Playa in Orange Beach, Alabama

We had the pleasure this past weekend of checking out the newest restaurant in Orange Beach, Alabama.  Playa at Sportsman Marina is located at 27842 Canal Road just a short distance down the road from the legendary Doc’s Seafood Shack. I had been following the restaurant’s opening progress on their social media outlets and was just as thrilled to check out the interior design as I was to check out their menu!

The restaurant had just opened their doors on Monday, May 21st. I was happy that our trip down to visit relatives coincided with the opening of this new place. My excitement could hardly be contained, especially after finding out they had my favorite cocktail, frosé. We had an early dinner Saturday evening with friends on our way to the Florabama to hear another friend’s band play on the tent stage.

When you first pull off Canal Road into Sportsman Marina all you can see is the large boats and live oak trees that lead you down toward restaurant, which is perfectly situated dockside. You can also reach Playa by water, finding the docks just beyond Robinson Island in Terry Cove. We are fortunate to have family that lives right in Terry Cove, and I can see us spending many dinners here in the future.

Upon entering the restaurant, you will immediately be transported into a beach haven, with art deco flair, and coastal comforts. Johnny Fisher, the owner of Playa and Fishers also in Orange Beach, did an excellent job with the design of the space; from the tile details on the floors to the nostalgic cocktail glasses. Playa exudes character and charm. Our group was seated at a long booth with the prettiest vinyl palm leaf upholstery, and a classic “Woodie” car painting done by a local artist and friend of Fisher’s, Lila Graves.

The food and cocktail menus are divine. I was thrilled to see my favorite, frosé (frozen rosé), on the cocktail menu. They even have frozen coke or Topo Chico for those who do not want an alcoholic beverage. The food selections ranged from fresh guacamole, street tacos, oysters, conch fritters, and whole snapper, to mainstay dishes like cheeseburgers, steaks, and chicken. There is absolutely something here for everyone. We enjoyed trying the guacamole, jerk butter oysters, and baked crab dip during our first visit.

I highly recommend that you put Playa in Orange Beach on your list of places to check out next time you are in town!

Playa Menu
Fun upholstery and local art by Lila Graves.
Exquisite Interiors. Lots of bright light.
Beautiful Bar with lots of unique details.
His and Her’s Cocktails ( L-R) La Ropa and White Sangria
Frosé
Jerk Butter Oysters
Baked Blue Crab Dip

Blackberry Farm Dinner At SpringHouse

Last night we had the pleasure of attending the first beer dinner held at SpringHouse on Lake Martin. The beers featured for this special event were from Blackberry Farm out of Walland, Tennessee, about thirty minutes south of Knoxville. Blackberry Farm has been on my dream destination list for a while, so I was excited to at least get a little taste of their experience through this evening’s dinner.

Blackberry Farm is nestled on 4,200 acres of the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee. This luxury hotel will transport you into an idyllic farm experience, with “out of this world” amenities, food, and service. It is one of the most celebrated small luxury resorts in the world due to their impeccable attention to detail and superb cuisines. Tonight we were able to try a variety of the beers curated at the farm, alongside Chef Rob McDaniel’s awe-inspiring culinary skills. Matty Hargrove of Blackberry Farm Brewery was also in attendance, and enthusiastically walked us all through the beer pairings for the evening.

As we walked into SpringHouse we were greeted immediately with our first tasting of the Classic Saison by Blackberry Farms. This beer had a medium body and a refreshing effervescence that paired nicely with a Smoked West Indies Salad on a house-made cracker and crispy thin catfish with fermented rutabaga tartar.  If you have not ever tried West Indies Salad, I highly suggest you do. It is a dish that has origins in Mobile, Alabama, and can be characterized as a crab meat ceviche. However, Rob’s version for this bite was prepared using wreckfish. The catfish was also sensational. I do not consider myself a fan of catfish, but the thin, crispiness of this dish with the unique rutabaga tartar sauce was a delightful bite. They also had the Wild Saison available for tasting during the cocktail hour. It was nice to try the Classic Saison next to the Wild Saison and make comparisons. I found that I enjoyed the floral and slight fruitiness of the Wild Saison.  The Wild Saison is made with a native yeast found on the farm, which really adds to the uniqueness of these craft beers. We were also offered the Barrel Series Brett Saison and the 18 Month Brett Saison from behind the bar. These two additional saisons were very interesting tried side by side and were paired with a hickory grilled chicken oyster coated with a mustard barbecue sauce. All hor devours were butler passed on some of Tena Payne’s beautiful pottery from Earthborn Studios in Leeds, Alabama.

Daniel Goslin, SpringHouse general manager, welcomed everyone to take their seats by ringing the large dinner bell on the impressive hearth in the heart of the restaurant. The entire restaurant and surrounding property is truly breath-taking. We had lots of friends attending this event, so we ended up with a pretty fun dinner table. The conversations were flowing, just as easily as the drinks.

The first dish brought to the table was a Chilton County Peach focaccia. I loved the sweetness of the peaches contrasted with the funkiness of the Asher blue cheese by Sweet Grass Dairy in Thomasville, Georgia. I love ALL cheeses, but I especially enjoy testing out unimaginable cheese pairings and being delightfully surprised by them. This course was paired with a Barrel Series Brett Belgo IPA.

This dish was followed up by the smoked Manchester Farm quail, which was served with baby carrots cooked in hay and glazed with Poirier’s Cane Syrup.  This was paired with the Native Series Sorghum Saison. The quail was markedly tender, and the carrots were equally sweet and savory. It was an overall nice dish and pairing.

We were then poured a very nice intermezzo in the form of the Sensibility Farmhouse Ale, a collaboration brew between Blackberry Farm Brewery and Stillwater Artisanal out of Baltimore. This farmhouse ale was aged in French oak barrels. There was a lot going on in this glass, and it’s depth and character were perfect to reset our palates for the next two courses.

The third course was my favorite of the night, a hickory grilled scamp with seasonal marinated vegetables, ramps, and corn. I thoroughly enjoyed the white, flakiness of the scamp, and the nice sweetness and texture brought to the dish by the corn. This course was paired with a Native Series Tennessee Cream Ale.

The fourth and final course of the evening was a delightful dessert of Chilton County Strawberry cobbler with sassafras syrup and a sweet cream ice cream. This sweet treat was paired with the Abbey Quad Belgian Ale. This beer that comes in at over 8% ABV was robust and malty with beautiful notes of berriesan outstanding way to cap off another truly memorable evening doing what we love.

Front of SpringHouse restaurant.
Exquisite dinner menu featuring Black Berry Farm beers.
Hickory grilled chicken oysters with mustard sauce.
Crispy catfish with rutabaga tartar sauce.
Chilton County Peach Foccacia with Asher blue cheese and black walnuts.
Smoked Manchester Farm Quail with baby carrots and Poirier’s sorghum syrup.
Hickory grilled scamp with early summer vegetables, ramps, and corn.
Chilton County Strawberry Cobbler with sassafras syrup and sweet cream ice cream.
(L-R) John Mark Davis of International Wines and Beer, Rob McDaniel executive chef at SpringHouse, and Matty Hargrove of Blackberry Farm Brewery.

Key West is the Best- Day Two

The best way to wake up after a late night out is to just pick up right where you left off; grab yourself a Bloody Mary, and keep yourself moving. I am an early riser so I was up despite the late night/early morning prior. It is truly a blessing and curse. A blessing because I get to enjoy the quiet and stillness that the morning often brings. A curse because my body was starved for much-needed rest. Coffee is the first thing I drink every single morning. It is one of the few constants in my life. I bring my own Mama Mocha’s Coffee with me whenever I travel. Our AirBnB was stocked with a coffee pot and filters and after a quick walk around the block to the supermarket for my favorite creamer, I was set.

I spent my morning reading on the front porch and drinking my coffee while all my housemates caught up on their rest. Our porch overlooked the gorgeous Curry Mansion. It was nice to watch the beautiful bed and breakfast start to come alive for the day. I think if we were to ever return, I would love to stay there. However, I do enjoy the amenities and sense of being at home that vacation rentals afford.

Once everyone started to rise, I was anxious for us to decide on somewhere to eat because it was almost midday. The groom suggested we stroll down Caroline Street a few blocks and meet his incoming family at one of their favorite places, B.O.’s Fish Wagon. A staple in Key West for over twenty-five years, this no-frills shack just blocks from the water is a must stop. They are known for their conch fritters with key lime mayo and Cuban sandwiches. We ordered the conch fritter appetizer, my husband had a Cuban sandwich, and I tried their burger. The conch fritters were good, and my burger was absolutely delicious. Between the coffee and the burger, I felt like a new woman.

After lunch, my husband and I separated from the group to go and see the Hemingway House, which was on my list of must-do’s while in Key West.  It was a short stroll from our rental house down our favorite street, Whitehead Street. Along the way, we passed the impressive Kapok Tree and many banyan trees; truly a botanists dream. We popped into a few local shops for souvenirs, and could not resist making a pit stop at our favorite bar, The Green Parrot.

After having a quick cocktail, we wandered down a few more blocks to the breath-taking estate of Ernest Hemingway. We arrived midday, and I was happy to see there were not hoards of people visiting. We slowly wandered throughout the house, stopping to pet the numerous kitties (some with six toes) and taking pictures of all the nostalgic memorabilia of one of my favorite authors. They offered guided tours throughout the home, but in an effort to avoid the crowd, we chose to do a self-guided tour and kept to ourselves. The lush lawn, the picturesque pool, and the overall ambiance of the property are captivating.

Later, we cleaned up for a nice dinner at a spot recommended to us by the groom’s mother, Bagatelle on Duval. This was hands down one of the best dining experiences we had while on the island. The atmosphere was tropical and intimate. We were seated in the upstairs dining room overlooking the moon lounge. We made the reservation last minute, so I was thankful they were able to accommodate us on such short notice. We started with cocktails and moved into wine with dinner. They had an excellent selection of cocktails and wines. For an appetizer, we shard the octopus salad and the barbecue shrimp wrapped in bacon. For my entree, I ordered the whole fried snapper. I had only had snapper like this before on one of our trips to Puerto Rico. I was really excited to see it on the menu here and to be taken back for a moment to our time in Culebra. The snapper was better than I could have hoped for, and I really like the Thai chili sauce that lightly covered the snapper. My husband had the yellowfin dish and it was equally tasty.

After dinner, we hurried down to Mallory Square to catch the sunset celebration and meet back up with our group. We had perfect timing and caught all the excitement. Our visit to Key West coincided with the Conch Republic Independence celebrations. They were having boat wars out in the water, there was a conch shell blower, and all kinds of exciting activities going on pier side. One of the more unusual acts we saw was that of Cat Man, Dominique LeFort. He has a slew of cats that he has trained to jump through fiery hoops and walk tight-ropes. It was intriguing to say the least. He is a staple act on the pier in Key West.

After the sun had set, our group ventured over to the Smoking Tuna off Charles Street. They had a live band playing, and everyone was having a great time. We hopped around after leaving here until we all ended up back at the house to rest up for what would be another eventful day.

B.O.’s Fish Camp on Caroline Street.
Really cool looking banyan trees everywhere.
The Kapok Tree on Whitehead Street.
Sidewalk quotes are throughout the Key.
Back at The Green Parrot.
Hemingway House Historical Maker.
Such an exquisite property. Can I live here?
Lord cat of the manner. He was huge….
And he has SIX toes!
If this pool could talk!
Exceptional dinner menu at Bagatelle on Duval Street.
Octopus and fresh tomato salad with Parmesan crisps.
Key West pink shrimp wrapped in bacon with a spicy chipotle sauce.
Whole fried snapper with a thai chili sauce served with jasmine rice.
Sesame Yellowfin Tuna with udon noodles, pickled edamame and a peanut sauce.
Sunset walking up to Sunset Pier at the end of Duval Street.
Key West Cat Man, Dominque LeFort.

Chicken Piccata

Here is my simple recipe for chicken piccata:

  • 1-2 boneless chicken breast (I like to cut mine in half and make thinner slices of chicken, so sometimes one breast is enough to feed two people)
  • Salt and peppers
  • 2-3 Fresh squeezed lemons
  • 1 small jar of capers
  • Stick of butter
  • Olive oil
  • Flour
  • Egg
  • Parmesan (if desired)

Butterfly the chicken breast reducing the thickness of the breast. I also use a meat mallet to pound the breast out even thinner. I like the crispiness that the thinner breast yield, and I find the chicken is easier to eat when thinner.

After cutting up the chicken, and getting it to the desired thickness I want, I season the chicken with salt and pepper on both sides. In a non-stick pan add half a stick of butter and several tablespoons of oil. You want a good enough amount to fry your chicken in. In another bowl mix together flour, salt, and pepper (and you can add Parmesan).

Once your oil/butter mix is hot enough to start frying, dredge the cuts of chicken in the flour and begin frying the chicken until golden brown on both sides. Set cooked pieces of chicken on a plate with a paper towel to remove any excess grease while cooking the remaining chicken. Once all chicken is completely cooked there should be little grease left in pan. I clean this out and start out with a fresh pan for making my sauce. Some people will leave the remaining grease, cleaning out any brown bits, a use this as a base for making the sauce.

With a clean pan, add another half stick of butter, the juice of about 2-3 fresh lemons, and the small jar of capers. Allow this to blend together and simmer for a few minutes. Add your cooked chicken to this sauce and let simmer for a few more minutes. I usually use a small spoon to help pour the sauce over the chicken as it simmers to help spread the flavor.

That’s it. Serve over noodles, mashed potatoes, or my favorite, wild rice. We also typically add a green vegetable such as broccoli or asparagus as a side.

This dish is excellent reheated the next day as well. Absolutely one of our favorites!

The Blue Fin Auburn—Permanently Closed

Friday evening we were fortunate to check out the newest restaurant coming to Auburn.  Located in the rapidly developing Bent Creek area in Auburn, the Blue Fin will have it’s official opening next week on Monday, May 14th. The Blue Fin will be the newest addition to the new strip mall development in the Sam’s Club/Academy Sports shopping center in Auburn, just down from the newly opened Moe’s BBQ.

The Blue Fin will be a seafood-focused restaurant and bar. Friday evening was their soft opening, which is a tactic that many businesses will use to ensure a more successful business by opening the doors without any advertising or other fanfare normally associated with the grand opening. This allows the business an opportunity to obtain valuable practice and often insight into improvements that can be made prior to the official opening.

We had an early reservation for at 5 PM since we had a concert in Waverly, Alabama later that evening. The dining space is cozy, bright, and clean. It is always nice to enter a seafood restaurant and not be overpowered by an odor of fish. Also, it is swell to have another quality seafood option in our area. There is a beautiful blue mosaic tile bar immediately to the right in the front entrance. There is also a patio seating off to the right of the building. Unfortunately, it’s already 90 degrees in Alabama this May, so the air conditioning was a welcomed option.

We started with cocktails. I had the cucumber mojito and my husband had his usual Maker’s Mark on the rocks. They have ample cocktail and wine selections to choose from. For an appetizer, we ordered the Fin Fin shrimp, which was a flash-fried, light-battered shrimp with a spicy sauce covering them. The shrimp tasted fresh,  the presentation was nice, and the sauce was delicious. Only wish there had been more of it. We also both had small Cesar salad, which was excellent.

For our entrees, I ordered the panéed chicken with a lemon caper sauce, and my husband ordered the blackened snapper. The panéed chicken was yummy. The light batter on the chicken was just right, and I really enjoyed the lemon caper sauce. The mashed potatoes were savory and very tasty. My husband’s snapper was flaky and moist. The grits were flavorful and the spicy sauce was a nice balance to the dish. The ‘Louisiana Popcorn’ were little-fried crawfish tails.

We did not have time for dessert this evening since we only had a little time left to make it our next destination for the night. The restaurant was full and bustling by the time we asked for our check. We had a delightful experience, and I hope to see this place flourish and add value to the emerging restaurant scene in our area.

Entrance to The Blue Fin in Bent Creek, Auburn.
Excellent cocktail menu. Feels like being at the beach!
Dinner Menu
Main dining room. Art work being installed this weekend.
Cucumber Mojito
Fin Fin shrimp appetizer.
Peneed Chicken with Lemon Caper Sauce.
img_1297
Blackened Snapper with Louisiana Popcorn.

Downtown Auburn Family Supper

On a warm spring evening residents of Auburn and Opelika gathered in downtown Auburn for the first ever Downtown Family Supper. We had previously attended a similar event in downtown Dothan a few years back, and I was really excited to see the idea brought to the “Loveliest Village on the Plains”. Tichenor Avenue, between College Street and Gay Street in downtown, was blocked off for the evening for this special event. Farm tables and sparkly lights were lined down the center of the street for the most picturesque scene. The dinner was served “family style” which is comprised of large portions passed and shared among the tables. The weather couldn’t have been better, and the night was overall blissful.

Six of downtown Auburn’s chefs came together to create the food offerings.  The dream team was comprised of  (in no particular order) David Bancroft & Caleb Fischer of Acre, Leonardo Maurelli and of Ariccia Trattoria, Scott Simpson of The Depot, Robbie Nicolaisen of The Hound, Miguel Figueroa of Amsterdam Cafe, and Patrick Gallagher of Hamilton’s on Magnolia. They all donated their talents & time for the evening, along with much of their restaurant staff also volunteering their time to help with the serving of the food and wine. All the proceeds from the supper will benefit the non-profit organizations, Downtown Merchants Association and Nourish Alabama. Nourish, AL was created through a partnership between Hornsby Farms and Pediatric Associates of Auburn with a mission of providing food insecure families in Lee County and the surrounding community with healthy nutritious foods and the tools to prepare them. This dinner with out a doubt embodied, in so many ways, the great community we are so fortunate to live in.

Each attendee enjoyed a five course meal, wine, and entertainment by Martha’s Trouble. The wines for the evening were Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc. Both wines paired really well with all the dishes served. The Sauvignon Blanc was especially nice with the Togarashi tuna poke prepared by Scott Simpson of The Depot and the bright beet salad prepared by David Bancroft of Acre. The Hahn Pinot Noir was particularly good with the incredible, fall-apart Heritage Farm pork ribs with the watermelon molasses prepared by Chef Robbie Nicolaisen.

Every dish that was served was incredibly delicious and every bite was thoroughly enjoyed. All efforts that went into making this inaugural event special were above and beyond. Although Auburn is changing in many ways, the core of who we are as an Auburn family is strong and unwavering. Proud to be a part of this place we love calling home.

The tablescape for the evening.
Chef David Bancroft adding the secret sauce to his brussel sprout salad.
What an appetizing menu!?!
Amazing collaborative effort! Go team!
Chef Scott Simpon’s Tuna Togarashi Tuna Poke.
Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot on Mitcham Avenue downtown Auburn.
Chef Bancroft’s golden beet salad, sultanas, fried peanuts, and mint.
Chef Bancroft’s shaved brussels sprouts, peach vinaigrette, smoked bacon and blue cheese.
Chef Miguel Figueroa’s chicken chicharrones with a garlic mayo ketchup.
Chef Robbie Nicolaisen’s roasted carrots, pepper jelly, burrata, and pistachio dukkah.
Chef Patrick Gallagher’s signature macaroni and cheese.
Chef Leo Maurelli’s extruded pasta primavera, local veggies, arugula, and pecan pesto.
Chef Figueoa’s pineapple upside down spiced rum cake with piña colada buttercream.

 

Wine selections for the evening, Hahn Pinot Noir and Flint & Steel Sauvignon Blanc.

Key West is the Best- Day One

“We didn’t come here to lose weight or save money!” – Andrew Harris

We recently took a trip to Key West, Florida to celebrate a good friend’s wedding. I had never been to the island and was very excited to explore a new place and discover new things. I had compiled a list of all the things I wanted to accomplish during my first visit to the Southernmost city. Top of the list was to try conch, followed by seeing the Hemingway House, and hopefully working on my tan. We easily accomplished all of these during our stay on the island. I could see quickly why our friends love this place and chose to marry here.

We had a non-stop flight from Atlanta to Key West. Delta Airlines gave our entire wedding party drink vouchers. The celebrations started off from the jump. The flight was smooth and quick. The airport in Key West is tiny.  Grabbing our luggage and hopping in a taxi was easy and took seconds. We were at our rental house within a flash of an eye, which was centrally located just a block off Duval Street. We unloaded our luggage and started cruising on our bikes, which had already been delivered to our house by Eaton Bikes. I loved the ease of being able to go everywhere via a quick bike ride or a short walk. Everything is literally within a few blocks.

We were fortunate to be traveling with long-time Key West locals. They were perfect guides for the trip. We saw and ate everything that was ‘a must’ during a trip to the Key. First, we biked down Caroline Street to the Half Shell Raw Bar on the marina. This was a perfect first stop. They had all the fresh seafood our hearts desired and water views. We ordered raw oysters, fresh shrimp, conch fritters, and the fresh catch fish sandwich. I was delightfully surprised at how delicious the conch fritters were. I am not certain I would enjoy a raw version of conch but served inside the yummy hush-puppyish breading, they were very enjoyable. You cannot go to the “Conch Republic” and not have conch.

After having a late lunch at the Half Shell, we wandered over to Schooner’s Wharf Bar. This was another local dive bar on the water off the Historic Seaport harbor walk. They had every drink you could imagine, including my favorite vacation drink, the frozen piña colada. They had live music, plenty of seating, and as most places are, were pet-friendly. Within hours of being in Key West, I was in love. You can walk or bike everywhere. You can get fresh seafood just about every place you stop. Best of all, you can take your pups with you most places. This place is pretty close to heaven on earth.

We continued wandering around the island from here biking the two miles to West Martello Tower on the opposite side of the island. This was to be the location of the wedding ceremony.  The island is flat and there is a nice sea breeze in the air which made biking around delightful. I preferred it to walking, however, some of the gentlemen in the group would beg to differ. We briefly toured the gardens at the tower and took in some nice beach views while the bride and groom worked on finalizing the upcoming wedding day details.

From West Martello, we continued to the Key West courthouse to get the marriage license. While they ironed out the last few wedding details, we waited at The Green Parrot on Whitehead Street, directly across from the courthouse. Born out of an 1890’s grocery store, the now Green Parrot came to life in the 70’s and has long since been a watering-hole haven for all walks of life. This ended up being my favorite bar during our time on the island. They had the best live music and some of the best people watching.

It was hard to pull us away from The Green Parrot, but our hungry stomachs helped. We ventured over to Pepe’s Cafe for dinner based on a recommendation from the mother of the groom, who lived in Key West for close to twenty years. Her recommendations during our entire trip were spot on. She lured everyone with the promise that every Thursday night is Thanksgiving at Pepe’s. This dinner special entailed Thanksgiving turkey, dressing, gravy, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, cornbread, and green beans. My husband and I ordered some of the stone crab claws as well, which is one of my absolute favorite things on earth.  The owner was a friend of the groom’s mom and sent out a slice of Key lime pie for us to all share. You cannot go to Key West and not have Key lime pie. All of it was food for the soul and made you feel like you were home.

After dinner, we wandered back down to The Green Parrot and danced the night away to a Grateful Dead cover band. Perfect ending to our exciting first day in Key West.

Green Parrot Barn on Whitehead Street.
Pepe’s  on Caroline.
Schooner’s Wharf Bar on William’s Street. Next to the marina.
Deplaning on the runway and walking into the airport.
Our AirBnB one block from Duval.
Half Shell Raw Bar
Inside the fort at West Martello.
Gardens at West Martello Tower.
Green Parrot Package Store adjacent to the bar on Whitehead Street.