Thursday, March 25, 2010

Alabama & Georgia - BBQ, Fried Chicken, and More

From Birmingham to Savannah and then back to Atlanta:

Highlands Bar and Grill
Oysters, Frito Misto, Chicken Sous Vide – all well executed nothing suprising but good clean flavors and very good service.  Seems like a popular after work hangout of professionals in the area.  I would definitely return it’s farm to table style done well. Deceptively simple looking belying its sophistication. Birmingham, Alabama.

Tuscaloosa, Alabama

Dreamland - ribs had nice char on the outside and were moist but the meat was chewy, not tender.  The meat was really grey in color and flavorless other than the sauce.
Dreamland BBQ, Tuscaloosa AL

Archibald's Tuscaloosa
The pulled pork is moist succulent and has a very subtle jus, though a little underseasoned to my tastes.
Archibald's Pork
Archibald's half rack of ribs was much better than what I had at Dreamland. More tender, but still chewy good char on the outside, I liked the sauce better than Dreamland, but overall just ok.

I made a stop at the Waysider in Tuscaloosa for a quick breakfast. This place is old school a real glimpse of traditional breakfasts like a fried egg, country ham with red eye gravy, grits, biscuits and friendly service.

Waysider Fried Egg, Grits, Country Ham and
Saw's BBQ - I had the pulled pork and the smoked chicken sandwich with white sauce. I loved the chicken sandwich. Juicy pulled chicken with a nice Alabama style horseradish cream sauce.
Saw's Smoked Chicken w White BBQ Sauce

The pork was my favorite of the three in ham, nice sauce good balance of tenderness and smokey charred exterior.  Homewood, Alabama.
Saw's Pulled Pork

Bright Star - this place is like walking into a time machine. The service was incredibly friendly and eager to please. Recognizing my interest in the menu, they comped me a seafood gumbo.  The place was very busy at lunch. The food is all pre cooked then brought out to the diners, who looked like regulars. I had the fried snapper throats, rice and spinach casserole, sweet corn and a tossed green salad. I could not get over the 70's decore. It looks like none of the furniture has been changed for the entire time they've been open.  The snapper throats were fine, obviously fresh and very crispy crunchy exterior, flour based crust. I really liked the sweet corn which tiny little pearls of corn, they must've been boosted with a bit of sugar. 
Bessemer, Alabama.

Martin's - I was just too full to do a meat and three. I had the fried chicken which I thought was very good. No fancy seasonings, just very straightforward fried chicken -- juicy and super crispy crunchy exterior that held up really well as you bit into it.  Montgomery, Alabama.

On the way to Atlanta, I stopped at a highway side farm-stand-peach-emporium called Peach Park. They had peach pie, peach ice cream, peach cobbler, and rocking chairs where you could sit and enjoy your peach ice cream topped peach pie and gaze at a peach statue. Peach Park
More Peach Park Photos.

Savannah, Georgia
Mrs. Wilke's Kitchen – it's a smorgasbord of low country cooking and comfort food. Everything is good, but there are just so many little tastes it's a bit overwhelming and difficult to get the full effect of any single item.  If there weren't such long lines I would love to eat here and just have chicken and two or three sides to get a complete taste.  The experience of sitting at a large table with others is good fun. Sat next to a retired mother of two super friendly woman from Michigan who loves her daughters and loves to visit historic areas. Good fried chicken. Just way too much food.

Mrs. Wilkes

Also had a shrimp and grits at a place on the waterfront not very good, the shrimp were very small and grilled had o.k. flavor but the grits were somewhat lumpy and dry and the tasso gravy was thick and heavy – I think it was probably a good example of the dish, I just prefer the versions in NOLA.  I should've known better than to stop at a place right on the touristy waterfront.

Fresh Air in Macon
Fresh Air BBQ
My favorite BBQ of the trip.  I'm not usually one that goes for a sweet style sauce, but the ribs at Fresh air were juicy, tender without being mushy and the vinegar sauce glazed the meat providing a nice balance of flavors.  The place is just off the highway in a non descript strip mall.  Not exactly the sort of bbq shack I imagined but definitely the bbq itself was what I’d been hoping to find during this trip.  Macon, Georgia.

Fresh Air BBQ Ribs

After having such wonderful BBQ at the Macon branch of Fresh Air, I thought I'd swing by the Flovilla (original) branch of the restaurant. It was as described in a shack on the side of the Gray Hwy (an interesting two lane country road) – driving down that road made me sing Country Road Take me home because that really was what I picture when I hear that song. The Fresh Air in Flovilla was a disappointment. No ribs -- all they had was chopped pork bbq and brunswick stew. The brunswick stew was pretty good, better than a lot of other places and the sauce on the chopped pork was tasty, though I really wished I had just gone back to the branch in Macon. The more I ate the stew the more I liked it. I realize it's the sauce mixed into the stew that has the flavor. Flovilla, Georgia.
I also stopped over at Old Clinton BBQ – a shack of a place with a lot of history. The young women working in the shack are so nice, unfortunately the ribs though nicely charred on the outside, had little flavor.  I suspect they just didn’t have enough turnover.
Old Clinton BBQ

Finally returning back to Atlanta I stopped at Fox Bros BBQ. Hooray! Gabriele my server chatted with me about my trip and wanted me to enjoy Atlanta, she recommended a two way platter with ribs and chicken wings. The wings aren't something I'd normally order, but she was right.  In fact, they were better than the ribs – tender smokey well seasoned.

The sides were also excellent: Frito Pie served in the bag.   She mentioned that it isn’t that common to get frito pie served that way anymore.  She grew up an hour south of Atlanta and she used to have it at the school cafeteria growing up. Definitely not an Alice Waters approved school lunch.

Frito Pie

The other side dish was Fox-o-roni – a mac n cheese covered with brunswick stew. Also very good. I'm tempted to go back just for the sides! The ribs were fine, really bbq'ed smoked with a nice bark on the outside. Just not as flavorful as I like, they needed the bbq sauce to provide all the interest.

I hit a few more spots in Atlanta including Abbatoir which I enjoyed very much.  I would put it at the top of my list for places to return to everything we had was good to excellent, though unfortunately I can’t recall all the details now.  I also sampled a few donuts from Sublime Donuts.  They had some creative ones including a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup donut.  The donuts themselves were very standard bland type which worked well as a canvas for the peanut butter filling and chocolate added to the top.

Reese's Peanut Butter Cup Donut

I had a memorable meal at Watershed Restaurant, this was a must do even though Scott Peacock was no longer the chef.  After having great luck cooking from The Gift of Southern Cooking the book he wrote with Edna Lewis, I had to try the fried chicken.  I started with the shrimp grits on a pullman's plank, which was a delicious bowl of shrimp mixed with grits into a creamy topping for a loaf long cut of toast.  I would order this again and will try to reproduce it at home. 

Watershed shrimp grits and pullman's plank

The fried chicken was exactly as I expected, juicy, tender well seasoned, - a very good example of fried chicken served with light biscuits some smooth mashed potatoes and nicely cooked green beans. 

Watershed Fried Chicken-1

I ended the meal with the "Very Good Chocolate Cake".  The cake is perfect, simple, straightforward no unnecessary elements, just extremely moist cake with a great chocolate icing.

Daddy D’s and Ria’s Blue Bird, both near the big cemetery – I thought the food was fine, both places have a lot of character but not noteworthy from a culinary perspective.

I also gave Woodfire Grill a try.  I admit I was curious based upon watching Kevin, the bearded chef on TV.  I wish I had some positive things to say about the food, most of the dishes just didn’t work.  Though a lot of it looked good on the plate, so many of the dishes didn’t come together.  Even L thought that it was not very good.

Highlights:   Highlands,  Saw’s BBQ, Fresh Air in Macon, Fox Brothers, Abbatoir

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