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I love Food. Cooking it. Eating it. Experiencing it. As a result, that's what this blog has evolved into: A journal of my gastronomical journeys abroad, as well as my culinary creativity at home. I hope you enjoy what I have to say, and I'd love to hear your comments... Cheers!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Double Dose of Charleston Charm

Let me start by saying, unequivocally, I had one of the best meals of all time on my recent trip to Charleston, SC. I will reveal that experience and location following this initial introduction to Charleston cuisine. The two establishments at which I ate provide a fascinating yin and yang to the current Charleston dining scene, and literally next door to each other on Queen Street!
First, there is the classic: Poogan's Porch, which has been serving up top quality Southern fare since 1976. In a house built in 1888. Voted one of the most haunted restaurants in America. Named after a scruffy neighborhood dog, who wandered the porches of the antebellum houses on the block. Vintage Charleston.

Went there on a Wednesday night, and the place was hoppin'. Tons of character inside these walls. Lots of celebs who've visited and left behind their pictures and autographs, along with words of effusive love for the food. And for good reason.

I started with the She-Crab Soup, which was good, not great. It left me wanting something... more. Next up: Fried Alligator, with Honey Jalapeno sauce on the side. The 'Gator was perfectly crispy outside, tender inside. The sauce was outta this world! I coulda dunked my own finger in the sauce and it woulda tasted great.

The true indication of why Poogan's is so special, though, and such a worthy representative of classic Southern dining came in the form of my entree: Plantation Fried Chicken. I opted for this version because it included melted Fontina cheese and country ham stuffed inside the breast -- a Southern riff on Cordon Bleu. The chicken was perfectly put together, and soooo crispy on the outside (the key component to successful fried chicken, right?). Major kudos to Executive chef Daniel Doyle and Chef de Cuisine Matthew Lewis for my initiation to Southern comfort, food style...

It also needs to be noted that I had a terrific beer with my meal, one that was new to me: Rogue's Dead Guy Ale. It's a Portland, Oregon brand that I've come to learn has garnered much love and accolades from the beer community. Highly recommend it, and can't wait to get back home and seek it out. Add it to my list of craft faves: Abita, and Magic Hat...

Next up: the meal that ranks up there as one of the absolute finest I've enjoyed in recent memory...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Bartolotta and the Sea

My ongoing infatuation with famed Milwaukee Chef Paul Bartolotta continues. I've raved about his flagship Italian ristorante multiple times before. I've previously drooled over his French fare. Now it's time savor the best seafood -- and the best views -- this impresario has attached to his family food empire.

The Harbor House is the very latest turn for Bartolotta, and it is distinctly seafood-oriented. Situated on a gorgeous plot looking out onto the water and the Milwaukee Art Museum's impressively postmodern Quadracci Pavillion (for those of you who are American Idol fans, one of their "audition" episodes this season took place there), the views are as memorable as the interior and, of course, the food.

Head Chef Carlos DeLeon executes a wonderfully diverse, yet traditional menu. I went with the Lobster Pot Pie (I know... doesn't it just sound amazing?!). Huge, rustic hunks of potatoes, carrot, and pearl onions complimented the equally generous claw meat, all encased in a delicate cocoon of puff pastry. It was exactly what I imagined it to be: hearty and satisfying; indulgent, yet not overly rich.

The Harbor House has only been around since 2010, but it has the feel -- the soul -- of a place that's been around much longer... which no doubt, it soon will be.

The Bartolotta Midas Touch continues...

Sweet Home, Alabama

Found myself with some time for a little breakfast exploring in Montgomery, Alabama. Thanks to the wonders of the InterWeb, my search for "best breakfasts Montgomery" turned up a local favorite, Shashy's Bakery & Fine Food. Thanks to Mr. Breakfast for this recommendation!

First good sign: just about every car in the lot had an Alabama license plate. Turns out, Shashy's (eponymously named after the owner) is equal parts upscale and down home at the same time. As my waitress told me, it's been around 20 years, but it still feels like a "best kept secret" type spot, despite it's increasing popularity due to many favorable internet reviews. All this, and Shashy's bucks the trend and does not have their own web site!

The exterior and interior blend have a shabby chic appeal, their corrugated metal walls in stark, yet clever contrast to the ornate chandeliers hanging throughout the place. The tables and chairs? Decidedly diner-style. The floors and fixtures, though: prim and proper. Like I said... upscale meets down home.

Most importantly, of course, the food... served with Southern charm, and plentiful. The coffee was fresh and never got past half-empty before a friendly refill. My ham, cheese, and tomato omelette was extra-large and just right. The side of grits came to life with just a small pat of butter. A perfect way to start a day!

Too bad I'm flying out and don't have the room (luggage or stomach) to take along some of their fresh-baked goods. They all looked sinfully good.

Shashy's scores well on every level, especially if you like to eat where the locals eat...