Spahr’s Seafood Restaurant

logos pahrs

I drive Highway 90 fairly regularly to Lafayette from New Orleans and I’ve always seen the parking lot full at Spahr’s Seafood Restaurant. My parents were in town so we went sightseeing in the area before lunchtime. The cemetery we wanted to see was locked so we drove a bit into Bayou Des Allemands and then to the restaurant just as they opened at 11am.

They seem menu and drinkmighty proud of making their Bloody Mary’s from scratch, so Mom and I started with one apiece. They were nice and spicy but with only a celery stalk as vegetation. I’ve gotten spoiled with the pickled okra and green beans that many of the local bars put into theirs. Flavor was good, though, and the drink was strong.

For a starter we had the Tiger Fries – basically a pot roast and gravy poured over French Fries. The gravy was delicious and the fries were thick enough to stand up to the amount of wet. Definitely my new favorite way to get my meat and potatoes.

Tiger fries

I had the catfish chips. Small pieces of catfish lightly battered and fried. Very clean and fresh tasting. Except for Middendorf’s, these are the best pieces of catfish I’ve put in my mouth.

catfish chips

The Bayou Blazin’ Shrimp weren’t hot at all. While the flavor was okay it wasn’t what we expected and it was hard to tell the difference between the ranch dipping sauce and the blue cheese.

bayou buzz popcorn shrimp

Dad had the soft shell crab (and ate the claws off before I could get the plate to take a picture). He said it was fresh and good but I think they look like spiders cooked like that so I didn’t try any.

soft shell crab

Service was pretty fast, which was good as the place filled up quickly the minute they opened.

It is worth a drive or to make it a stop along the way down Highway 90.

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Willie Mae’s Scotch House

Willie Mays RestaurantIf you like fried chicken, then a must eat destination is Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the 7th Ward of New Orleans. Some people think it is the best fried chicken in the United States. It is definitely some of the best fried chicken I’ve ever eaten.

The name comes from when the location was a bar and the interior still looks like someone’s home, with three rooms of tables divided by the kitchen. The restaurant was badly flooded in the levee breaks after Hurricane Katrina and they had to take it back to the studs to rebuild. Willie Mae retired (at age 90) after the restaurant reopened two years to the day of Katrina’s landfall and her great-granddaughter runs it now.

Here is a link to a great interview of her done by the Southern Foodways Alliance: http://www.southernfoodways.org/interview/willie-maes-scotch-house/

There are other things on the menu. Some, like the breaded pork chop, are even highly recommended. I go for the fried chicken. I ordered mine with sweet potato fries. Dad got the salad (not pictured) and Mom got the red beans (with just a dab of rice).

chicken fries and red beans

The batter is thick and spicy and the meat is very juicy. It is so good. My mouth and tummy were very happy with my meal.

chicken open

Fried chicken can take a while but the service here is fast and friendly and while you can sometimes wait a bit, it won’t be too long before you’re enjoying your own plate of fried chicken.

***And, just announced today – there will soon be another location in Uptown  at St. Charles and Cherokee –http://www.nola.com/…/the_famous_fried_chicken_of_wi.html

Pizza Domenica

pizza domenica logoI was part of a panel discussion on Economics and Gender Bias that was put on the Women’s Resource Center at Loyola University. Moderated by New Orleans City Councilwoman Latoya Cantrell, I was joined on the panel by Deborah Freda from American Association of University Women, and Melanie Bronfin from the LA Policy Institute of Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health. It was a great discussion on the impact of gender bias from birth on and the need for pay equity.

Following the panel, I went out with the Interim Director of the Women’s Resource Center and another friend for carbs and gluten. We ended up on Magazine Street at Pizza Domenica. Domenica Restaurant is located in the Roosevelt Hotel but now you can get their delicious pizza Uptown.

We started with the whole cauliflower. I admit I was skeptical – $18 for a vegetable? And it isn’t even deep fried? However, it is roasted with almost an entire bottle of white wine and is tender and delicious and doesn’t taste a thing like the raw cauliflower one finds on a crudite platter. Bon Appetit recently posted the recipe and I may be tempted to someday try it myself.

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We also had the garlic knots. Light strips of bread well seasoned with garlic and butter. These were finger licking good.

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Our two pizza selections were the Margherita and Pepperoni. Oh, goodness these were good. The fresh mozzarella and basil on the margherita were divine and the thin slice of peppery pepperoni was nice and strong. The sauce was put on with a light touch but it was perfect on the thin crust which was chewy and not brittle. Either one was one of the best pizza’s in the city.

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You order first before taking a table and delivery of the food is very quick. We were pretty much left alone after that and tea never got refilled but we filled the time with great food and good conversation, so we left happy.

Frugal Chicken and Rice

The weather is changing and I have a taste for some simple comfort food. It doesn’t get simpler or more comforting than chicken and rice. By doing it in the slow cooker, the rice ends up with a risotto like texture. I also make mine very frugally – using the parts of the chicken that would typically go to waste and using celery ends, carrot peels and onion skins that I’ve frozen.

Making the chicken stock:

Whenever I roast a chicken, I usually first cut out the backbone and collect the neck and other innards from the cavity and put them in a bag in the freezer. Sometimes, I’ll even cut off the wings, too. It takes two to three chickens done this way to fill a gallon freezer bag and I wait until I have at least two bags.

chicken parts in a bag

To make stock, I put in two gallon bags of chicken parts (still frozen) and cover with water (usually takes about 3 quarts). If I have a bag of carrot, celery and onion trimmings, I add that or I cut a large onion into about 8 pieces, toss in a couple of celery stalks that I’ve chopped in half, a couple of carrots cut into 1 inch pieces and 2 bay leaves. I then bring the liquid to a boil and simmer for 2 to 3 hours. When the chicken has fallen apart, it is done.

chicken bones in a pot

I strain out the solids and let the stock sit in the refrigerator overnight so the fat will rise to the top and solidify for ease of discarding. I then pick the chicken meat off the bones. I can usually get 2 cups of chicken out of what I’ve cooked and about 2 1/2 quarts of stock.

Chicken and Rice

2 quarts chicken stock
2 cups rice
3 cups cooked chicken meat, shredded
Salt and pepper to taste

In a slow cooker add all the ingredients. With homemade stock, I usually start with a teaspoon of salt and pepper. If using commercial stock, wait until the mixture is simmering to taste before adding any salt. Bring to a simmer and turn cooker to low for a couple of hours or until the rice is cooked through and most of the liquid is absorbed. Taste for seasonings. Serve in bowls.

There is enough for about 5 servings for a single person out of this – so I divide it into serving sizes to freeze for the times ahead when I need a satisfying meal.

This is what happens when you leave the crock pot on for a bit too long when you get distracted by the New Orleans Saints vs Detroit Lions game. Still delicious, though, with the creamy rice so rich with the flavor of the homemade stock.

finished chicken and rice

Square Root

square root sign

My good friends, Charlotte and Thomas, took me out for an amazing dining experiences last night. We went to Square Root and took our place at Chef Phillip Lopez’s table to experience their sixteen course tasting menu. That’s right, 16! and that doesn’t even include the lagniappe scallion beignet with a Chinese version of pimento cheese spread that I gobbled down before I could take a picture.

We sat in awe and watched the culinary magic – his team wielding tweezers and operating interesting machines as they made the many plates of wonderful. I probably won’t do his descriptions of each offering justice but, suffice to say, my mouth had many orgasms over the course of the evening.

working in the kitchen

We started with a small cracker appetizer and that led to his version of a muffuletta. The ‘bun’ was made of meringue that just melted as you ate it and the tasty, meaty jam spread had us longing for at least one more bite.

lopez muff

The next course knocked my socks off. Readers of this blog know my fondness for fried chicken and my love for cotton candy. The next plate was fried chicken deconstructed, reimagined and reconstructed. It included a topping of fried chicken floss which has ruined me for the blue and pink options available at circuses. Here is a picture of one of his team making it:

making chicken floss

And another of the plate itself. The flavors were incredible and I couldn’t help but smile at the way it blew my mind.

chicken plate

Next up was perhaps the only plate I wasn’t entirly a fan of – the oyster course. The cracker, the foam, the cream were all the essence of oysters.

oyster course

The next plate was lobster with forbidden rice. There was an Indian spice flair to this dish, which I’ve never had with lobster before but it was darn tasty. I was able to catch Chef Phillip explaining the difference in plate to Charlotte, who has a shellfish allergy, which they accommodated in some pretty imaginative ways.

chef lopez explaining lobster

The next plate has us visiting his culinary homeland of Mexico with a bowl of menudo. He started by distilling the broth at the table.

distiling

This was followed by breaking out the tank of liquid nitrogen to take lime wedges to the next level. They froze lime juice in the mixer and the frozen droplets were amazingly intense. It was a fun to watch the witches brew as it was to taste.

witches brew

The bowl of menudo had all the flavors of this very comforting Mexican dish.

menudo

Next up was a blood sausage with beets and a peeled and lightly heated muscadine grape that broke when touched and released it juices over the plate. It was so good I ate all my vegetables.

sausage

Pasta came next with a sauce made from a fungus found on corn and considered the truffle of Mexico. It was earthy and entirely unlike anything else I’ve ever tasted in my life but good enough that I broke down and ran my finger over the plate to get it all.

pasta

We then revisited lobster in an eclipse plate. The carbonized onion on the side was a little odd but the lobster was creamy and a delicious contrast to the deep, dark sauce.

eclipse plate

The next course was duck with eggplant chips. The humus was simple puree of chickpeas and olive oil and simply delicious.

duck course

Beef was up next with a pampered cow from Monroe, Louisiana giving up its life so that we could truly live. The tenderness was comparable to Kobe beef. There was a Japanese flair to this dish with a bit of sake and bone marrow foam. It came with its own salad and, again, I ate every bit. It was served on a wood plate made from a special Japanese wood that also decorated the restaurant.

beef plate

The next dish was a palate cleanser with dill yogurt and a delicious sorbet with elder flowers sprinkled on top. I nearly begged for more.

palate cleanser

The first dessert course was a celebration of fall. It was apples avant garde with apple cider foam, apple panna cotta, and sunflower leaves. Amazing how light but packed with flavor it was.

apple dessert

The next dessert was a cold bowl with more culinary magic. There were both sweet and sour flavors with lychee being the focus. I remember being intrigued by the bowl it was presented in until I had my first taste and then I could only focus on getting it all on my spoon.

cold bowl

The final dessert was an herbal dessert. The sorbet was tarragon and the meringue just melted in my mouth.

final course

I confess to being a little sad when the meal was over. It was a lot of food but spaced out over almost three house, we didn’t feel stuffed.

The staff was amazing – they have both wine and cocktail pairings with the meal and the sommelier was very knowledgeable of the grapes and flavor profiles of each wine. They also had a silverware and water Ninja who gave us utensils for each course, moving so silently it was sometimes a surprise to look down and see them there.

The chef was personable and took the time to explain each dish and the inspiration for them. At the end of the meal, he stopped to chat and to explain that his purpose is for each bite to be unique and mind blowing. He succeeded in spades!

While this price fixed meal is a bit expensive (starting at $150 per person and not including the beverages), it was an incredible experience that I will be dreaming about.

Boiled Peanuts

mitchell farms peanuts

Michelle and I went to Mitchell Farms in Collins, Mississippi this morning to pick up some green peanuts for boiling. This is the big season for agri-tourism and there were lots of kids there to visit in the pumpkin patch (and pick their own) as well as other fun activities like wagon rides, wandering the corn maze, playing in the corn pool (think of a ball pit filled with dried corn kernels), and petting the animals (including seeing a goat castle).

We were just buying peanuts so we headed to the office and got two bags of jumbo and two bags of Virginia green peanuts. We went ahead and got them prewashed but they still took four rinses once we got them home to get the water clear. Here is their washing machine:

washing peanuts 2

We stopped by her grandfather’s place for the big boiling pot and propane tank. He will be turning 93 at the end of the month and he just had me toss the stuff in the back of his truck for him to drive it to her house. Unfortunately, after we had rinsed the peanuts and filled the cooker with water, spice and salt, we couldn’t get a hot flame. After several hours of it not coming to a boil, we borrowed crock pots from nearly every family member (her sister, her mother, her great-aunt) and let them slow cook overnight.

prepping to boil peanuts

The recipe I’m giving is for one of the 2 lb bags you can get at the farmer’s market or grocery store. We did 20 lbs of peanuts in 12 gallons of water and sized up all the ingredients before dividing it between four crock pots for the overnight cook.

Boiled Peanuts

2 pounds in-shell raw peanuts
3/4 cup kosher salt
1/4 cup Zatarain’s crab/shrimp liquid boil
3 gallons water

Wash the peanuts in cool water until the water runs clear. This will take several rinses. If very dirty, let them soak in the cool water for 15 to 20 minutes to loosen the dirt before rinsing again. Add the peanuts to a 12-quart pot along with the salt, crab boil and 3 gallons of water. Stir well. Cover and cook on high for 4 hours. Check the texture of the peanuts at this point for doneness. When done, boiled peanuts should have a similar texture to a cooked dry bean. It should hold its shape, but not be crunchy when bitten.  Add more water throughout the cooking process, if needed. If necessary, continue cooking for 3 to 4 hours longer. The cooking time can vary greatly depending on how fresh the peanuts are. The greener the peanut, the less time it will take to cook.

Drain the peanuts and store in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or freeze them for up to six months.

Alternatively, put them in a slow cooker on high until it boils. Reduce to low and leave overnight. Check for doneness and turn back to high in the morning, if necessary, to finish cooking.

done peanuts

Slim Goodies Diner

IMG_20141007_100735_405Wanting to send off my pals with a hearty breakfast, we went down Louisiana Avenue to Magazine Street to visit Slim Goodies Diner. Their menu is extensive, the plates are overflowing with awesomeness and the staff as friendly as can be (especially if you’re suffering from a hangover or just hung over from too much of a good thing).

Both Brian and I went for the Orleans Slammer – hash browns, Slim’s chili, 2 strips of thick bacon, two eggs and melted cheddar cheese (plus a biscuit). There was a lot of food on that plate and it was all good.

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Michelle went for the sweet potato pancakes and found they were sweet enough to not need syrup or butter. I thought they were a little dry without it but plenty sweet without the syrup.

sweet potatoe pancakes

Jennie had the crabby wife – crab cakes topped with 2 eggs and covered with crawfish etouffee. A little too strong seafood for that hour of the morning for me but still pretty delicious.

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The service was with a smile and refills for drinks came fast. The coffee lovers at the table really appreciated that.

The menu is extensive and we just touched a bit of it. I hope to go back soon to try some of the waffles. I most heartily recommend this place.