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Days 6-10; April 8-12:


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#1 Fat Guy

Fat Guy
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Posted 17 April 2002 - 10:57 AM

I was not invited to judge the Miss Railroad Days Festival beauty pageant in DeQuincy, Louisiana, but my friend Michelle was.

Being acquainted with one of the judges is the best of all possible worlds, it turns out, because you can come and go as you please (judges are sequestered all day with the contestants, conducting repetitive preliminary interviews) and you have access to all the inside information about the pageant without being subject to the same personal physical risks as the real judges. To wit, on account of the seriousness with which the contestants' mothers take the results, the judges are provided with police escorts as they leave the grounds -- and still Michelle was accosted by the angry mother of a runner-up.

The area around Lake Charles, Sulphur, and DeQuincy, in Western Louisiana, arguably marks the left edge of the area often called the Redneck Riviera. The Eastern border of the region lies somewhere in Northwest Florida, between Tallahassee and Pensacola. Needless to say, those in the area -- especially those who make their living promoting tourism -- are none too keen on the Redneck Riviera appellation and as a result they've come up with various marketing concepts to change the name and therefore (they hope) the image of the area.

At first blush, Gulf Coast seems like the most accurate and non-insulting designation, but of course the United States Gulf Coast reaches from the Tex-Mex border to the Florida Keys and therefore includes areas that have nothing to do with the more culturally and culinarily coherent region under discussion here. Some of the individual states within the region have come up with clever names for their slices of the Gulf Coast, such as Florida's Great Northwest, but the reality is that as you drive along the coast through Northwest Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, and parts of Louisiana, you get a strong sense of a unified cultural and economic region that spans all four states. Indeed, the Alabama Gulf Coast probably has more in common with Northwest Florida and the Mississippi Gulf Coast than it does with the rest of Alabama -- it is quite unexpected, especially if you're a Northerner with a certain expectation of backwardness and ruralness when you think of Alabama.

Thus, the current frontrunner, supported by most of the regional tourism associations down there, is South Coast a/k/a SouthCoastUSA. I'm not sure I go for the words-strung-together gimmick, but South Coast is the designation that makes the most sense to me. Or you can just say Redneck Riviera with a smile, and nobody will get all that mad at you. I attempted to convince some folks that the best move was to take Redneck Riviera and run with it, making it into a term of pride, but my ideas are rarely embraced and this was no exception.

My unattainable goal was, in just few days, to get a taste of the South Coast and its seafood-centered cuisine. What I learned was, primarily, that I have to go back. The South Coast is the most exciting emerging culinary region I've visited in the United States, and in North America is rivaled in my opinion only by British Columbia for the sense of rapid gastronomic progress you feel everywhere. In just a few years, the South Coast has transitioned from an area dominated by rundown seafood shacks (a few of which are, thankfully, still around) and overcooked okra (which is slowly being driven out) to an environment of inventiveness and effective utilization of unique local ingredients. It's everything I look for when I leave the urban dining scene: Local stuff I can't easily get in New York, a strong regional sensibility in the preparations, and a lack of pretense or the sad and misguided attempt to be terribly fancy.

Pensacola, Florida

Pensacola, Florida, is ten times nicer than I had imagined it would be, and the food is ten times better. I expected to find a company town, with the company being the United States Navy, and to me that means a bunch of sleazy bars punctuated by generic housing developments and perhaps a dog-racing track. In general I'm a fan of the armed forces -- several family members have served and one still does, and they do after all on occasion protect us from the bad guys -- yet distaste has been my unfortunate reaction to some towns that are dominated by major bases. But driving into town from the East, it rapidly becomes clear that Pensacola is not only a nice place but also a destination I'd recommend for an economical, unusual, and delicious short vacation.

You cross into Pensacola over the new Bay Bridge, which runs alongside the old Bay Bridge. The old bridge has been converted into one of the world's longest fishing piers (as in most of Florida, the bridge is really a causeway with a bridge-like bump in the middle, under which boats can cross). From the new bridge, you can see the same world-class white-sand beaches that run along the whole Northwest Florida coast. Even our unassuming motel, the dog-friendly Bay Beach Inn, which is a few feet from the East end of the bridge, has copious beachfront property. The downtown area, serviced by cute trolley buses, is active and quaint, full of coffee shops, museums, and art galleries -- many housed in historic buildings (Pensacola dates to 1559, though the original settlement is not the current downtown). There's evidence of the Navy all around, including overhead (the Blue Angels are a popular area attraction), but you have to hit the outskirts of town before you find the pawn shops and, yes, the dog-racing track.

Right near downtown are several parks as well as the Seville historic district, which contains Florida's oldest church (dating to 1832) and St. Michael's Cemetery (deeded to Pensacola by the King of Spain in 1822). There's also an active antiquing and flea-market scene around town.

And there's plenty to eat.

The moment I laid eyes on the Hopkins Boarding House I thought of Holly Moore, and how his life will never be complete until he dines at this, the mother of all family-style Southern restaurants. We were lucky enough to hit the restaurant -- which is in a regular house on a residential street -- on fried chicken day, and by 11:30am every seat was full. Customers are placed first-come-first-served at large communal tables alongside strangers. Your dessert (one of them, at least; coconut pudding on this day) is already in a bowl in the middle of your plate, along with utensils and napkins. Iced tea sits on the table in pitchers, and the food arrives -- fast and furious -- in bowls, on platters, and in baskets, always refilled before it's even a quarter gone. You help yourself and pass it along, which you must do continuously as new stuff is coming at you and anyway there mightn't be room on the table to accommodate all the food if everybody stopped passing it at once.

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The food is hearty, honest, and excellent. I tried everything, and I assure you that trying just a spoonful of each item is an accomplishment. The fried chicken is true homestyle Southern fried chicken, with a dark golden crunchy exterior (in my opinion real fried chicken is supposed to be crunchy, not crispy, and a couple of shades darker than the fast food norm) and very moist meat that actually tastes like chicken (Betty, the cook who makes the chicken, has been on the job for something like 30 years). Macaroni and cheese comes in a steel trough with a layer of baked cheese entirely covering the surface. It's the real thing. And all the various vegetable sides possess the commingled flavor profile of old-style stewed veggies but aren't overcooked in the typical Southern manner -- they maintain shape and coherence.

Pensacola isn't a touristy town, and Hopkins House is nowhere near any street on which a visitor might happen to be walking, so I got the feeling we were the only tourists in the whole restaurant -- most customers appeared to be local businesspeople. No doubt noticing my accent (I never think of myself as having one, but in the South they immediately peg me for Northeastern if not specifically New York), one of my tablemates asked what I was doing in town. I gave probably a lengthier explanation than he wanted, and he replied, "Well I bet you don't get a lot of restaurants like this in New York." I of course said, "Every restaurant in New York is like this," but he wasn't buying.

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In almost any well developed coastal town, you'll find at least one large fish house overlooking the water. These restaurants are usually awful, and often don't even serve any fish from the nearby waters. But once in awhile I stumble across one that implements the concept -- the seafood equivalent of a steakhouse -- with panache, such as Joe Fortes in Vancouver. The Pensacola Fish House turns out to be another of those rare exceptions to the rule: A large, bustling fish house that serves top quality local fish prepared well. The chef, Jim Shirley, is a seafood fanatic and a fisherman himself, and he's utterly dedicated to getting the best Gulf seafood (which, as the largest purchaser in the area and the only restaurant with a wholesale license, he has the power to do) and handling it with care. Between purchasing fish and cooking it, there is a little-examined but critically important intermediate step during which a restaurant butchers and otherwise handles its fish -- it is in this regard that I found Mr. Shirley to be particularly outspoken and knowledgeable.

The restaurant's slogan, "If our fish were any fresher, we'd have to slap 'em," is not to be taken lightly.

The core of the menu is a rotating selection (based on seasonality and availability) of half a dozen or so fish that might include snapper, grouper, wahoo, triggerfish, scamp, mackerel, cobia, amberjack, pompano, and mahi mahi, cooked in a variety of styles ranging from minimalist to blackened to Pacific Rim-influenced. There are also available, pretty much always, shrimp, oysters, and crab. The way to begin is with tiny candy-like local crab claws sautéed in white wine, butter, and garlic (they are also available fried or marinated), although you certainly can't go wrong with any of the raw-bar-type items. There is a sushi bar producing -- in addition to the expected rolls and such -- locally influenced sushi and sashimi with a sense of humor, such as the Florida roll, with grilled shrimp, green onion, and roasted red pepper. I had some superb yellowfin tuna sashimi, served in thin slices fanned out on a platter and accompanied by a Nobu-esque dipping sauce.

Two of the restaurant's signatures are smoked gouda cheese grits (self explanatory) and "Flattop Shrimp Potato Cakes" (a flattop in this context is basically a griddle, and these are seared cakes of shrimp, potatoes, red peppers, and onions, served with a roasted pepper remoulade), both well worth sampling if you have the strength (all portions are large).

The restaurant offers a 300-selection wine list, well priced. Curiously -- because I don't consider these wines particularly well suited to seafood -- the list contains one of the better selections of Australian Shiraz I've seen, and Mr. Shirley says they sell a ton of Shiraz to local wine enthusiasts.

We followed the seafood trail to the largest retail fish market in the area: Joe Patti's. It is one of the nicest I've seen, and certainly rivals the fish stalls at Pike's Place in Seattle, albeit with almost completely different offerings. I think the owner may be in some sort of trouble with the law, but it doesn't seem to have affected the fish.

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We were also able to attend a meeting of the Pensacola Bulldog Club, which presently consists of Petey, the one bulldog in Pensacola. Momo was happily accepted as a guest member, though.

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As with all our stops along the Gulf Coast, I wished we had more time in Pensacola. As it stands, I've got a list of a dozen or so restaurants I'd very much like to try upon a return visit, chief among them a place downtown called Jackson's (named for the plaza outside, where Andrew Jackson accepted the transfer of Florida from Spain in 1821), where chef Irv Miller -- considered to be one of the foremost chefs in the region (you will occasionally see him pop up in national media) -- is running what appears to be Pensacola's most serious restaurant. I spoke briefly with chef Miller, and found him to live up to his reputation as an engaging spokesman for Gulf Coast cuisine as well as a leader in developing local ingredients and gourmet supply lines. Also highly recommended by the Northwest Florida locals I have come to trust are the restaurants Jamie's and Lou Michael's.

My primary regret after our short stay in Pensacola, however, is that I didn't get to visit the NEX (Naval Exchange, a discount store for military personnel that I've been told is like Costco only better and cheaper). Our local bulldog-owning contact, Megan, a former Navy Lieutennant, took us there, but only her properly stickered vehicle was allowed to enter the compound. So we split up and, while Mrs. Fat-Guy went with Lt. Megan, Momo and I parked the van behind a nearby pawn shop and watched the traffic go by. This was the crummy area of Pensacola, which was what I had expected all of Pensacola to be like: Businesses mostly catering to sailors looking for a good time. I even saw an actual real live hooker walk by, but she didn't so much as glance my way. Am I a bad person for feeling a little bit hurt?

Alabama's Gulf Coast

Florida's Northwestern Gulf Coast was a surprise, but the Alabama Gulf Coast was so totally unexpected I felt like an idiot the whole time I was there, first because I had lived my life without a clue that one of the coolest beach communities in the country was in Alabama, and second because I kept repeating myself: "I can't believe this place; why didn't I know about this?"

Eliminate any preconceived notions you may have regarding Alabama, save perhaps for the accents and slow pace of speech (don't get into a card game with these folks, though -- they're not as slow as they talk). The Alabama Gulf Coast offers the same wide Gulf beaches as neighboring Florida, with the same white quartz sand that squeaks when you walk on it, but the beaches are even less crowded. As you drive from Pensacola to Perdido Key you cross a bridge and you're in Alabama, but not much else changes: The beach is well developed, though not overly so, with every conceivable lodging arrangement (hotels, condos, cottages, etc.), Jersey Shore-style amusements, plenty of below-market-rate championship golf, all the watersports you can think of (including SCUBA), some wildlife-rich state parks (where you can also rent cabins), birding (we were in town during a bird banding, actually), factory outlet shopping (one of the best outlet malls I've ever seen, in nearby Foley, Alabama), fishing, and a generally nice family ambience. It would be no trouble at all to spend a couple of weeks in the area and have plenty to do, especially given the region's proximity to Pensacola (hardly an hour away).

Accommodations are for the most part highly economical yet clean and modern: This being the off-season, we found ourselves in a beach cottage that sleeps six (a/k/a three couples), which we got hooked up with through a local realty company (Meyer Realty) that rents condos and cottages, usually by the week (there are tens of thousands of available units all along the coast). It was huge, brand-new, with all the amenities (kitchen, washer-dryer, multiple TVs, footsteps from the beach in a secure gated development) and it goes for $545 a week for the whole house (a bit higher in peak summer season). If you divide that by three couples and seven days, I think it comes out to about a nickel per person per day.

The main areas are Orange Beach (the first place you hit when you cross over from Florida), Gulf Shores, and Fort Morgan (at the end of the beach, where you'll find the more secluded lodgings as well as the Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge). As we were staying down towards the Fort Morgan end of things, and we got in on the late side, and we were wiped out, and we were not well provisioned to prepare our own meal, we reluctantly dined at the only restaurant that was within a couple of minutes of our cottage: The Restaurant at The Beach Club. This could have been a disaster in the making, and we had no expectations of our first meal in Alabama. But while the restaurant gave every indication of being country-club generic, right down to VH-1-style music, the kitchen turned out a totally agreeable meal. Which just goes to show you, if you have fresh fish from the Gulf and you don't overcook it, you're a good restaurant. We also happened to have a total character of a waiter, who I'm sure had a very enjoyable decade in the '60s. He recalled the early days of Alabama beachfront development, when you could "play nine innings of baseball in the middle of the highway without one time out."

But it was the following day's meal at King Neptune's Seafood that really opened my eyes to the possibilities of Alabama Gulf Coast dining. Finally, the restaurant I had been looking for since Florida: A place that takes shrimp and oysters and everything else from the Gulf, cooks them with minimal intervention, and piles them high on platters for consumption by hand.

In New York City, and in most places I've visited, there is a product known as shrimp. The only differences among shrimp pertain to size. Shrimp is shrimp. But if you're in shrimp country, there are differences among shrimp just as sure as the difference between Merlot and Zinfandel. There are Whites, there are Browns, and there are Pinks. We had the extreme good fortune to be present during the season for Royal Reds, which represent the pinnacle of the Gulf shrimp experience. They're immense -- several inches long when stretched out to their full head-on length. They're actually red in their raw state. They're somewhat difficult to peel, which makes them less desirable for the commercial trade, but it's worth the effort for their sweet lobster-like flesh. They're so good I may have to swear off shrimp until the next time I'm in Alabama.

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Al Sawyer, the owner of King Neptune's, used to be a fish salesman for the nearby Bon Secour Seafood Company. His job was to sell crab up and down the East Coast, and in his travels he acquired a taste for the various regional seafood styles of the coast. His restaurant is traditionally Southern, but it is lightened up a bit by these external influences and his spice mixtures are more robust that you'd expect outside of Louisiana (he actually prefers the Maryland/Old-Bay style of seasoning for his Royal Red shrimp specifically). King Neptune's makes a rich, deep gumbo bursting with fresh seafood (I'd say something like half the volume of the bowl is solid shellfish), and the restaurant makes po' boys the way I like them: With large oysters and shrimp, not all clumped together and without too much in the way of garnishes. All the steamed (he prefers steaming to boiling) and fried shrimp are a joy to eat -- and cheap. The local oysters are half-dollar-sized and mellow, with a clean non-metallic taste. And Al Sawyer's kitchen makes a mean bread pudding with plenty of raisins and a strong whiskey sauce.

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You'll be hearing more about Al Sawyer in a couple of weeks. Stay tuned.

Biloxi, Mississippi

Dear Food Network Executives: Drop what you're doing, get yourselves on the first plane to Biloxi, and go visit your next international mega-star before someone else snatches her up. Jennifer Diaz is her name, and she's hipper than Nigella, hotter than Padma, smarter than Martha, and worldlier than Merrilees. She's blonde, she's got a funky accent you can't identify (a mix of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, where she's from, and Biloxi, where she's made her home), she's the mother of two but doesn't look as though she's old enough to drive, and she's the industrious businesswoman owner of the historic Green Oaks bed and breakfast in Biloxi -- Mississippi's oldest surviving beachfront residence, dating to the early 19th Century. Just set the cameras up right in there; no need even to build a set. Whether you're eight or eighty, male or female, you'll be smitten. She simultaneously radiates sensuality, motherliness, naughtiness, and sophistication. Plus she makes breakfasts almost as delicious as she is, and her afternoon mint-julep teas have a reputation for causing no end of mischief.

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Those are serious crab cakes with poached eggs, one of several courses in a typical Green Oaks breakfast.

Get this: Jennifer Diaz's first career was as a traveling Disney character (I imagine Snow White, though I didn't ask), and while passing through Biloxi it seems she met her now-former husband and stayed. She acquired and renovated the Green Oaks property and the first thing she had to do was help the city draft a bed and breakfast ordinance, as there had been no legal provisions for bed and breakfasts in Biloxi previously. The property has gone from nothing to the most successful bed and breakfast in Biloxi in just five years. It continues to expand and improve, and frequently hosts weddings and events with up to 400 guests (Ms. Diaz has a part-time staff of 40, including a team of chefs, and can prepare just about any level of cuisine).

Even Momo fell in love, with Jennifer Diaz's white collie, Justice:

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Biloxi is an offbeat town, the kind of place that's increasingly difficult to find in a homogenized America. I didn't much know what to expect of the city, as my only familiarity with the concept of Biloxi came from Neil Simon. I also knew to expect casinos, and there are indeed quite a few garish ones along the water in Biloxi. But they don't dominate the local culture, which is a gritty mix of Cajun/Creole (thanks to the strong influence of nearby New Orleans) and the Old South (as in the portrayal of Savannah, Georgia, in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil). I'd like to spend some more time there, though I could easily imagine myself drunk, arrested, penniless, and disgraced after a few weeks of high Biloxi living.

We only had the opportunity to enjoy one restaurant meal in Biloxi, and we took it at Mary Mahoney's Old French House.

Apparently everybody else in Biloxi did too -- or at least everyone who wasn't at one of the casinos. The streets of downtown Biloxi were deserted at night, but approaching Mary Mahoney's -- built in 1737, and with the original slave quarters still intact (now a dining room) -- we saw crowds spilling out onto the sidewalk. After fighting our way through the courtyard we were seated somewhere in a maze of dining rooms (I was afraid to leave the table for fear of not being able to find it again) and served by a waiter who may have been there since the restaurant's 1964 opening. The cuisine, as well, seems frozen in time: Big portions of shrimp and crabmeat, covered in cheese, with lots of garlic and maybe some pasta. Delicious, if you're in the right retro sort of mood.

As an example of the Biloxi outlook, here's how Mary Mahoney's describes its hours of operation:

Open 11 a.m.
NEVER ON SUNDAYS
(Sometimes)


We didn't have the opportunity to visit the several other towns along Mississippi's Gulf Coast, like Gulfport, Pass Christian, and Bay St. Louis, but driving through them along Highway 90, we vowed to return (also, good factory outlet shopping in Gulfport).

Lake Charles, Louisiana

I long ago quit going to street fairs in New York City. When I was a kid, living on West 69th Street (then, and still now, a street with one of the most active block associations anywhere), we had something every year called a block party. It was just that: The street was closed down for a day, and everybody on the block with a talent (and some without) set up a table and offered his or her services for a pittance. The money went to help buy trees for the block (you will notice that the two blocks of West 69th Street, running from Central Park West to Broadway, have more closely spaced trees than most other blocks). There was the calligrapher who would write your name on a piece of paper, there was the carpenter who set up a booth where you could bang nails into 2x4 lumber, and there was the great Jazz trumpet player, Howard McGhee (he lived across the hall from us in #106), who assembled a bandstand that would never satisfy code today and played all day long.

Sometime in the 1980s, however, block parties gave way to street fairs put together by professional organizers. A church or school or neighborhood association with the power to get a permit would contract the function out to professionals who would in turn make lots of money and give a cut to the sponsoring organization. It was a fine idea from the standpoint of fundraising, but it spelled homogenization and the death of the true neighborhood block party. Now, every street fair is pretty much the same, with the same professional full-time roving team of street-fair vendors, and the only thing they're good for is buying cheap socks.

In Louisiana, the equivalent of the New York City street fair is the festival. There are festivals for everything, more than 400 of them a year (there are another 100 per year in neighboring Mississippi, by the way). On the upcoming weekend when we were in the Lake Charles area, there were three festivals in that region alone, and many more across the state, as there are every weekend of the year even in the dead of winter (they call the long-standing fur trappers' festival in mid-winter "the oldest and coldest"). And while there are, as one would expect, some generic, professional vendors who appear at a different festival every weekend, the spirit of individuality and community is still very much intact. At the Louisiana Railroad Days Festival, in DeQuincy, there were plenty of local vendors, from the fire department selling baked potatoes to a local gentleman making freshly cut and fried potato chips with a rotating-slicing contraption cleverly powered by an electric drill. Good chips; yet another example of how the potato chip is an underrated food overshadowed by the inferior French fry.

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I also approached the sausage-on-a-stick vendor with every intention of buying a sausage on a stick, but he asked me, "Are you sure you want that on a stick?" I pointed out that the name of his business is Sausage on a Stick, but he explained, "If you get a sandwich, you get the bread for free and you can put onions on it." But the true local character came out in the festival events such as the mock train robbery, the diaper derby, and live music courtesy of local bands (including a Christian rap performance).

At most every festival, however, the main event is the beauty pageant, as well it should be. I barely scratched the surface of the pageant culture, and I'm not sure it would be safe for me to do anything more than that. But everything about the pageant was so over-the-top and capricious, I couldn't have been more highly entertained. Just the part of the pageant where they introduce the contestants, listing hobbies, names of parents, and other essential information, is worth the trip to DeQuincy. The winner's hobbies, incidentally: "Driving the old truck around the farm, talkin' on the phone, and takin' care of her baby brother."

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We pretty much skipped New Orleans, though we did stop for a quick lunch with some friends and their pug, Yo Yo (named for the cellist). Coffee and beignets at Café du Monde were quite unremarkable, but the fried chicken we ordered from Fiorella's, which our friends assured us is the best in the world, was legit. Still, we spent only a couple of hours in town so that we could examine the more off-the-beaten-track Lake Charles area to the West.

Our final meal in the Lake Charles area was in Sulphur, at Cajun Charlie's. Charlie is actually the last name of the owners. We indulged in a massive Cajun lunch buffet, where everything was well prepared and spicy as heck, but even more memorable than the cuisine is the restaurant's location: Directly behind a cemetery.

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The area around Lake Charles is mostly industrial, with the dominant force being the petrochemical industry. But there has also been a serious effort made to develop regional tourism, and if you're a nature buff you won't want to miss the Creole Nature Trail -- one of our great national scenic byways. It takes a whole day to drive it, though you can do some shorter loops. We drove about 15 minutes, didn't see any alligators, and turned around so we could eat another restaurant meal, stopping along the way at Brown's Market to purchase four kinds of local sausage.

King Neptune's Gumbo

These are the quantities (and instructions) in use at the restaurant and will yield several gallons, but the recipe is totally scalable.

4 cups oil
4 cups flour
5 pounds andouille sausage cut into ¼ inch slices
4 bunches celery, rough chop
10 onions, rough chop
10 green peppers, rough chop
½ cup minced garlic
1 #10 can diced tomatoes
½ cup Creole seasoning mix (available in stores, or you can approximate it in this context by combining equal parts paprika, cayenne pepper, and dehydrated onion)
¼ cup ground black pepper
½ cup salt
½ cup dried oregano
½ cup dried thyme
½ cup Tabasco sauce
1 cup shrimp base (available in many Asian grocery stores and some Western gourmet markets)
1 cup Worcestershire sauce
3 pounds okra
10 pounds shrimp
1 gallon standard oysters
2 pounds crab claw meat
2 gallons water
1 cup sassafras
1 cup corn starch, combined with 2 cups water

Take and mix well in a large sauté pan your flour and oil. Place in convection oven at 400 degrees for 30-45 minutes or until dark brown. When you take it out, rough chop onion and add it for flavor.

Cut your andouille sausage into ¼ inch rounds and render down well first. Once that is done, add celery, onions, bell peppers and garlic. Cook vegetables down until they are translucent. Now add your seasoning and tomatoes. Let your seasoning and tomatoes cook for a few minutes, then add water and bring to a slow boil. Add your seafood. Make sure your pot is a slow boil before you add your seafood. Once your gumbo starts to cook a little more, add okra. Let your okra cook, then add your gravy bouquet and sassafras, cornstarch and water. Once all ingredients are added, let your gumbo cook on low heat for another 10-20 minutes.

Addresses in Florida

Joe Patti Seafood Co.
South A St.
Pensacola, FL
(850) 432-3315

Jackson’s
400 S. Palafox
Pensacola, FL
(850) 469-9898

Fish House
600 Barracks St.
Pensacola, FL  
(850) 470-0003

Jamie’s Restaurant
424 E. Zarragossa St.
Pensacola, FL
(850) 434-2911

Lou Michael’s Downtown
25 S. Palafox
Pensacola, FL
(850) 470-9191

Hopkins Boarding House
900 N. Spring St.
Pensacola, FL  
(850) 438-3979

Addresses in Alabama

The Restaurant At The Beach Club
453 Beach Club Trail
Gulf Shores, AL
(251) 540-2525

King Neptune's
1137 Gulf Shores Parkway
Gulf Shores, AL
(251) 968-5464

Addresses in Mississippi

Green Oaks Bed & Breakfast
580 Beach Boulevard
Biloxi, MS
(888) 436-6257
www.gcww.com/greenoaks

Mary Mahoney's Old French House
116 Rue Magnolia
Biloxi, MS
(228) 374-0163

Photos by Ellen R. Shapiro

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#2 Blue Heron

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 11:59 AM

Wow!  Having good friends in Gulf Shores, AL, I immediately had to jump down to see what you had to say about your Alabama coast experience.  They've been trying to get us down there the last couple of years for a vacation, and hopefully we'll get there some day.  A couple of months ago, she Fed Exxed us (next day) a huge package of fresh off the boat gulf shrimp, the best shrimp I have EVER had, and just as delicious as you described!  She also shipped some blue crab w/recipe for her family's crab cakes and some delicious tasting white fish that we don't get fresh here in Seattle.  I'm glad you had a good time on the Alabama coast!  Thanks for the recipes, too!  In addition to the great reading and photos, I always look forward to what recipe you will post next time  :smile:

#3 Robert Schonfeld

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 12:13 PM

Your latest post a huge disappointment, Fat Guy. No picture of Jennifer Diaz.
Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

#4 col klink

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 12:54 PM

That gumbo sounds terrific! I can't wait to hear about your trip through Texas to hear your take on the bbq and how it compares to other 'que in the SE.

#5 Wilfrid

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:16 PM

I nearly went to Biloxi once, largely out of curiosity, but got talked out of it.  What a mistake.  My only concern from your report, Steven, is that you may not be eating enough meat.  Otherwise, it all sounds idyllic.

#6 Blue Heron

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:23 PM

As a followup to my previous post... If any of you get a hankerin' for some of that delicious FRESH sweet gulf shrimp (which includes the delicious Royal Reds as Steven described) or other seafood treats from  Alabama Gulf Shores, I can recommend www.billys-seafood.com , out of Bon Secour, AL.   My package arrived fast, fresh, well insulated and well packaged, and everything was DELICIOUS!

#7 Beachfan

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:38 PM

Another fabulous dispatch.  I'll never think of shrimp in the same way again.  However, confusion now abounds in my household.

Me "We gotta go to Charlestown in the fall!"
Wife "Ok!"
Me "No, make that the Florida panhandle!"
Wife "Allright!"
Me "No, make that Alabama!"
Wife "Too much time on the web must lead to mental illness"
beachfan

#8 NewYorkTexan

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 01:47 PM

Your latest post a huge disappointment, Fat Guy. No picture of Jennifer Diaz.

Great post as usual but two pictures of Momo and none of Jennifer Diaz????

Can we assume that you took the beauty pageant picture?

#9 mamster

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Posted 17 April 2002 - 04:57 PM

So, did Jennifer Diaz win the Miss Railroad Days Festival Pageant or what?
Matthew Amster-Burton, aka "mamster"
Author, Hungry Monkey, coming in May

#10 macrosan

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Posted 18 April 2002 - 06:18 AM

We know the Fat Guy took that beauty pageant photo --- it's all blurred cuz his hands were shaking from the excitement. So he almost certainly did take a photo of Jennifer but it's too blurred to publish.

I've noticed, along with others, the huge proportion of shellfish you're eating, F-G. Is that a regional thing, or is it just a general strong preference ?

#11 Rachel Perlow

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Posted 18 April 2002 - 03:01 PM

After reading that entry, I checked my timeshare exchange, Interval International. There is a member resort on Orange Beach in Alabama. Maybe next year...

#12 Holly Moore

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Posted 18 April 2002 - 03:05 PM

You're right about Hopkins Boarding House.  It sounds a lot like the Hotel Winnemuca in Winnemuca NV.  

I'm heading South tomorrow for a three day round trip trek to the World Grits Festival in St. George SC.  Wish I had another day, could just about make it to Hopkins.

And to a few of the other places you mentioned too.

One of these days I've got to figure out how you manage to grab two plus months of driving and eating.  My kind of existence.
Holly Moore
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#13 Fat Guy

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Posted 19 April 2002 - 09:49 AM

Blue Heron: Go!

Col Klink: I hope to have that up tomorrow or the next day, connection permitting.

Beachfan: I know the feeling. You wouldn't believe the number of e-mails I get that contribute to paranoia on this end. "You were in Alabama and didn't go to Mobile? You're a moron and I'm never reading anything you write again!"

Wilfrid/Macrosan: It's the South Coast, so seafood is the thing to eat. Where appropriate, I'll eat plenty of mammals.

Macrosan/Mamster/NewYorkTexan/Robert: I'm not sure which of us took that photo, because we both tried and failed to get a clear shot due to the lighting and distance issues. The photo of Jennifer, I'm keeping for myself.

Rachel: It's so cheap to stay there, it might not be worth wasting a time-share share that allows you to go someplace like Paris.

Holly: It's easy, you just sign up for multiple credit cards, charge everything and also get some cash advances, and then declare bankruptcy.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#14 Holly Moore

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Posted 19 April 2002 - 07:02 PM

Sounds like a plan to me.  You know a good lawyer?
Holly Moore
"I eat, therefore I am."

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#15 Fat Guy

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Posted 20 April 2002 - 08:30 AM

I was just planning to use the 800 number from the ads on the subway.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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#16 jaybee

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 04:45 PM

Steve, (maybe I missed this but) are your wonderful road-notes going to wind up in a book?  They are too good to go unpublished.

#17 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 06:42 PM

They will most likely appear here only, as I don't really see a publisher wanting to put out a series of road notes in book format. However, I do think you'll see a few short freelance pieces growing out of my reports on various people and establishments -- I've already had some expressions of interest in that regard, actually.

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Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#18 Blue Heron

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 06:44 PM

I apologize to briefly go off topic, but Steven, on the NW board we are discussing bacon, and the subject of Bacon of the Month Club came up.  If you get a chance, can you tell us the name of your Bacon of the Month Club (is it the Grateful Palate?).  I hope you remembered to suspend your service for while you are gone.  On another note... if you run low on Momo's dog food by the time you get to Seattle & need to stock up, you can find it at Next to Nature in W. Seattle, or All the Best Pet Care stores in 3 locations in Seattle (they carry the Solid Gold products).

#19 Fat Guy

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Posted 21 April 2002 - 07:04 PM

We set off on our journey with 2x33 pounds of Solid Gold's Hund-N-Flocken, two containers of Seameal, and all the vitamins Momo needs, so unless our trip gets extended unexpectedly, we should be safe. The real problem will arise if we find ourselves running low on food towards the end of our trip, in someplace like Newfoundland.

Grateful Palate is the one. I'll also respond to Col Klink's party post soon. Thanks.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#20 stellabella

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Posted 22 April 2002 - 04:14 PM

Steven, I hope you're planning to submit this emerging travel book for publication.

And was that Betty in the photo, bravely trying to quell the bubbling furies atop that mammoth stove?  [Great photos, Ellen!]

#21 francesco

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Posted 23 April 2002 - 02:36 AM

Steven,

it seems to me that some Italians know their US vacation destinations better than most Americans!

The Italian food magazine Gambero Rosso (the original Italian version, not the bad version in English that you see in the US) has a feature this month on the stretch of coast that goes from Pensacola to western Louisiana, with reports on places to eat, to stay, etc. including places in Biloxi.

I forgot to bring the magazine to the office with me but if you're interested I can dig it up and report the places they recommend.

Anyway, great job on these reports, I can only ad my envy to that of everyone else  :smile:

Francesco

#22 Fat Guy

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Posted 23 April 2002 - 07:58 AM

As I understand it without having actually read too many of them in their native languages, the Italian, German, Japanese, and Korean travel publications -- among others -- tend to be on the cutting edge of exploring U.S. vacation destinations. Part of the reason is that they're not hung up on what is and isn't considered a desirable destination in the collective American consciousness, and a related part of it is that publicists find it easier to pitch story ideas to foreign publications where the editors don't have so many preconceptions. I wouldn't be surprised at all to hear that SouthCoastUSA (the tourism organization) had a hand in placing that story in Gambero Rosso, and kudos to the editors for listening. I think there have also been bits and pieces of South Coast regional coverage in national travel magazines, for example Arthur Frommer's magazine recently did a major spread on Biloxi, but it's rare to see a treatment of the region as a region and it certainly hasn't been done seriously from the food-travel perspective. I'm trying to push it through somewhere, really I am.

The Japanese in particular seem incredibly resourceful at digging up the coolest things to do anywhere. I've thought from time to time about finding a Japanese collaborator and doing a "secrets of the Japanese guidebooks" piece for an English-speaking audience. In general, travel is much more of a way of life in Europe and the wealthier parts of Asia than it is here in the United States. In Europe in particular, where people have two or three times as much vacation time per year as we do on average, there's simply more demand for reliable travel information.

Yes, that's Betty.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#23 ramblinrowan

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Posted 22 May 2002 - 08:33 AM

:biggrin: I am so thrilled you've finally given the wonderful place I've called home for 20 years the credit it deserves, culinarily and culturally!  When I moved to Pensacola from Chicago in 1982, it really was a Redneck Riviera; the beaches were covered with people with more tattoos than teeth. But 20 years is an eternity in tourism years, and the SouthCoast is probably still the most diverse region in the country.  It encompasses the area from Lake Charles, LA to Panama City Beach, FL--11 tourism agencies and four states!  And as far as Florida's Great Northwest being the "Redneck Riviera," well, we'd just as soon let that term die a slow and painful death.  You touched upon some of our favorite Pensacola eateries, and, as you say, there are many, many more, not only in Pensacola, but all along the SouthCoast.  About 20 travel journalists, mostly from New York City, came to visit Pensacola last year, and we blew them away!  They had no idea there was so much to do...and see---and EAT!  One suggestion for a return visit:  Labor Day weekend near Morgan City, LA--The Shrimp and Petroleum Festival. I can get you tickets. Thanks for all your great work!

#24 irish rover

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Posted 31 May 2002 - 07:39 AM

hey mr. fat guy. what's your opinion of apalachicola oysters? do you, or anyone else out there, have an opinion on warm water oysters and whether they may be problematic re: bacteria? i recently OD'd on them (read as ate too many) on spring break vacation and had stomach problems for weeks. they sure are good...and big. but wondering if you had any thoughts.

keep up the interesting commentary.

#25 Fat Guy

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Posted 01 June 2002 - 12:32 AM

Oysters are one of the higher-risk foods, and I've read credible-sounding statements to the effect that warm-water ones are riskier than cold. That being said, I know very few people who have had problems and I'd have to guess that most oyster issues arise as a result of poor handling post-harvest and not anything that occurs in nature.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)


#26 mimsford

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Posted 05 June 2002 - 11:17 AM

I used to live in Biloxi, and always thought Jennifer D. was charming.

One of the best meals anywhere is a Biloxi-style shrimp po-boy, a cup of gumbo and a cold Barq's root beer.

The bread they use for po-boys in Biloxi is softer than the baguette-style bread found in New Orleans and other places, and many restaurants use a press to flatten the sandwiches.

Alas, there are few places where you can still get one of these unique delicacies. A few places where you can are Mary Mahoney's, McElroy's Harbor House and Mary's Drive-Inn.

Thanks for the memories!

#27 joiei

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Posted 22 June 2002 - 03:58 PM

I am now very homesick. Having grown up around P'cola, I used to think
that all restaurants were like Mrs. Hopkins. Dining at Jackson's is great.
Chef Miller, I have known him since he worked in Destin, has a wonderful
way with food. Another personal favorite restaurant in Pensacola is McGuires, they let you have fun with dinner. The beaches are the best. The museum at the Pensacola Navy base is fascinating. Just up the highway from Orange Beach, Al is the town of Fairhope. A very unexpected
artists colony. And between Foley and the Florida State line is a little dairy
called 'Sweet Home Farm'. They make their own cheeses, pretty good stuff. One of my favorite times to return home is in November for the
Greater Gulf Coast Arts Festival held every year in Seville Square historical
district of Pensacola. I will start planning my trip now. Thanks for bringing
back good memories of a special place.
It is good to be a BBQ Judge.

#28 Bolivar Petit Corona

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Posted 16 July 2002 - 11:11 AM

Another wonderful thread. Thanks, fg.

#29 Marlene

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Posted 03 April 2003 - 06:33 AM

Here is a recipe for King Neptune's Gumbo.

From FG's travel's.
Marlene
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Mostly, I want people to be as happy eating my food as I am cooking it.