Sunday, June 26, 2011

Two thumbs up for Darwell's Cafe

This weekend Mrs. Food Blogger and I spend some time on the Gulf Coast and had the opportunity to take in a establishment that we have both been wanting to try for some time – Darwell's Cafe in Long Beach.

I am usually skeptical of joints that I see on the Food Network, with one exception – Dinners, Drive-ins and Dives, and even Guy Fieri's rave review of a certain Gulf Coast BBQ joint that will not be named had me scratching my head.

But, back to the focus of the review – Darwell's.

This is a fun, quirky, eclectic eatery provides a one of a kind dining experience on the Coast. Upon entering the front door you order at a counter. Behind the counter you can see directly into the kitchen where Chef Darwell Yaeger and his staff are hard at work. With the extensive menu on small signs all over the walls. That was my only complaint, I studied the small signs for a good 10 minutes and I still couldn't come close to telling you what all they serve.

They had a dry-erase with some nightly specials, being somewhat confused I just blurted out a special that sounded good.

I ordered the “Blackened Filet Tips with Lump Crab”, Mrs. FB ordered “Blackened Shirmp with Lumb Crab”. We also ordered a crab cake appetizer.

After placing you order you move to the beverage station where you order your drinks, and then decided where you want to sit. Darwell's features both indoor and outdoor dining,. Being it's June with temps pushing into the mid-90's we opted for indoor dinning.

After picking up our Coke Zero's at the beverage station we picked out a table in their back dinning room (it was about 15 degrees cooler than the front dinning area), started looking at the unique folk art and water-colors that adorned the walls. Most of the art is the work of Darwell's father – Papa D.
It wasn't long before our crab cakes arrived.

They served them with a nice hollendaise sauce and a vidalia onion dressing.

Upon cutting into the nicely portioned crab cake it was easy to tell that Chef Darwell's lump crab to bread-crumb ration was off the chart! These crab cakes were some of the best I've had, and I've long been known as someone who loves crabcakes. The hollendaise sauce was the perfect compliment, but if you prefer a sweeter taste the vidalia onion dressing was nice.

I'll be honest here, I probably ordered my blackened filet tips because of the confusing menu display, because as a rule I do not like “blackened dish” weather it be steak, redfish, or whatever. I think my general disdain for “blackened” dishes is because 90% of places don't know how to do it correctly.

Do not include Chef Darwell in that 90%, the blackened filet tips were exceptional! Filet tips grilled to near perfection. The tips were cooked medium with a perfect amount of blankening seasoning. They were served in a large shallow bowl, with slice of french bread in the middle of the bowl. The filet tips were served around and over the toasted slice. Then huge chunks of lump crab meat were played in the middle of the dish.

The crab itself was not blackened, just steamed, lightly seasoned and served atop the steak tips.

Having dinned at a large number of seafood restaurants over the years I think the lump crab was largest chunks of succulent crab I've been served.

Interestingly, the dish wasn't served with any sides, but that was the only complaint anyone could make.

The lump crab took on hints of the seasoning from the blackened filet tips, and the toast was a nice touch.

Mrs. FB was kind enough to exchange a few of her blackened shrimp for a few of my filet tips, and while the blackened shrimp had a touch more spice than the tops, they were also excellent. The shrimp were sauteed to perfection, with a rich full deep water taste. They were plated in the same manner as the tips with lump crab and french bread.

Several times while we were dinning Chef Darwell emerged from the kitchen to talk with patrons and to insure everyone's dinning experience was up to his high standards.

In all this was an outstanding dinning experience, we'll be back in the future to try some of their other Southern Coastal inspired dishes, and that doesn't even take into account huge smoker churning out BBQ with Papa D serving as pit-master.

The low light in the back dinning area wasn't good for photos, and they didn't come out, so sorry for no accompanying photos.

Darwell's Cafe gets two big thumbs up from the Food Blog Family!

Darwell's Cafe

Friday, June 24, 2011

Back from walk-about

I'm sure we all remember that cinimatic master piece Crocidile Dundee when lead character Mick Dundee (Paul Hogan) would go walk-about.

Dundee would just basically be gone for extended periods of time and nobody would really know where he's been or why he's been gone or even that he was leaving. That pretty much explains my absense from the blog.

In reality life caught up from me.

I can't pledge that I am going to be back at full strength moving forward but I am going to try to get a couple of reviews up and maybe a new dish to try every month.

So in short, I'm back.....for better or worse.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rio Grande - The Good and Very The Bad

Took in a late lunch earlier in the week at Rio Grande near Turtle Creek Mall. It's one of the few Tex-Mex places around the area that I have not tried. The decor is pretty much Tijuana meets Pier One, but I found the dining area to be clean and well kept. The clientele was pretty much mall workers and soccer moms with kids in tow.

The chips and salsa were pretty bland honestly. The salsa was runny and not terribly flavorful.

Not wanting an overly heavy lunch I ordered two soft tacos and a tamale.

I asked that they to leave off the iceberg lettuce (which may be the worlds most worthless editable item) and tomato and replace them with pico de gallo.

When they arrived the soft shell tortillas were stuffed full of flavorful ground beef, white cheese and a better than expected pico de gallo. And while these won't compare to traditional tacos they were some of the better Tex-Mex tacos I've had in the area.

In retrospect, I should have stopped right there, but I didn't. I moved on to what may be the single worst tamale I have ever attempted to eat. I am not sure it could really be classified as a tamale as the masa de maĆ­z to meat ratio was about 9/1 and it was almost totally flavorless. I won't even dignify that sorry excuse for a tamale with a photo.

The most disappointing part was when I mentioned to the server how dis-satisfied I was with the tamale he indicated that he really didn't care what I thought.

I won't be back...there are too many other Tex-Mex establishments in the area that want my business and would be interested in trying provide decent service.

Rio Grande on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 29, 2010

Newk's Express impresses

When a business associate invited me to meet him for lunch at Newk's Express Cafe this afternoon I had little to no intention of reviewing the establishment. Frequent readers know that I tend to avoid chain restaurants, and even a home-grown Mississippi based operation like Newk's usually is of little interest to me.

But, since he offered to put it on his expense account, how could I say no?

Newk's is the brainchild of Don Newcomb and his collaborators Debra Bryson and Chris Newcomb. They turned a converted gas station into a small deli in the heart of a college town in to one of the most successful regional chains around - McAllister's. They very well could be headed in that direction with Newk's.

Newk's has a hip, urban feel with a modern design and interior. The concept is visually appealing with a great layout and unique atmosphere.

I ordered the toasted Italian with a side of Tippah County Cavier and a sweet team. My associate ordered the sandwich and soup combo featuring a half toasted club sandwich with Lobster-crab Bisque.

When the server brought out our meal, honestly the portions looked small. A feature that I really like about Newk's is the condiment bar which isn't your standard ketchup, may and mustard. It features anything from premium pickles, capers, pickled garlic cloves, peppers, and a variety of sauces and more traditional condiments.

I helped myself to a small cup of the pickled garlic and capers, thinking they would go well with the "Tippah Co. Cavier".

I started with the Italian sandwich, and I'll say it was good, really good. It features capicola, mortadella, pepperoni, salami, and provolone. And while that would provide more than enough for a solid sandwich experience it was fully dressed with mayo, spicy mustard, tomato, onions, pickled cherry peppers and a signature Italian sauce.

I think you would be hard pressed to find a better sandwich from any chain, on 10 scale this was an 8.5. The bread was good, not great and it was pretty small as far as deli sandwiches go, but it certainly wasn't small on flavor!

The Tippah County Cavier is really just a spicy black-eyed pea salad served cold. It was a pretty good cold side, but when you add a few capers and the pickled garlic it came together nicely.

My associate reported that his club sandwich was good.

The only disappointment in the meal was the Lobster-crab bisque. It just wasn't good, no real way to sugar coat it. He took two bites and set it aside, I didn't believe him and had to at least taste it....I didn't make it to the second bite.

It had an odd orange color and had an over powering fishy taste, apparent that a low quality imitation crab had been used.

In all this was a very positive dining experience, and while I probably won't become a regular at Newk's I certainly have a better understanding of why they've built a loyal following in Hattiesburg.

Newk's Express Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Magic Tomato - Round II

A few months ago I reviewed The Magic Tomato. During that review our meal was ravaged by entree envy after seeing Chicago style deep dish pizzas brought to the table next to ours. I vowed that I would return to try them and I have...

Mrs. Food Blogger and I decided that we both wanted to try the deep dish pizza and one of their pasta dishes that seem to be popular with their patrons.

We ordered the Baked Mostaccoilli which is a penne pasta with meat sauce, provolone and parmesan cheeses baked and served in a huge bowl. This is very much like a baked pasta dish Mrs. FB makes at home, it was very nice and if you're looking for a change from a lasagna or spaghetti this would be a solid choice.

But, we were on a mission, at least I was, to get a taste of those amazing pizza pies that I could only covet from afar our last visit.

For our Chicago Style deep dish pizza we ordered "the Sicilian" which is a perfect selection for your carnivorous side. This specialty pizza salami, pepperoni, thick slicked ham, chunks of bacon with mozzarella and parmesan cheese.

The 8" round pizza came to the table piping hot and it must have been close to three inches deep. It had to weigh close to 2-pounds.

When I served slices to myself and Mrs. FB, the aroma of the fresh meats, the herbs in the sauce game wafting out of the pizza.

I admittedly came in with very high expectations after thinking about it for nearly five months, and it didn't disappoint. The Chicago Style Deep Dish was excellent, you usually can't find an authentic Chicago Style pizza in the South and especially not in a smaller city, but The Magic Tomato is hitting it out of the park.

They serve a good New York Style Pizza, but the Chicago Style Deep Dish steals the show. Enjoying it on a cold January night may have made it even better.

The Magic Tomato on Urbanspoon

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lookout 49 - Gulfport

Over the New Year's Holiday the wife and I dined at Lookout 49 in Gulfport. We began enjoying the Lookout while it was still in Long Beach harbor and have continue to drop by on occasion while traveling to the Gulf Coast.

Lookout 49 serves fresh caught Gulf seafood and the menu changes with the season and what's available throughout the year.

While we've enjoyed some visits more than others I can't remember being disappointed on any occasion that we've dined there. This visit the experience was exceptional.

We began our meal with seafood stuffing cakes, pretty much crab cakes with both crab and shrimp. They were prepared nice, fried golden and served with a tangy ramoulade sauce. They were good, could have been fried just a bit longer, but in all they were well received.

Side salads for the entrees were good, they were a fresh mix of spring greens and baby spinach. Fresh house made croutons and dressings highlighted the salads. I enjoyed a very nice bleu cheese and my wife had the ranch dressing, both house made and very nice.

I ordered the "Catch of the Day", on this occasion it was speckled trout filet served on a bed of rice with a creamy Lyonnaise sauce with chopped bacon, shrimp, sun dried tomato and basil. A side of steamed, mixed vegetables were served - green beans, parsnip, and broccoli.

This was the largest speckled trout fillet that I've ever been served in a restaurant, and it was fried to golden brown perfection. You can tell that it was cooked at a high enough temperature that it left the crusting crisp while leaving the fish tender, flaky and moist. The Lyonnaise sauce was creamy with ample amounts of shrimp and large pieces of bacon, the sun dried tomatoes were a nice compliment to the sauce and the basil married all the flavors together. This was one of the better seafood dishes I've had in a very long time, it was simply exceptional.

My wife ordered the Grilled Stuffed Amberjack. A nice Amberjack steak served over a bed of fresh greens. It was topped with a grilled seafood cake much like our appetizer dish. It was served with the same side of steamed vegetables as the catch of the day.

The texture and flavor of the Amberjack was very good and the grilled seafood cake was a nice compliment. Adding a fresh squeeze of lemon to the jack steak and a bit of the ramoulade to the seafood cake accented the dish well.

The service was very good from the polite hostess to the attentive servers, I would be hard pressed to come up with a negative about this dining experience, so I won't even try.

Lookout 49 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Windham's Restaurant in Magee

Over the years while having conversations about great hamburgers with friends almost always someone will bring up the world famous Zip Burger. Ok, maybe it's not world famous but if you know someone from Simpson County, Mississippi, chances are that they've told you about the Zip Burger.

Served only at Windham's Restaurant in Magee, Miss. I think I first heard about this local legend while in college, and then it's popped up in conversations throughout the years. Recently I made time to stop in Magee to try this much talked about meat and bread.

Each Zip Burger is hand pressed by the kitchen staff so no two patties are exactly alike, but they're nice. I would guestimate about half a pound cooked on a classic flat top grill to medium well. Served on a straight no frills large bun with lettuce, tomato, onions and Zip Sauce.

Now I can't be certain what all is in the zip sauce, and I am sure they're not going to tell anyone, but it's good. A taste similar to thousand island dressing with a smooth creamy texture without any of the relish or onion bits.

This is a good burger, a really good burger. I won't go so far as to say it's the best burger I've had, but it'll rank up there close to the top when discussions of where to get a great burger comes up again.

Another local twist is the hand-cut battered home fries. It's basically just what it sounds, some hand cut home fries dipped in a flour and seasoning batter and deep fried. They do give you a large cup of the Zip Sauce for dipping with your fries, and you could probably eat just about anything with enough Zips Sauce on it.

A pet peeve of mine is some restaurants not having the firers turned up hot enough and the fries turning out a bit too soft, I think Windham's was guilty of that on my visit. I really liked the concept of the battered home fries, but they just missed the mark.

Overall, this was a great experience. A true small, mom and pop type of place that was the norm for having lunch anywhere in Mississippi until the mid-80's and the explosion of chain establishments from the gulf coast to the delta.

If you're driving through Magee between Hattiesburg and Jackson, Windam's is worth a stop, and my guess is you'll probably try it again.

Windham's Restaurant on Urbanspoon