Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Recipe: Avocado Salsa

Lots of great feedback from this reciep that appeared in last week's newsletter. Fresh, spicy and a nice alternative to traditional guacamole. 
Makes about 3 cups

1/3 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 habanero chile with seeds
6 tablespoons distilled white vinegar
2 (6- to 8-ounce) firm-ripe avocados, coarsely mashed (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup chopped tomato
1 cup chopped white onion
3/4 cup chopped cilantro

Purée chiles, vinegar, and 1 teaspoon salt in a blender. Transfer to a bowl and stir in remaining ingredients. Flavors develop best if you can refrigerate this for a couple of hours before service.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

American Born Moonshine Comes to Savannah

Sean Koffel and Pat Dillingham,
founders of American Born.
  A couple of quiet young men from Nashville, Tenn., hit town Monday night to launch American Born Moonshine.
  Moonshine, unaged corn whiskey, is a hot categroy and Sean Koffel and Pat Dillingham founded the company to bring their own tates to the crowded field.
  These guys make three labels: 103 proof original, Apple Pie 83 proof and Dixie, a sweet tea whiskey at 83 proof. All were very smooth, well made and enjoyable. Get the skinny on the company and the whiskey online.
  It was a packed house at Ampersand, who turned over the ktichen for the night to caters form Randy's BBQ on Wheaton Street. Pork ribs, smoked chiken, baked beans, potato sald and classic Savanah red rice hit the spot as "taste testers" lined up at the bar for samples.
  My favorite: Dixie -- the sweet tea flavored moonshine -- and lemonade.

StarKist Gourmet Selects Brings Pizzazz to Tuna

  A few weeks ago, the folks at Starkist asked if I would like to try out their new line of marinated tuna filets - Gourmet Selects.
  I did and created this Lemon Dill Tuna Taco - a refreshing and light summer meal that's loaded with bright, fresh flavors. The marinades are not overpowering and lend a layer of flavor to your favorite tuna recipes. The 4.5 oz. Gourmet Selects can is perfect for two tacos.
  To learn more about the other Gourmet Selects varieties and score several other recipes, visit the website.
  Pick up a can from your favorite grocer - and get my Lemon Dill Tuna Taco recipe here.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Review: Billy's Place Is Back With New Chef, New Menu, New Attitude

  Peeking through the shutters next to my table, I realize the street scene below could be nearly any urbanscape. A convenience store, an occasional stream of traffic as a traffic light goes green. High rise buildings block the horizon. A Vespa dealer is dark for the night.
Billy’s Place
21 E. Perry St.
Savannah GA 31401 912.231.9049
2nd Floor (Elevator Access)
Tuesday-Saturday open at 4:30 p.m. I recommend reservations.

Want to stay over?
Billy’s Place includes “The Inn at McDonough’s,” four single room accommodations with private bathrooms. The rooms are sound insulated and nicely furnished. For more information or reservations, innatmcdonoughs.com/.
  But this scene is not from New York or Florence, San Francisco or LA. The atmosphere is cozy, created by flickering candles that dance in time to the suave cat tinkling the ivories at the piano bar.
  No airfare required. This old-school supper club is just 15 minutes from my Midtown Savannah home. Here, you can relax with a hand-crafted, classic cocktail, choose from an alluring little wine list and bask in the kind of white tablecloth service that is growing more and more elusive.
  Where is this little gem with its 50-ish seats and attentive waiters? It’s Billy’s Place, the second story perch atop the venerable and oddly juxtaposed sister joint, McDonough’s Restaurant & Lounge.
  McDonough’s is legendary for karaoke nights, high-volume bar service and some damned solid food – from breakfast all day to a cheeseburger hot off the grill. It is an institution unto itself, the 27-year-old flagship of owner Billy Lee’s half-block empire that holds two restaurants with bars and a handful of tidy and well-appointed guest rooms. Flanked on the north and south by East McDonough Street and East Perry Street, respectively, and bustling Drayton Street to the east, Billy Lee’s “office” is a prime piece of downtown real estate.
  I raved about Billy’s Place when it opened in 2006 – and frequented its quiet bar and restaurant more than any other of my haunts. Chef Brian Palefsky was in the kitchen – and he’s a dude I’ve followed all over town. During his lengthy stint at 45 South, he prepared for me the best veal chop I had ever had – or have had since.
  Then, on a hot August night in 2007, Billy had a first in his then 40 years of restaurant ownership. A fire started in the office and quickly spread. Firefighters, regulars at McDonough’s, responded in less than a minute. But, as with many fires, the damage from smoke and water were devastating.
  At the time Billy anticipated being reopened in a few weeks. The reality was an extended shut down for both restaurants. When Billy’s reopened in 2010, Palefsky was gone to another kitchen and the restaurant’s new tapas-style menu fell flat. I tried to like it, I really did. The space was the same. The food, the wine, the service were not.
  Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Allen Larkin, a young man I’ve known from his jobs at other Savannah restaurants and in the wholesale wine and liquor business, stopped me at a wine show to tell me he was now at Billy’s Place
  “You should come eat with me sometime soon,” he said. “I’ll call.”
  When I’m INVITED to eat – obviously for a review – you just better have your chops. You gotta be careful what you ask for. Truthfully, some of my worst dining experiences have come during a pre-arranged meal for the purpose of writing a restaurant or chef feature. Odd, but true.
  I stopped reviewing anonymously years ago. It’s a small city. Lots of people know me and what I do. They also know I cook, I consult and I’m brutally honest. I will tell you what I think – but I will also help you get better.
  That in mind, I hit the door at Billy’s Place on a Wednesday night with absolutely no expectations other than giving these guys the chance to show what they could do. It wasn’t wall-to-wall. But two large tables were already pushing the tiny kitchen to it breaking point.
  I grabbed a seat at the bar, basking beneath the cool blue neon “Billy’s Place” sign. Allen and I caught up on restaurant and wine business gossip and he prepared a cool and refreshing cocktail, Spaghetti Western, an easy sipping concoction built on bourbon and Campari.
  My table was soon ready and I took a seat. I scanned the menu, the asked my server to get with Allen and the chef:
  “I’m your guest tonight – cook for me,” I said. “Put your best work forward – and don’t try to over feed me. Also, ask Allen if he will pair a wine with each course.”
  This is the point where some chefs go for the jugular: Steak, veal or some other piece of beef reminiscent of a meal from “The Flintstones.”
  Executive Chef Michael Marchand has clearly played this game before. The Johnson and Wales alum didn’t miss a beat – and played his best hand.
  For openers, the Massachusetts-born chef laid out a spread of Blackened Raw Tuna Sashimi. There are several good line cooks in this town who can fry fish, but not many can handle sashimi with this much grace.   The pan-seared, thin-sliced tuna was served with pickled ginger, seaweed salad, wasabi cream sauce and chili vinaigrette, and was sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds.
  There was enough to share, but thank goodness I was dining solo on this spectacular plate. The flavors were strategically positioned against one another. The tuna was that perfect blend of warm sear and cool interior; textures ranged across the board from butter tender tuna to crunchy sesame seeds.
  A Caesar salad broke up the pace between appetizer and entrée. You don’t want to read about Caesar salad – just trust that it was fresh, crisp and delicious.
  When the entrée landed, I was stunned. I had expected beef or veal – and was presented with a Maryland Style Lump Crab Cake. Up until this night, The Distillery’s Crab Cake was by far the best example of a true Maryland-style crab cake in the city – thanks to owner Michael Volen’s upbringing. Now, he has a competitor – and I feel a crab-off coming on.
  Chef Marchand was apparently raised right as well. His Baltimore-style crab cake is baked until golden brown then served with oven roasted Rosemary potatoes, asparagus and fresh greens topped with sliced apple.
  This crab cake has to be baked. I pushed a fork into the cake and found nearly all big lumps of white, sweet and luscious pieces of crab. What is binder in lesser crab cakes serves more as delicate seasoning and wonderfully crunchy bits to contrast the tender crab. A drizzle of remoulade is not overpowering and allows the crab and its flavors to shine through.
  Stick a fork in me. I’m done, satisfied, satiated, and ebullient – but what’s this? Salted caramel cheesecake and port?
Well…yes, please.
  Allen’s wine pairings – all whites – were spot on. I’ll spare you details of the wines. The list is under transition and I suspect it will be a dynamic document under Allen’s watch. There are some crowd favorites on the list – and also some labels for the wine geek.
  I got up, stretched, chatted with some dinners – like Savannah-based sculptor Susie Grantham Chisholm – and moved back to my bar seat to swap stories with Jeff and Jelena Bentley, the husband and wife team behind NuSystem Draft Services. I’ll tell their story later.
  Allen wet my whistle with one more cocktail – featuring aromatic and delicious Darnley's gin. This London dry style gin has the obligatory juniper -- but flavors of elderflower and lemon peel are most prevalent. This is sure to be a summertime cooler in sweltering Savannah heat.
  Overall, I give this re-tool of Billy’s Place an A+ and hope it stays on track. Billy, now in his early 80s, holds court most nights from the east end of the bar – his night owl ways are hard to change. He has a solid young and enthusiastic crew who can only push the bar higher with each passing day. Chef Marchand is just what this kitchen needed and Allen is what was needed behind the bar. With so few seats, Billy’s Place has to do a turn or two on busy nights – and develop high average tickets. It’s a manageable target with this team.
  Food, service, atmosphere – this is an exemplary little dinner club and piano bar well worth a visit.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Review: Johnny Harris Restaruant Cookbook

The big, domed dining room of Johnny Harris Restaurant was buzzing with fans attending the launch of the
eatery’s first cookbook, penned by Julie Donaldson Lowenthal. Free food and an open bar help fill a room – but the line formed early and stayed as home cooks queued up for Lowenthal’s signature.
The book is filled with nostalgic photos, recollections of the restaurant’s nearly 9 decades as a Savannah institution and, most importantly, gives you the insider’s track on its most famous recipes.
Julie Lowenthal and husband, B.J.
From the legendary batterless fried chicken to pulled pork, from deviled crab to coconut cream pie – it’s all here among the book’s 208 pages and 153 recipes. The menu staples are included, as are dozens of recipes from the huge repertoire of Johnny Harris Restaurant specials. Armed with this book, you can craft an entire dinner party: From refreshing cocktails and spicy seasonings, to hearty main courses,
Southern-style side dishes and decadent and delicious desserts. The restaurant's homemade BBQ sauce is as legendary as its fried chicken -- and the recipes are here.
Regulars to the restaurant will also find the stories of another Johnny Harris’ legacy to the community – its most dedicated employees. Several pages are devoted to picturing and telling the stories of long-time cooks, servers and managers.
The history, the passion and the heartfelt goodness come pouring from the pages as decadent as honey across a hot biscuit – a recipe for which you can find on page 129. This is a “must-have” cookbook for devotees of Savannah’s culinary legacy and fans of inspired Southern cuisine.
Buy the book at the restaurant, online from the Johnny Harris website or get Johnny Harris Restaurant Cookbookon Amazon.

From the book cover:
Johnny Harris Restaurant has been a mainstay of Savannah, Georgia, since its founding in 1924. From its beginnings as a humble tavern, over time the restaurant has become well known for its barbecue, fried chicken, and Southern hospitality.
Johnny Harris Restaurant has been in author Julie Donaldson Lowenthal's family since her grandfather, Kermit "Red" Donaldson, began working there at age seventeen. Over the years, Red became not only the restaurant's manager but also a trusted friend to Johnny Harris himself. He became the full owner in 1943.
Gathering decades of restaurant lore along with more than one hundred delicious recipes, this cookbook serves up the colorful history of one of the South's most beloved dining spots. "If only these bricks could talk," says Lowenthal, "They could tell so many wonderful stories."