“We literally ordered one of everything on the menu.”
For my birthday this year, we spent the weekend at a little slice of heaven on earth, Lake Martin, Alabama. We arrived late Friday evening and promptly went to dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, SpringHouse. We arrived early in hopes of having time for cocktails and to also catch sunset off the upstairs porch. We arrived just in the nick of time and caught the sun just beginning to set behind the rolling hills and pine trees that color the horizon.
After enjoying our cocktails, we were seated near the chef’s counter in the downstairs dining room. One of our friends attending dinner with us this night was the opening bar manager at SpringHouse, so returning here for him was a very special treat. Before any of us could make an order, he told the waiter that we would just have one of everything on the menu, which is exactly what we proceeded in doing.
Some of the highlights of the starters were the boiled peanuts. You cannot get much more southern than serving boiled peanuts. I love them. They are the perfect southern snack. I enjoy them hot, and I enjoy them cold. I have even had a delicious boiled peanut soup that was simply boiled peanuts pureed into a smooth soup and seasoned to perfection. Another simple delight were the dressed cucumbers. This dish is very reminiscent of a dish my grandmother always has in her refrigerator during the southern summer months, cucumbers dressed in vinegar, salt, pepper, and a little bit of olive oil. When our summer garden produces cucumbers, this is something I love to have on hand to snack on. I like adding a little bit of sugar in some warm vinegar before pouring it over my cucumbers, but they are equally delicious without the added sugars. The final two highlights of the starters we had were the heirloom tomato pie and the grilled chicken sausage served over a delightful warm potato salad. The tomato pie was bright with acidity, and savory full of oozing pimento cheese. I could have eaten the entire pie by myself. The grilled chicken sausage was delightfully smoky, and the bed of potato salad was a southerner’s dream.
Our entrees were equally satisfying. Mr. Jim’s vegetable plate is one of the standout dishes for me. It was one of my favorite things to order at SpringHouse during the summer. I love fresh vegetables, and I love them even more when prepared by Rob McDaniel. The creamed sweet corn is to die for, and really could be your meal or your dessert. The squash gratin on the vegetable plate was also quite yummy. The squash still had a good bit of tooth to it, and you can pretty much put cheese on anything, and I’m going to love it. For our proteins, we ordered the Tanglewood Farms chicken breast, the Black Angus ribeye, the pompano, and the pork loin. My favorites of this bunch were the ribeye and the pompano. You could not go wrong with any dish, but these two were my standout favorites.
Next time you and a group of friends go to dinner, just order one of everything on the menu and have a family-style dinner. Share laughs, delicious food and wine, and make memories that will last a lifetime!
It was the last few days of our trip. The wedding was getting near, and we were all full of excitement for the nuptials of our friends. Most everyone who would be traveling down for the event had arrived at this point. While the bride and groom were off busy entertaining their incoming guests we took off on our bikes and ventured out to a breakfast spot that we were told by many was a must-stop, Blue Heaven on Thomas Street.
Blue Heaven is a great spot for brunch, lunch or dinner. They have indoor seating, but the outdoor seating is where you want to sit, if possible. We arrived early enough that our wait was very short, and grabbing a Bloody Mary at their outdoor bar is a great option. I wanted to start with a coffee and was very delighted to find that they offered cappuccinos and espressos. I was also thrilled to see they had a vast selection of eggs Benedict, which is my absolute favorite thing to order for brunch. I ordered the bacon Benedict while my husband ordered their specialty Benedict, the BLT (Bacon, Lobster, Tomato) Benedict, and he added avocado to it as well. I loved the lime hollandaise sauce they use. It was a nice twist on the lemon juice that is typically used to make a traditional hollandaise sauce. Everything we had was delicious and the service was superb. It was a great way to start the day.
After finishing up brunch, we biked a few more blocks down Whitehead Street to the Southernmost Point. This large concrete buoy marking the southernmost point of the United States is a great spot for the touristy required photos from your trip to Key West. There was a little bit of a line when we arrived of other visitors waiting for their chance to take photos at the popular photo-op spot. The line moved quickly and we quickly took our chance at getting our photo made. Once we had checked this off our list, we headed back across town to our rental home to get ready for our afternoon boating/snorkeling adventure.
The bride and groom had arranged a snorkeling excursion for those that wanted to attend. Sebago Watersports curated the trip out to the reefs. We went on the afternoon snorkel trip they offer. It’s a great option for your group if you are wanting to get out on the water a bit, and see some of the beautiful reefs off the key. We had a smooth trip out to the reef, and I enjoyed soaking up some sunshine off the back of the catamaran. After an hour or so out on the water, we returned to shore with hungry stomachs. We went back to the rental house and prepared ourselves for the rehearsal dinner that was held at the Waterfront Brewery.
After a delicious dinner at the brewery, we all wandered back down to Duval Street for the sights and libations of Key West nightlife. We popped in Dirty Harry’s and were immediately drawn to the live music surrounding us. I did not take long and I was making my way back to our rental house to rest up for the big wedding day. The group continued wandering down Duval, but I was happy to crawl into our comfy bed.
The morning of the wedding the bridal group all met at the Blue Macaw off Whitehead Street for brunch. They have a great shaded outdoor patio that you can sit on and watch the bikers and pedestrians pass by while you enjoy your brunch. I had one of their house Bloody Mary’s and it was absolutely perfect. It had the right amount of spice and flavor. For my breakfast, I again ordered by the suggestion of our waiter, the Blue Beni. Their version of the Benedict consisted of mini waffles versus English muffins and pulled pork instead of ham. It was absolutely scrumptious. After a delightful brunch, we headed back to the rental house to start getting ourselves ready for the wedding.
The wedding was held at the West Martello Tower. They had originally planned to get married under the massive banyan/strangler fig tree located in the botanical gardens, but Hurricane Irma ravaged the gardens and unfortunately, the tree was lost. The root alone was twenty-five tons! It must have been a breath-taking sight. They were able to move the wedding to a small spot inside the gardens, referred to as the Butterfly Garden. It was slightly cooler in this shaded spot, so everything worked out as it should have.
When the photographer, Rachel E. Ligon, arrived at the house, the festivities truly began! We started popping bottles of champagne and celebrating what is going to be a very memorable day for our friends. After taking a few photos at the house of the bride getting gussied up, we all made our way down to Atlantic Boulevard to watch our friendship vow their everlasting love to one another.
We cozily gathered inside the Butterfly Room at West Martello. There was a steel drum playing live some of the bride and grooms favorite songs. The sounds of the drum and the distance waves crashing on the beach just beyond the tower really set the mood for a magical ceremony. My husband was the officiant for the wedding and hearing him present the ceremony brought waves of tears to my eyes. It took me back to our wedding day and memories of us speaking similar vows to each other and made my heart fill with love and emotion.
After the ceremony, we all reconvened at Michael’s off Margaret Street. We were all grouped together and seated towards the rear of the restaurant in an outdoor patio style seating. The ambiance was cozy and tropical. The weather was warm, but I do not recall being hot or feeling uncomfortable sitting outside. We were severed several appetizers, to begin with, the coconut shrimp being one of my favorites. We had a choice of entree and followed dinner up with wedding cake for dessert. The groom, a certified sommelier, opened several magnum bottles of wine. We all had a bit of fun taking photos next to these larger-than-life bottles of wine.
After dinner, much of the wedding party made a last minute stop at Sloppy Joe’s just around the corner from our rental home. I could hear the groom telling everyone “You can’t come to Disney World and not go to the Magic Kingdom.” Sloppy Joe’s has been an establishment in Key West since 1933.
The following morning, we all sadly had to start packing our bags and start making our way back to the airport to return home. I had gone to bed earlier than everyone the night before because I had a few more stops on my list of things to see in Key West before we headed out. (Plus I did not want to be hungover traveling home.)
I rode my bike for one last time down a few blocks to the Cuban Coffee Queen. They are a well-known location due to the large Key West mural on one side of the building. They have the most incredible cafe con leche, which was my sole mission during the early hours of the morning. They also had some breakfast items for sale, but I wanted to wait for my husband to join me for our final breakfast in the key. Once we were together, we decided to hit up Sandy’s Original Cuban Sandwich shop just down the road. We were told by a long-time Key West native that we had to go to the original Sandy’s on White Street. They have been operating out of here since 1984. They had an incredibly delicious Cuban sandwich, tostones, and croquetas de jamón, the latter of which made me very reminiscent of Puerto Rico.
We successfully saw everything and then some during our time in Key West. It truly was a magical and memorable extended weekend trip. We were so fortunate to have been introduced to this little slice of heaven by such dear friends, and lifelong visitors/residents of Key West. Even though we have been home for just a short while, we are already talking about going back again next year for a reunion. If you are looking for a laid-back place to vacation, put Key West on your radar!
Saturday evening we had the luxury of trying out the new menu at Arricia Trattoria in The Hotel at Auburn University located on College Street in Auburn, Alabama. Several things that I really like about Arricia Trattoria is that they serve dinner seven nights a week. I like not having to plan around a restaurant’s own schedule to accommodate my own dinners and events. Also, they have a Mediterranean style menu. I lived abroad for some time during college and really fell in love with the style of food and the pace of life found in many of the countries along the Mediterranean. Being able to have an experience and a little taste of that culture is always delightful to me, especially when executed accordingly. Lastly, the ambiance of the restaurant can suit any occasion. You can enjoy casual attire and a more casual dining experience, but you can also dress to the nines, and enjoy an exquisite, bougie date night here.
Upon entering the restaurant you are greeted by an open style kitchen. I love being able to see into the kitchen in which my meals are going to be prepared. We stopped and spoke briefly with the executive chef, Leo Maurelli III. Leo and my husband have been friends for many years, both graduating from the Hotel and Restaurant Management program at Auburn University. We have followed Leo’s culinary adventure from Central in Montgomery to here locally at the hotel. We have been blown away many times by his culinary skills and we were excited to see his new menu rolled out at Arricia.
We ordered a mixture of smaller plates and shared them together. We often opt for this style of eating when we go out. We like to try a variety of things, and often times I do not want or cannot eat an entire portion myself. The new menu here is perfect for that style of eating, but you definitely could enjoy the portions on your own too if you do not like to share.
For starters, we began with Leo’s choice, which consisted of the cillengini with sweetie peppers, basil, and balsamic. The sweetie pepper was something new to me. They originate from the Peruvian Amazon, and although they look tiny and fierce, they are sweet and delightful. I loved getting to try a new take on a classic dish (Caprese salad). We also tried the grilled octopus that was served with fingerling potatoes and a delicious, spicy romesco sauce. My husband about devoured this entire dish by himself. The third dish chef had us try was the Ahí tuna crudo. It was the standout dish for the evening. The tuna was light and refreshing, and the garnishes of lemon oil, citrus, shallots, and fennel made this my absolute favorite dish. It was delicate, yet very layered with flavors, and was a combination that I had never tried before. I thoroughly enjoyed the citrus pairing with the tuna.
We were enjoying our shared style supper so much we continued on our dinner throughout the evening in this style. Next up, we ordered the roasted beets, the heirloom polenta, and the burrata salad. The roasted beets stole my heart. I am a huge fan of beets, especially when they are cooked in a creative and delicious manner. The roasted beets had been tossed lightly in lemon oil and had a sprinkling of crushed pecans and blue cheese on top. It was absolutely scrumptious and another standout dish this particular evening. The burrata was also simple and delightful. The polenta was a huge hit with my husband. Polenta has a similar taste and consistency to grits, but they are different in that grits are typically made from white cornmeal and are ground finer, and polenta is made from ground yellow corn and is much coarser. It was creamy, and oh so good.
Even as we were getting full, we found ourselves unable to stop eating. We wanted to try one of the fresh plates of pasta they were making that evening so we ordered our favorite to share, the carbonara. It was delicious! The entire meal reminded me of being at a grandmother’s house in Italy; more food than you could ever possibly eat, and everything reminded you of home and comfort.
We had any bits of food we had leftover boxed up so we could finish enjoying them at home. This food was so incredibly good that we could not dare let even a scrap go to waste. We wanted dessert but were too full to continue eating. We ordered the tiramisu to go so that we could enjoy it later at home.
We highly recommend that you check out A.T. on your next date night! They often also have jazz in their lounge area, so follow them on their social media outlets for updates on their events and happenings!
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!
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 berries, an outstanding way to cap off another truly memorable evening doing what we love.
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.
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
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!