida)

The Pasta Garden rates:Spoon3for a nice leisurely lunch.

Our adventure continued throughout the afternoon in Key West and as the afternoon sun began to make it’s way off into the horizon, we found ourselves visiting Mallory Square which hosts a daily “Sunset Party” complete with magicians, jugglers, “The Cat Man”, Reggae music and did I mention cocktails?  We found a great table overlooking the water at “Sunset Celebration” which is part of the Westin Hotel.  From our vantage point we could watch the schooners head out of the harbor on their daily sunset cruise while sipping our Margarita’s; Bahama Mama’s; Green Thing’s and Beefeater & Tonics.  For round 2 we decided to try the Westin’s Conch Fritters…the drinks were delicious!!!

Key West 040  (Schooners at sunset, Mallory Square, Key West, Florida)

As the sun slowly faded away, we all had a great time simply taking in the electrifying energy that Mallory Square omits.  It is easy to see why someone could get used to life in Key West.

Key West 042  (Another schooner heading out at sunset from Mallory Square, Key West, Florida)

Key West 045  (The sun begins to set from Mallory Square, Key West, Florida)

Key West 066 (Almost gone!!! Key West, Florida)

 

As the week wound down and it was time for the kids to depart, we headed into Miami on Thursday afternoon as the kids had a 6:00am flight back home on Friday.  We had a bit of a mix-up with regards to our hotel and ended up having to boondock the motor coach in a Wal-Mart parking lot for the evening (any RV’er understands this).  Once we got ourselves situated and the dogs walked we were all starving and the local choices were “Hooters” (Chris’ pick); “Chili’s” (no ones pick); “Subway” or this little Japanese Sushi place called Yuki Hana Japanese Restaurant – we opted for sushi.  Upon entering we were one of three tables and the staff seemed very happy to see us (Please read my “shout-out” in last weeks blog).  We had a fantastic dinner of Steamed Gyosa; Edamame; Coconut Shrimp Tempura; Rainbow Roll; Spicy Tuna Roll and a Dragon Roll.  Everything was fresh, Fresh, FRESH.  Service was pleasant and attentive.

 

“Yuki Hana ” rates:Spoon3We would definitely visit again the next time we find ourselves staying in the Wal-Mart parking lot for the evening.

Please support your local restaurants and let them know how much you enjoy their hard efforts.

Have a great week, after the Keys, Cindy, the dog’s and yours truly are off to the Western side, or Gulf-Side of Florida as the GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ‘09 continues.

 

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.the-gypsy-kitchen.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

___________________________________________________________________________________________

 

For information and/or directions for any of these establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.

Make sure to log onto www.gypsy-kitchen.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Frogmore or Less Stew”)  and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the GYPSY KITCHEN in the comfort of your own home.

Ratings Scale:

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

 Spoon2= Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

 Spoon3= As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

 Spoon4= Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

 Spoon5= Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit

 

Feb-3-09 021
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine…” – The Beatles
 
The “Gypsy Kitchen” is a traveling culinary adventure by John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the back roads and forgotten highways of America in a 36 foot motor coach searching for unique, interesting, local, regional and hopefully delicious culinary treasures. 

For information and/or directions for any of the following establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.  Make sure to log onto www.cookwithjohn.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Frogmore or Less Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the Gypsy Kitchen in the comfort of your own home.

 

 

Feb-3-09 021
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Good Day Sunshine, Good Day Sunshine…” – The Beatles
 
The “Gypsy Kitchen” is a traveling culinary adventure by John and Cindy Hughes who are cruising the back roads and forgotten highways of America in a 36 foot motor coach searching for unique, interesting, local, regional and hopefully delicious culinary treasures. 

For information and/or directions for any of the following establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.  Make sure to log onto www.cookwithjohn.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Frogmore or Less Stew”) and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the Gypsy Kitchen in the comfort of your own home.

 

 

Right now, I’m sitting in an lounge chair overlooking the clear blue sea from our perch here at Curry Hammock State Park in Marathon, Florida.  The weather is a lovely 78 degrees with a slight breeze blowing…One could get very used to this!!!

Everglades 124

Before we arrived here on the Florida Keys, we visited the Everglades National Park and stayed at Flamingo Park for 4 days…Did we see any alligators or crocodiles?  Check out the GYPSY KITCHEN Photo Album to see just how many we saw…and up close and personal.  On our last day in the park, we visited an area known as Royal Palm and took a 1/2 mile stroll and literally saw dozens and dozens of alligators.  But I’m getting ahead of myself already.

 

Last Saturday,we spent the day exploring the historic downtown area of St. Augustine, watching the street vendors and visiting several of the areas many interesting shops and boutiques.  While checking out the Visitor’s Center, we learned that a small restaurant named “DECO” was voted best gourmet restaurant in St. Augustine…we made the decision that this would be our destination for lunch.

Outside Deco

DECO” is a bit out from the downtown city area but was well worth the short drive out Route 1 to 980 Santa Maria Boulevard.  Chef/Owner Sandy Krebs is a talented, creative workhorse of a chef.  She starts out most days in the early morning baking her own breads and desserts, simmering her sauces, making her dressings, cooking outstanding meals for her lunch guests all the while prepping for dinner service…Sandy is a chef’s chef and also one great designer as she purchased the land and designed and built this hi-tech, modern facility which clearly “fits” into the Florida scene beautifully.

Inside Deco

Feb-3-09 015

We started out with a lovely baked wheel of brie with Fiji and Granny Smith apples and house prepared walnut brittle.  For our entrees, Cindy choose the Omelet Special of fresh crab, avocado and feta cheese, which she loved and I opted for the Club Sandwich which was built upon fresh in-house baked ciabatta bread, piled high with thick cut bacon, vine ripened tomatoes, crisp romaine lettuce, beautiful ham and roast turkey and finished with both Cheddar and swiss cheeses…accompanied by a delightfully crisp and snappy pickle and house made potato salad which is the best we’ve had on the trip so far.

Feb-3-09 016

Gigi, our served told us that we had to save room for Sandy’s Grandma’s Lemon Cake, which we did…wonderful is a word that quickly comes to mind.

 

“DECO” rates:Spoon5We would definitely go out of our way to revisit!!!

Feb-3-09 023

After lunch, we headed out to St. Augustine Light House and a nice stroll out onto the small causeway that leads out over the bay and watched the fishermen work their skill reeling in various species of local catch…the pelicans were among the best fishermen we witnessed.

We opted to skip dinner all together after this exceptional lunch at “DECO”

Feb-3-09 005 

Sunday, we packed up and headed out on Route A1A South and stopped at a recommended eatery “Martin’s” on Flagler Beach for a nice Sunday afternoon meal.  “Martin’s” is one of those places that when you walk in you say to yourself…”Is this a mistake?”  I would say that this restaurant dates back several decades as do most of the patron’s sitting amongst the many tables and booths.  Service is provided by young (probably first waiting job) personnel who look as nervous as school-kid’s waiting for the bus on the first day of school…but they are friendly and pleasant.  Our food was surprisingly GREAT and the prices are unbelievably low.  Cindy ordered the Shrimp Special (A la Scampi) – $8.95 and I picked the Bone-in New York Sirloin Special – $9.95.  Both meals were cooked perfectly and my sirloin was advertised as 12–ounce but had to be actually closer to a full pound, full of flavor.  We learned that “Grandpa (80+ years old) cuts all the meat daily, Grandma handles the Hostess functions, Son and daughter-in-the are the current managers and a few of the grandkid’s help bus tables and work in the kitchen…this is the epitome of a family run business.  We had a fantastic meal complete with fresh brewed ice teas and our total bill was a whopping $28.00 including gratuity!!!  No wonder the place was the busiest dining we have experienced on the GYPSY KITCHEN Tour ’09.

Martin’s rates:Spoon3A great bargain for really good food.

 

Again, we opted for some sliced brie and crackers for dinner because we simply couldn’t even consider dinner.

Feb-3-09 001 

Sunday evening through Tuesday was spent at Jonathan Dickson State Park, an 11,000 acre preserve where we were able to capture one of the most picturesque sunsets I’ve seen in years.  We had a great time walking the trails and learning about the Loxahatchee as it meanders through freshwater creeks, down into a brackish estuary, and finally empties through the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean.  If you ever find yourself traveling through Hobe Sound, make sure to spend a day or two at the Jonathan Dickson State Park…you will have a wonderful time and learn a lot while enjoying every minute of your stay.

Tuesday afternoon, we entered the Everglades National Park and then traveled 38 miles to Flamingo campground which we learned had the unfortunate honor of being hit by both Hurricane Katrina and then Hurricane Wilma a short period after.  The park is still in the “rebuild” stage and one can still see a lot of the destruction caused by these two mammoth storms but it was still a beautiful place to call home for 4 days and nights.

One note:  The only cell service which is available is AT&T (which is extremely spotty at best, we are told), so we found one of the only places in America that the Autonet Mobile WIFI system could not get a signal in order to broadcast from.  There is one pay phone located at the Marina Store if you must be in contact with the outside world.

The Everglades is again a fascinating place, full of life and learning, and all kinds of exotic birds, fish, plants and yes alligators and crocodiles…and yes you get to see them up close and personal (sometimes a little too personal).

Everglades 042

Because the park is so large and so vast, we did not venture out of the park until we were leaving so we did not have a chance to visit any other restaurants to review but we were invited to a neighbors campsite on Saturday evening to join about a dozen or so folks for a splendid Fish Fry…all locally caught fish – WOW it was wonderful.

So that just about covers The GYPSY KITCHEN – Week # 3…although this might be a good place to point out a quick observation:  As we have traveled from Maine to Florida thus far, it is VERY apparent that many, many of the restaurants that we have encountered on our travels are certainly experiencing the “economic slow-down” and in some pretty big ways.  We have eaten in some GREAT places and been 2 of maybe 6–10 guests in the entire place.  I know that we ALL are suffering and having to watch our pennies very closely – but I feel that I have to do a shout out for your local eateries…folk’s the only stimulus package these hard working Mom & Pop, husband & wife, brother & sister businesses are going to get is by people like you and me stopping by and partaking in a lovely meal.  No government bail-outs, no federal appropriations programs.  The only “pork” these businesses see is on their respective menu’s.

Please support your local favorite restaurants and let them know how much you enjoy their hard efforts.

Okay, that’s it for my “soap-boxing”!!!

Have a great week, I know that I’m going to as 2 of our kid’s are coming down for a few days.

For information and/or directions for any of these establishments, please visit our interactive “Gypsy Kitchen Tour ‘09” map.

Make sure to log onto www.cookwithjohn.com and subscribe to receive FREE weekly recipes (this week’s recipe: “Frogmore or Less Stew”)  and chance to win a 3–course dinner for 10 guests performed by the Gypsy Kitchen in the comfort of your own home.

Until next week,

Chef John
in the “Gypsy Kitchen”

www.cookwithjohn.com

john@cookwithjohn.com

 

Ratings Scale:

Spoon1= Needs Work, Most Likely Would Not Return

Spoon2 = Good Basic Find, Things Could Be Improved, Would Probably Try Again

Spoon3 = As Expected, Good Choice, A Few Things Could Be Better, Almost Certainly Visit Again

Spoon4 = Better Than Expected, Great Choice, Would Definitely Revisit

Spoon5 = Totally Blown Away, Every Point Exceeded Expectation, Would Drive Out-Of-Way To Revisit