Friday, October 19, 2012

A Lunch to Remember-Birmingham, Ala.

I had the opportunity to go to Chez Fonfon the other day. It has been on my list of restaurants to try for a while so when asked to go as a work luncheon I gladly accepted.

What a delectable treat! From the time I walked through the door I was smitten with Chez Fonfon–a beautiful setting within a relaxed atmosphere filled with wonderful savory and sweet aromas floating in the air. It is one of those places where you know from the moment you sit down you are about to experience a memorable dining moment.

What is even more impressive is that owner and well-known chef Frank Stitt is present in his restaurant. Even after the fame he still wants to be there working and talking to customers. I was a little star struck when I met him. I will admit it. But you see I view chefs as my celebrities. I am sure others would love to meet actors, singers and athletes, but for me it is those in the culinary world that make me awestruck. (I am sure I would not turn down meeting other celebrities, but to meet Eric Ripert, Marcus Samuelson, Rick Bayless, Gordan Ramsey–to name a few– would be a really cool experience for this girl.)

Everything sounded great on the menu. There were many options that I would have been extremely pleased with having, but when the server came over and said the soup of the day was cauliflower soup it was settled. I had to have it. My husband and I were treated to a wonderful roasted cauliflower soup at a beautiful B&B (Carter’s Rest) on the Isle of Skye during our Scotland honeymoon. I have tried to recreate the soup, but haven't exactly figured it out. I suspected that if any establishment could do it, it would be one of Frank Stitt's restaurants. His version was divinely good. I was pleased with my choice to the point that if I were not in a restaurant I would have turned it up cupping the bowl until the last drop was spent. I tried my best to empty it though and was pretty successful getting to almost the last drop with my spoon. I also had the Chez Fonfon salad because a friend of mine said she always got that and pommes frites (French fries). Again, delicious. It had a myriad of greens, walnuts, beets and  blue cheese. No dressing needed for this simple fusion of fresh ingredients. The beets were tender, almost sweet in the salad. The combination was delightfully surprising.

There are several choices that would appeal to many taste buds. You can find anything from pheasant to crab cakes to a juicy hamburger. The food is not pretentious; it is just solidly great using fresh ingredients in classic ways. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes doing simple food is harder than preparing something complicated with numerous components on the plate.

I haven’t mentioned dessert yet, and I probably should have led with that. As we walked in we were taunted by a buffet that held the desserts of the day so my table decided we couldn't leave without trying one of those beautiful creations. Four forks and a pear tart were brought to our table. I didn't care how full I was, I was going to indulge in such a wonderful confection. It was delicate with just enough sweetness. I have thought more and more about that pear tart since leaving, wondering if I could attempt it. I didn't have coffee because I am a hot tea drinker but my fellow lunch mates bragged on its flavor. I think the lesson here is–don't leave Chez Fonfon without trying a dessert and maybe a cup of coffee.

Will I be going back? Absolutely. I am thinking a lunch or dinner date there with my husband in the immediate future may be in order. Pear tart, I will see you soon. XXOO

Visit Chez Fonfon for more info on how to get there and what they serve. Chef Stitt also has two other restaurants you may be interested in–Highlands Bar & Grill and Bottega. 
Chez Fonfon on Urbanspoon

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Fun, Flavorful & Fresh: Sounds Good to Me – Homewood, AL

Pinches Tacos
I want to tell you about a place in Homewood. We have been there twice now, and if it were up to my son I think we would be there three times a week just for the steak burritos.

Pinches Tacos has been around for a couple years now, and we kept saying we needed to go there. We finally made it. Now I am regretting that we have missed out on the last couple of years since it has been open.

My husband and I have tried a variety of the tacos, which we have liked because they are seasoned well and tasted very fresh. If you have read my posts you know I am a big fan of soft, homemade corn tortillas so Pinches already had some points there. This last time though I got chicken flautas by recommendation of the cheerful lady taking our order. Most places you think chicken flautas are rolled into tight cigar-like rolls and deep fried with no flavor except grease. Nope. Not here. They were lightly fried and quite large. They were drizzled with sour cream and a little bit of queso. Yum! Writing this makes me want to go back for another order of those. I did share with my husband, and he was very much appreciative of that.
Photos courtesy of Arden Ward

The kiddos had Jarritos to drink (my son got grapefruit and my daughter got pineapple), which are always fun. And I don’t mind them having them on an occasion especially because they are made with real sugar. I think it would be fun to go back and try the adult beverages. I bet they make a mean margarita. In fact, I would like to try the blood orange margarita. Doesn’t that sound yummy?

It truly is a fun environment with great food. We will go back again…and probably real soon. The parking is tricky, but every time we have gone we have lucked up and got a parking spot close.  I can imagine this place is hopping on the weekend nights, and many people walk to Pinches. (Parking is available on both sides of 19th St., and you can park after 4 during the week and all weekend long in Dr. Abroms parking lot.) Even if you have a hard time finding parking, it will be worth it.

I think tacos are the world’s most perfect casual food next to pizza because you can make them healthy or totally break the diet with them. And at Pinches you really can have them healthy…if you choose!

Though our next adventure with Pinches is to try Tamale Tuesdays! We love some tamales so I am pretty excited about trying Pinches’ tamales. And the sopas and the corn and, well you get the picture. There are many things I am looking forward to trying! Get more info about Pinches Tacos. Pinches Tacos on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Cuban and Mediterranean Cuisine at its Best – Kennesaw, Ga.

Because our son is on a competitive soccer team we do some traveling across the state and to neighboring states. And we are always looking for great local restaurants to try. 

While we were in Kennesaw, Ga., we were on the search for something filling and tasty, yet somewhere that could be healthy enough for our son – no fried foods before soccer games.

After a search on the Internet we came across great reviews of Papi’s Cuban & Mediterranean Grill. It sounded good, and so we were up to trying it. We are truly glad we did.

The restaurant is fun and lively. The night we were there a band was setting up with steel drums. That is always a plus for a family with children, especially a talkative, feisty toddler.

Every day there is a tasty, authentic special dish in addition to the plentiful menu. I decided to give Friday night’s special - Ropa Vieja (shredded beef) with black beans, white rice and maduros – a try.  If you don’t know what maduros are, they are yummy caramelized plantains. This was pretty fantastic. The Ropa Vieja was so tender. It had been slow cooking all day in seasonings. It melted in my mouth. When the waiter put down my plate I thought there is no way I can finish that, but I did a pretty good job downing most of my dish. So much so that I couldn’t even fathom getting that piece of tres leche cake that I was eyeing.

Ropa Vieja
My husband who loves a good Cuban sandwich couldn’t resist trying anything else but their very own piled high with smoked pork marinated with Papi’s secret recipe, ham, Swiss cheese with dill pickles, mustard and mayo on fresh, soft Cuban bread.

Cuban sandwich
Our soccer player got hallacas, which are a Santiago version of the tamale with ground corn and pork wrapped in corn leaves and boiled, and a side of rice. My son has had many a tamales in his young life and rated these with two thumbs up; that is once he got into them. The hallacas were tied.  He also did a good job of eating my plantains.

My daughter…well she tried the chicken fingers. Go figure! She liked them though.

There were lots of interesting things on the menu that I would like to try if I lived closer. It was pretty packed so I can imagine they get a lot of business.

The menu also had an interesting story of how Papi’s came to be. I was sitting there before we got our food reading it, and then realized I was tearing up. The owner, Rey, yearned for a life in the US, free from his birth country’s turmoil. In 1990 he made his way here with the clothes on his back and his father’s pork marinade recipe. He became a US citizen in 2002 and has been serving that secret recipe at Papi’s-making his and his Dad’s dream of sharing their delectable food come true.

You can tell that Rey passes that passion and spirit into his restaurant. The staff is friendly and the food has love and care right inside each dish.

If you are in the Kennesaw area, stop by and try some delicious food. Papi’s also has three additional locations in Georgia – Midtown Atlanta, Stockbridge and Lawrenceville. You will be glad you ventured out and tried Papi’s Cuban and Mediterranean Grill. 

I am so getting the tres leche cake next time we are there!

Monday, June 25, 2012

A Cut Above - Cajun Cleaver - Birmingham, AL

Nick Morris, Owner of Cajun Cleaver
Do you recall the old TV shows where you would see the town butcher carving up what someone would have for dinner that night? He would cut it exactly how they wanted, as much or as little as they wanted and then delicately wrapped it up in white paper. That kind of service is really not typical anymore. But you can experience that if you live in the Birmingham area.

Nick Morris at Cajun Cleaver offers a full butcher shop plus more and has even been recognized by some kids in his area as “the Butcher” when he is in public. And that makes Nick very proud. Cajun Cleaver opened the doors three years ago in its' location on John Hawkins Parkway providing a place for locals to purchase great, fresh meat and other products with no added preservatives and no added fillers.

Nick even makes his own homemade sausage. The two most popular sausage flavors are Andouille and Boudin, but Nick said the Thai chicken sausage has built up quite a following. Try using the mild and spicy Italian sausage with your favorite marinara sauce recipe and spaghetti. That is what we do, and this is a favorite dish in our house.

Hand-cut steaks to any thickness/thinness you prefer, hand-pattied hamburgers, pork, chicken and a wide variety of sausages, make up some of the fresh meats you will see in the shop. They also have fresh seafood from time-to-time. If you aren’t in the mood to cook, grab something that was prepared by the crew like a smoked chicken or rack of ribs. Or pick up a frozen dish like a pan of Chicken Tetrazzini, Jambalaya, and one of their many sides to throw in the oven when you get home.There are numerous choices of frozen options, and they always reheat well.

Cajun Cleaver also stocks a great selection of specialty beer and wines.There are so many things about this store that we love. We have tried a little bit of everything, and have only praises.

We make every effort we can to drive out and buy our favorites like pork tenderloin stuffed with cream cheese and spinach; beef filets to grill with tasty sides like the Tasso mac ‘n cheese and creamed spinach; spicy chicken chili and the wonderful sausages that we use in about everything and by themselves.

Nick knew he wanted a small neighborhood place where he and wife, Adrienne, would know all of their customers by name and that is what they have. No matter when I can call or go in, Nick remembers me and my family. He and Adrienne are great and caring business owners, and it shows in everything they do. The proof is in the food. And it is great in my book.

They have hopes to add cheeses and more specialty items in the future. I can’t wait to try these out too! Pick up some meat for the week, or grab a frozen dinner to throw in the oven tonight. Visit Cajun Cleaver online at or like Cajun Cleaver on Facebook.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Authentic Cuisine Full of Flavor at Los Angeles Burrito - Alabaster, AL

Have you ever been to one of those places where you knew you just ate something authentic? And it made you smile? Well that is Los Angeles Burrito. Located in Alabaster in an obscure strip mall is a unique Mexican/American restaurant.

You may have driven past it and noticed the beautiful window paintings that are crafted by the owner. Once you walk in you can see even more of the talented Owner Javier Lopez Garcia’s work.

Chicken Sope and Steak Taco
Al Pastor Taco and Chicken Taco
The food has been catered to keep with Authentic Mexican, but still offers Americana cuisine as well. You have the option to try authentic Mexican tacos or the more Americanized version. I prefer (love) the authentic taco that is just simple with your choice of meat, onion and cilantro on a warm, homemade corn tortilla. Squeeze a lime over it right before you eat. Oh me. I could eat five of the steak tacos at once!

Another favorite of mine is the sope. This delightful Mexican savory is a fried masa cake with refried beans, meat, lettuce, and crumbles of queso served on top. The Torta is a whopping sandwich that is filling and quite the tasty lunch or dinner option. There is also a namesake burrito on the menu. My husband tried it. It was really good, and really huge. It is filled with so many things I can’t even recall them all. You will need a big appetite to order this one! There are just so many things I would suggest. Other people have recommended us to try the hamburgers/cheeseburgers. I could go on and on for things to try at Los Angeles Burrito.

There is also a selection of Mexican sodas, Jarritos, and Mexican Coke, which has real sugar (not high fructose corn syrup). Those with a sweet tooth you will want to end your meal with a licuado. It is simple and simply good. Milk, ice and fruit - in flavors like mango, papaya, chocolate, strawberry, pecan, cantaloupe, banana or any fruit in season. We have friends who can’t leave without getting a couple of these for the road home.

 We haven’t gone for breakfast yet, but it is on our list. It has been tempting us since we have been going there. I can only imagine that it will be just as good as what we have had for lunch and dinner.

The Garcia family moved to Alabaster 10 years ago from Los Angeles and have been making their family’s traditional recipes for more than five years at this location.They wanted to share something they love with the area. The family is always kind, and the food is always great. You can't ask for much more than that.

Make a trip to Alabaster, and go have a steak taco or three for me! Visit Los Angeles Burrito on Facebook.
Los Angeles Burrito on Urbanspoon

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Up for a Great Burger in a Cool Town? I Do Believe So! - Farm Burger - Decatur, Ga.

photo by Sara Hanna

Okay. Here is no secret. I love a good burger. I don’t like going to a chain place for burgers because I want to decide what I want on my burgers and what type of meat, if that is an option. I like knowing I have more options than just mustard, ketchup and American cheese. Give me some creative toppings to choose from if I want to take my burger up a notch or two.

I get overjoyed when I see that I can choose a different type of bun or see that my bun is homemade from inside the store or a local bakery. Oooohh, fresh-baked buns. Yum.  When we were staying in Decatur, Ga., over the summer for a family vacation I saw Farm Burger, and I knew we had to go there.

Everything about this place sang to me. The atmosphere is fun and inviting. The food is made with quality ingredients, and the end result is a great creation that you can taste from the first to the last bite. You can choose a burger of beef, which is grassfed, antibiotic- and hormone-free, locally raised, chicken or quinoa veggie. Then there are the toppings. There are 11 free options to add to your burger. You can also have fun and with an additional $1 or $2 can get creative with toppings such as a fried farm egg, pork belly, age-smoked Gouda, and pimento and cheese. Come on now…you have got to love that! If you don't want to deal with decisions, just choose their daily special, or I bet if you ask a friendly Farm Burger employee they would gladly offer you up a suggestion.

photo by Sara Hanna
Make the burger even better with a side of hand-cut fries, sweet potato fries, fried, house made b+b pickles or onion rings.I personally tried the onion rings and then grabbed sweet potato fries and hand-cut fries off of other family members' plates (yes, with their permission). All were fantastic. 

Here’s the wonderful ending. I am a sucker for root beer, and they have Abita root beer. Not only that. They serve root beer floats with homemade ice cream. Guess who went back before we left town for a Brown Cow? This girl! And my husband got a Black Cow, and the kiddos ended up with a Creamsicle. Oh yeah. I love Decatur and Farm Burger!

Not only is this a great place to eat, but like their Web site says..."Our food makes ethical eating easy." 

Visit Farm Burger by clicking here.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Pass the Fried Chicken, Please! Gus’s World Famous Fried Chicken - Memphis, TN

As a child I recall that my grandmother made good fried chicken. Crispy, good flavor and full of juiciness. But, (I’m sorry Grandma) Gus’s makes GREAT fried chicken. In fact, is there a bigger word than great? Let’s look it up in the thesaurus. Remarkable. Impressive. Illustrious. Celebrated. How about those words? That may capture it.

This is in downtown Memphis. Walking up to the building you may be unimpressed. I was excited. So was my husband. To one side there were broken sidewalks, dirt piles and weeds growing everywhere. The rickety front door made me know this was about to be a great experience. I actually got excited chill bumps walking through the door.

The jukebox was blasting Jerry Lee Lewis’ Great Balls of Fire as my daughter danced. Everyone was happy. Every one. How could you not? The smell in the air was intense. You could just feel the history in the brick walls. You sat so close you could hear the conversations next to you and could almost touch elbows, but that didn’t seem to bother anyone at all. We saw people dressed from their Sunday best to biker gear to everything in between. We saw families and college students and couples. We saw all colors and all walks of life. All were there to enjoy a recipe that has been made for several years.

The menu is simple: white and dark chicken. Sides are: potato salad, fries (seasoned just right), spicy rice (there is a definite kick), cole slaw and baked beans. You can get individual or family style.

I am not a big fan of eating the skin off the chicken. I know. What is wrong with me? But then I had Gus’s. I couldn’t get enough. It was almost like if I didn’t eat the skin then I was not honoring the chicken or the person who just cooked it so wonderfully well. The seasonings were perfect and right on. I would taste one bite and even though it came straight out from the grease I couldn’t help it. I was willing to let my mouth be burnt a bit to get it in my mouth as quickly as possible.

I ordered a two-piece white, where each piece was served on a piece of white Wonderbread. "No lie baby," as my Dad would say. I saw about 50 loaves of Wonderbread in the kitchen stacked upon a rack. I am assuming they go through that easily in one day. There was something delightful about that warmed bread soaking up the grease from the chicken. I do monitor what my family eats, but you have to live a little. If you are going to splurge why not go all out on a place like this? It felt so good to be bad at Gus’s!

My Grandma Louise would have given it her stamp of approval right after she sank her teeth into a 2-piece dark and washed it down with a glass of sweet tea!

So when you find yourself in Memphis, make your way to Gus’s for an experience like no other.

Find them on Facebook: Gus's World Famous Friend Chicken - Memphis.
{bottom photo courtesy of}

Gus's World Famous Fried Chicken on Urbanspoon