A Beach-Food Experience for Landlocked Atlantans

100_8024The Optimist Fish Camp & Oyster Bar
Atlanta, Georgia

I walked in and the first thing I saw were the words, “Country Ham” in navy blue and yellow, painted on a white wall. The restaurant had been converted from a previous slaughter-house and the words preserved. Country ham is one of those Southern mainstays, and I knew immediately this was a place I would love. I had driven from the coastal plains of Southeast Georgia, about 200 miles, to the big city of Atlanta on a business trip to meet a good friend. We had done our research, and of all the fine places to dine in the notorious A-T-L, had naturally settled on what the restaurant’s Twitter account classifies “A beach-food experience for landlocked Atlantans.”

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100_7949While we waited on our table in the main dining room, we sat at the Oyster Bar and tried just about everything–East and West coast oysters of every variety, snow crab & lobster knuckles, oyster crackers and salt & vinegar chips. The oysters were served with fresh horseradish and a mignonette sauce (a sauce of vinegar and shallots, typically served with raw oysters). The mignonette sauce was so bright and fresh, it would awaken even a sloth.

100_7996You can’t have oysters without a cold beer, so I took the chance to try the one in a red can with a lighthouse pictured on the front—Cisco Brewers Sankaty Light from Nantucket, MA.

100_7947This oyster was served over warm “coals,” roasted in a wood-fired oven with parmesan cheese and bacon at $3 a pop. It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen.

100_7941The Opi Salt & Vinegar Chips were crunchy…the perfect bar food.

100_7950100_7954100_7953Next, let’s talk about the snow crab claw & lobster knuckles in a chili-lime butter bath. It took a little work, but once I got my hands on the cracking tool, we were good to go. Who wouldn’t want to eat something presented that beautifully?

THE FOOD:

I experienced food at The Optimist like I have never experienced food before…intense flavors with no detail undone when it came to presentation. Every encounter I had with staff members was pleasant, from the hostess taking notice of my black dress and providing me a black napkin, the bartender who told me he even spent his days off there, to the manager who described the place as “one big house.” I could tell our waitress Jenn, genuinely enjoyed her job and was very knowledgeable about the menu.

THE ATMOSPHERE:

Some Kinda Good is all about good food and good company, and when the two are combined, that’s a life well lived. The Optimist is a breath of fresh air for the city life, a nautical escape. My friend Harper said it perfectly, “That wasn’t just going out to dinner, that was the best two-hour dining experience of my life.”

The Optimist on Urbanspoon

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Passion Meets Barbeque in Coastal Southeast Georgia

Southern Soul Barbeque
St. Simons Island, Georgia

In the South, barbeque is a holy subject. Opinions about it begin forming at a very early age. At an after-church dinner recently, my sister-in-law and I were serving our plates and chatting about how good the barbeque looked, when a young boy not more than ten spoke up, confidence in motion, to let us know that while lunch was nice, it was his dad who made the best barbeque in all of Bulloch County. We take our pork seriously. Harrison and the staff at Southern Soul Barbeque on St. Simons Island get that. It’s an expression from their very soul, spoken in tender pork, slow cooked and oak-smoked for hours over burning coals and served to anyone with sense enough to stop. You can see the smoke and smell that barbeque coming from the outdoor pits as soon as you hit the parking lot.

That’s Harrison Sapp, the owner. He was an all around nice guy and made me and my Shih Tzu, Ewok, feel as welcome as a whelk in its shell. This guy gets up at 4 a.m. everyday and begins cooking at 6:30 a.m. to have lunch ready for all the hungry folks in the Golden Isles. Passion is the only thing that would motivate one to do something so well 7 days a week.

He showed me around and lifted the lid on the smoker to reveal these beauties. Seasoned with a sweet dry rub and sprayed with a little apple juice throughout the cooking process, the result is pure pork flavor, juicy and tender.

Ewok made himself right at home on the cool cement floor while I waited for my sandwich. The staff even brought him a bowl of water to drink. These long picnic tables are situated on the porch under a vaulted ceiling with big fans and drop lighting. It’s the kind of casual atmosphere where it’s perfectly acceptable to stroll over off the beach in your swim suit.

Served on a toasted bun with pickles, the Jumbo Pulled Pork Sandwich is a beautiful display of the restaurant’s finest. I ordered creamy mac & cheese as my side with a tall, cold glass of sweet tea. Suffice it to say, it’s the best $6.50 I’ve ever spent.

Is your mouth watering yet? I drizzled my sandwich with a little Sweet Georgia Soul Sauce and dug in. Jars of sweet and hot sauce, vinegar and Texas Pete grace the tables. If slaw suits your fancy, they’ll top your sandwich with it at no charge.

Formerly a 1940’s gas station, tag plates and catchy signs decorate the restaurant front and posters advertising local events fill the windows, giving the place that hometown, log cabin-like feel. I particularly love the Dig on Pig sign. On the menu, you’ll find grilled pimento cheese sandwiches, beef brisket, chicken strips, ribs, even sausage and burgers. The sides are soulful too including selections like Brunswick stew, hoppin’ john, fried okra and fried green beans.

No worries for all of you that prefer to beat the heat. Pull up a bar stool inside in the air conditioning and have a cold one. Southern Soul Barbeque is open Monday – Saturday from 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. – 4 p.m.

For a taste of Southern Soul at home, pick up a bottle of one of their Georgia Soul sauces.

As seen in leading magazines like Georgia Trend, Garden & Gun and Southern Living and on major television networks like TLC and Food Network, Southern Soul Barbeque is no secret. Guy Fieri himself has been here and has featured the restaurant on his show, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. This Southeast Coastal Georgia Smoke Joint gets around.

Not in the South? Not a problem. Now, Southern Soul Barbeque offers nationwide shipping! Located on the round about at 2020 Demere Road, be sure to pull in on your next visit to the Golden Isles of Georgia. It’s worth the stop and good for your soul. 😉

Southern Soul Barbeque on Urbanspoon

Simply Satisfied with Mallery Street Cafe

Mallery Street Cafe
St. Simons Island, Georgia

A rainy morning on the last day of vacation led us to Mallery Street Cafe, a quaint place that boasts familiar, great tasting food in a causal setting. While the rain fell outside, we enjoyed a cozy table inside and awaited breakfast.

The menu is short and sweet with recognizable breakfast food like french toast, fruit, eggs, pancakes, grits and toast. You won’t break the bank here, because the items are a la carte. What is it about a coffee mug on a saucer surrounded by cream and a little spoon for stirring that elicits such a good feeling? A welcomed sight indeed in the early morning.

It was nice having the option to specify how many pancakes you wanted. So often at restaurants, a set number proves too many and are left uneaten. Two hit the spot.

Anytime there’s a packed house, that’s always a good sign. Just give me friendly service and tasty food in a coastal environment and I’m good to go. Located just across the street from the popular St. Simons Island Village, the cafe is a short walk from the Pier.

Open for breakfast and lunch, the cafe serves homemade soups, desserts and features daily specials. Make this place a stop on your next visit to the Golden Isles–you’ll leave simply satisfied.

Mallery Street Café on Urbanspoon

Shrimp and Grits at Home

Shrimp and Grits. Just the two words together take me to the coast and suddenly, I’m smelling the salty, ocean air and listening to the waves crash. Only this time, I’m in Statesboro, Georgia bringing the flavors of the lowcountry to my very own dinner table.

The sauce in this dish is money. It’s what sets it apart from any old recipe and makes you want to lick the bowl. This is stick-to-your-ribs kinda cookin’.

Be sure to make this recipe when you’ve got some time to be patient. It’s not one you want to throw together on a weeknight. If you prep your vegetables beforehand, that’ll save you some time. The recipe serves two, but I could only finish half. It’s rich and filling and needs nothing but a good appetite.

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Bring salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, let your olive oil get hot. You want a good, crisp sear on the outside of the ham you’ll add later.

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When the water comes to a boil, stir in quick-cooking grits (not instant) until well mixed.

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As the grits cooks, toss chopped ham into the skillet. The recipe called for tasso ham and I searched every accessible grocery store high and low for it until I decided to settle for a smoked, chopped ham by Carolina Pride. Also, I had to add at least a half cup more water to the grits than the recipe called for because the consistency was too thick. The grits should be easy to stir like a good cream of wheat, not clumpy.

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Once you toss in the ham, don’t stir it continuously. Just let it do its thing. Give it one good stir before tossing in your other vegetables.

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I chopped two tablespoons each of onion, red bell pepper and leeks. Hint: Always read the recipe completely before embarking on cooking. I chopped two entire leeks before I realized I needed white parts only.

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Once the ham is nice and crispy, add in the rest of your vegetables and saute. The smell in the kitchen is enough to make you stick your entire head over the skillet and inhale deeply time and again.

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If using frozen shrimp, thaw them overnight, drain and rinse.

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Toss the shrimp in and gently stir them around with the vegetables for 45 seconds or so until they turn pink. It’s very easy to over cook the shrimp, so keep a close eye on them. Once cooked, you’ll remove them and finish up the sauce.

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I just love cooking with wine. Always cook with a wine you’d drink. It doesn’t have to be an expensive bottle. In this recipe, you use two tablespoons of wine to deglaze the pan, then you add the heavy cream, stir, watch it thicken and reduce by half.

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The sauce will slowly thicken as it comes to a boil.

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The ham is the true star in this sauce. The texture really compliments the grits and adds a nice depth of flavor.

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To assemble the dish, divide the prepared grits into two bowls. Surround the grits with cooked shrimp, then drizzle the sauce right over the top of the grits. Woo whee!! That’s Some Kinda Good y’all! I start getting excited right here. Finish it off with a sprinkling of scallions. Don’t leave off the scallions. I know it’s easy to x-nay the garnish, but it really adds a bright, fresh and special finishing touch to this delicious dinner.

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Light a candle, pour a glass of wine and take in the flavor like it’s the last meal you’ll ever eat. Just take a bite and imagine your backyard is the ocean. Savor it. Indulge. You’ll be glad you did.

The complete recipe can be found in Paula Deen’s Southern Cooking Bible. Paula doesn’t disappoint!

Ringing in the New Year with Shrimp, Scallops and a Walk on the Pier

Iguanas Seafood Restaurant
St. Simons Island, Georgia 

Though I’ve been going to St. Simons Island my entire life, I discovered Iguanas Seafood Restaurant just last year. If you’ve ever spent any time in the Golden Isles on the Georgia coast, you know there are many good places to dine, and my family has always had their favorites. Being the creatures of habit that we are, we typically always visit the same places. Last summer though, we tried somewhere new and I’m so glad we did.

With its colorful island-inspired walls, sail boat and fishing net decor and fun bar scene, Iguanas Seafood Restaurant is located in the heart of the village among all the great little shops near the St. Simons Island Pier. This year, we had New Year’s Eve dinner there. It was funny seeing the place decked out in Christmas lights and faux snow.

I ordered the shrimp and scallops dish, blackened, with grits. I don’t usually get scallops but I thought I’d give them a try. The shrimp was delicious, but I didn’t find the scallops to be that flavorful. Have you ever had scallops? I get the sense they must be like tofu in a way, taking on whatever flavor in which they’re cooked. The texture was spongy and just didn’t do much for me. Grits are the perfect accompaniment to shrimp any old time. The hushpuppies were crispy on the outside and succulent in the center, perfect for dipping in their house remoulade sauce (pictured left above).

My cousin Justin is a fan of my food blog, and when he saw me get out my camera to snap a shot of my dish, he excitedly offered his up and said, “Rebekah, wanna blog about this?” He ordered the special of the evening…soft shell crab with french fries. I’m pretty sure he cleaned his plate.

The great thing about eating dinner and shopping in the village is walking out on the newly renovated St. Simons Island Pier afterwards. I probably have at least one picture from each year of my life out on it, and I’ve often said it’s one of my favorite places on earth. I love to walk out to the end of it and watch the porpoises swim and see the shrimp boats in the distance. I’d like to be on one of those shrimp boats one day.

While out walking on the beach and at the pier, I met several folks from up North. One couple from Massachusetts and another group from Connecticut. They had each rented a condo for 3 months on the island to escape the cold weather in their hometowns. I don’t blame them!

This is the whole New Years crew, with our dogs, after breakfast the next morning. That’s me in the middle, on the far left between Brad and my cousin Justin, who’s holding my precious puppy Ewok. My good friend Patrick is next to him and the couple with the two labs–Constance and Justin, are great friends from college.

I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the first day of the New Year.

Iguanas Seafood Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Crab Legs at Christmastime

The Shell House
Savannah, Georgia 

There’s nothing like cracking open a crab leg and pulling one long, succulent, in-tact piece of crab meat out of the shell, preparing it for its butter bath. Pair that with a good, cold drink of sweet tea with a fat lemon wedge and a little Jimmy Buffett, and life is good.

Last night I visited The Shell House. The prices were high, but the portions compensate and the food was delicious. I ordered snow crab legs, my favorite kind of seafood next to crab cakes. Hushpuppies and green beans were its counterparts and I’m telling you what, it doesn’t get much better. Here we are a week from Christmas and we’re eating seafood like it’s the Fourth of July. Who needs sweet potato casserole when you’re 45 minutes from the Georgia Coast? I say bring on the crustaceans, anytime of year! The restaurant was quite busy, even on a Sunday night, which is always a good sign. The only downside to eating crab legs is that you’re always the last one to finish because it takes a little bit of work. When you taste that meat though, it’s worth every minute of the time you spend getting to it.

The tables at The Shell House have holes in the center, so when you finish peeling those shrimp or cracking those crab legs open or shucking those oysters, you can conveniently discard all your trash. It’s a casual atmosphere…don’t go expecting white table cloths or fine china. In fact, you’ll eat off of paper plates and drink out of plastic cups but it’s hard to beat the amount of food you get for the price. It’s fresh and hearty. That’s what I’m talkin’ ’bout!

A Shrimp Supper Worth the Drive

A great place for dinner on the weekends.

The Oyster Bar Restaurant, Raw Bar and Ale House
Savannah, Georgia 

Over the weekend, we met some friends at The Oyster Bar Restaurant, Raw Bar and Ale House on River Street in Savannah. I ordered the Shrimp Trio–fried shrimp, shrimp scampi and bacon-wrapped shrimp stuffed with crab meat. Man alive! It was Some Kinda Good. I had a caesar salad and baked potato alongside it. The bacon-wrapped shrimp, stuffed with crab meat, was the description that caught my attention and what made me order the dish. I love seafood and I mean, how could you not like any crustacean wrapped in bacon? Before the food arrived, the waiter brought out what they referred to as “hushpuppies,” but they tasted more like little doughnut holes served with honey butter. I ordered a good glass of red wine, an Australian variety of Shiraz, and had a good time reminiscing about our college days with old and new friends.

The Shrimp Trio Dish…pretty much delectable.

If you’ve never visited River Street in Savannah, it’ll be worth your time. I have been several times, but never during the Christmas season. I just recently moved back to Southeast Georgia, and Savannah is only a short 45 minutes away. It was a comfortable 60 degrees, no wind blowing, no wait and no crowds. I would definitely visit The Oyster Bar again and would highly recommend it. Besides, you just can’t go wrong with friendly service, quality food and a great atmosphere.

Little balls of bliss served with honey butter

Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon