“‘Twas a brave man, who first ate an oyster.“
I’m really enjoying Flying Fish Brewery‘s NJ Turnpike Exit Series of beers. It’s so quintessentially New Jerseyan to celebrate one of our state’s greatest eyesores and hellholes, and they’re doing it with excellent brews. I reviewed their excellent Exit 11 a while back, which was an American Wheat Ale. Their Exit 1 is a classic Oyster Stout, made with oysters and shells! This was a popular type of stout in England public houses when a pint of stout might be the most vitamins a man would have all day. Now, it’s just a smooth and tasty malty stout that goes great with a dozen on the half shell. The Exit beers only come in 750ml wine bottles, so share with a friend!
I was alone since Firecracker headed home for Christmas, so why not drink away my sorrows? I got these at Whole Foods, along with an Oxo shucking knife. Cost $20. But the experience of shucking oysters for the first time was worth the money. Scrub the oysters well, and discard any that aren’t tightly closed.
I opted for Drago’s Char-broiled Oysters recipe. I like them raw, but I missed these from Louisiana, so what better to eat when I missed by Baton Rouge baby? You’ll need melted butter, fresh parsley, lemon juice, minced garlic, Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning, lots of grated Parmesan, and a little Tabasco. Mix it all up!
Shucking an oyster is easy if you’re patient and confident. Clamp the oyster flat side up in a dish towel, with the pointy end sticking out. Press the point of the knife into the hinge and wiggle it until you get in there and can twist it open. Slide the knife down into the valley of the shell to separate the meat, then do the same to the top. When the knife goes into the hinge you should feel it try to close; it’s alive, after all. Quickly separate the meat to put the poor oyster out of its misery, you heartless hungry bastard!
Cover each one with the cheese and butter and parsley mixture and broil them until the cheese bubbles and the edges begin to brown. I went a little lighter because I didn’t use enough cheese- a cardinal sin- and I wanted the meat to remain juicy. There’s also a salmon patty in the corner. I didn’t have any bread in the house, but I’ll be warming a nice crusty loaf in the oven to soak up the juices, when I do this again. I also used a bit much parsley, but I like it so that’s fine. Next time, I’ll mince it finely.
I like how it turned out- less like Oysters Rockefeller and more like Felix and Acme’s char-broiled oysters. The sweet shellfish really only need a little seasoning. But, on to the beer! The chocolatey smooth stout went very well with them. Because cooking oysters gives them a mild fishy flavor, the strong stout went well with them. I think it might drown out the delicate flavors of raw oysters, but I’ll buy another bottle and try that next. Because now the Plucker is a mother shucker, and I’ll be eating them at home more often. The stout’s a winner- it’s not too heavy like the Samuel Adams Imperial Stout that’s sat in my fridge for months- that’s tasty but too heavy to drink! I’m gonna make stew and chili with it. Flying Fish is quick becoming my favorite New Jersey brewer, because their varieties are readily available and quite good. And their Exit series has been fantastic!
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter,
“You’ve had a pleasant run!
Shall we be trotting home again?’
But answer came there none–
And this was scarcely odd, because
They’d eaten every one.–Lewis Carroll, “The Walrus and the Carpenter”
NYC is a brunching town. And City Crab, located a few blocks uptown from Union Square, does a fine brunch. It’s no bargain, though during happy hour the cocktails are reduced, the oysters are a buck, and some of the beers and drinks are half price. It’s some of the best seafood I’ve had in the city, and it’s worth the extra price.
I had a half & half dozen of Fanny Bay and Pine’s Cove oysters, west and east coast; the small westies were sweet and tart, almost fruity, with a briny finish. The pineys were big and meaty with a buttery flavor and a delicate briny liquor. Some of the best I’ve had lately, up there with Kumamoto oysters at Ebbett’s Grill in D.C. The crab cakes in the Eggs DelMarVa- their take on eggs benedict with a crab cake- also gave D.C. a run for its money, which is surprising because Baltimore/D.C. is supposed to be crabtown. But these were perfectly spiced without overwhelming the crab flavor of the sweet shellfish. Great job on a brunch classic.
The Bloody Mary was one of the best I’ve had in the city- very spicy but not too heavy on the horseradish, not watery, not too thick. Previously I raved about Dinosaur Bar-B-Q’s and the Brooklyn Alehouse’s, but I like this better. The Alehouse uses too much horseradish for me, but if you love that, they make a great mix. Firecracker approved of their mimosas, champagne with just a splash of O.J. Beer selection is good: includes Hoegaarden, Long Hammer IPA, Blue Point Toasted Lager, but only the macros are half price.
Unlike Blockhead’s Tex Mex, our fave brunch place for a budget, this ain’t cheap eats, but it’s worth it. The Eggs DelMarVa are $16 each, the drinks are on the high side but generous in portion. The oysters are great and at $1 per, are a NYC bargain if you come during the right time. They are open for Restaurant Week and the menu looks great- crabmeat gazpacho, lobster tails, crab cakes, key lime pie- so I’d say they are worth a try if you can’t get into the trendy places you’re dying to say you ate at.
As I’ve written before, Louisiana is as much a cuisine and way of life as a geographical place. Famous for the Acadian flavor that French trappers exiled from Canada brought to the area, the influence of Old South, Spanish settlers, backwoods ingenuity, Creole and Choctaw all make their presence known in the cuisine. I first found Louisiana through the writings of James Lee Burke, a crime fiction author of great talent- pick up Black Cherry Blues, or the more recent Crusader’s Cross for a taste- and droved down to New Orleans with a friend of mine. With how seedy a city it was then and how he portrayed it, it’s a wonder I went, and made it back. I remember a handmade sign in the French Quarter decrying the murder and corruption. But I also remember the muffaletta at the Central Grocery, the shrimp etoufee, the boiled crawfish and the pecan pie.
I learned the hard way, the proper way to pronounce pecan. A pee-can is something you piss in, see. But for all James Lee Burke’s love of the Atchafalaya Basin and its people, I never made it there until my most recent trip with Firecracker, to visit her family in Baton Rouge. We went on a swamp tour of the Atchafalaya, sampled gator and catfish caught in it, stopped by the birthplace of turducken, and more. We did so much in six days that I have to write about this in several posts. The overlooked plainer sister of New Orleans, the capital city of Baton Rouge, deserves its own article; there’s quite a bit to do, and quite a lot of good things to eat in that fine city. I’ll save that for next time. This one’s all about the fun we had around the Atchafalaya Basin.
Our first trip was to McGee’s Landing in Henderson. Not only do they offer swamp boat tours, but they have a nice restaurant and gift shop planted right on the water, serving up the denizens of . We snagged a sampler platter and some po’ boys that were delicately battered and fried to perfection; not greasy at all. And let me tell you, I’d had gator before, but never this good. The white tail meat is like the most tender chicken you’ve ever had texture-wise, and the flavor is like mild white fish. Speaking of which, you’ve never had catfish until you’ve had it down South. And Cracker Barrel don’t count. Wow, was this good. About the only delicate fish I’d compare to it in flavor and quality is Walleye at the Tavern on Grand in St. Paul.
Also in the platter were shrimp and crawfish, which was thankfully in season. These little mudbugs make towers of mud along the waterways they inhabit. We found one in the ditch behind Firecracker’s family house. Of course they serve Abita beer at McGee’s, and since it was after noon somewhere we cooled off with a couple Ambers. The tour itself was $20 and in a large shaded flat bottom boat, led by a Cajun tour guide whose name I can’t pronounce. He was quite entertaining- Acadian folks seem to have the same gift of gab the Irish are famed for, but in their own way. With the same gallows-humor, though.
We cruised around a bit admiring cormorants, herons and pelicans, the cypress trees and Spanish moss- which was harvested for furniture stuffing back in the days- and got history lessons on everything from how the Basin was flooded, to Henry Ford started Kingsford charcoal with the remains of the wood he shipped from the basin to build Model T’s with. The most memorable part of the tour was when we squeezed up a canal to a quiet spot where the gators were used to being fed. After calling them by banging a wrench on the side of the boat, he threw chunks of pork fat to “Bruce,” an 8 foot alligator, and a nameless 3 footer who came to get the scraps. Our guide said that a 14 foot bull gator frequented the area, but it was too hot to get a lot of action that day.
The Atchafalaya is the largest swamp in the U.S., and while we have the Great Swamp and the Meadowlands among others here in Jersey, we don’t have alligators. The mob would love to have gators around to gobble up evidence, though. The swamp was eerily beautiful and disturbed only by the cut of I-10 above it. There were some houses out on stilts, reachable only by boat, the ultimate in solitude. Next time I visit I vow to do some fishing- big catfish, bass, and prehistoric alligator gar would all be good fun to catch. And eat.
On the way back we stopped at Hebert’s Specialty Meats, which I’d seen on Andrew Zimmern’s Bizarre Foods. They make the turduckens we’ve all heard about, and while I didn’t have room for a whole turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken, I got some turducken sausage and some boudin. They only serve lunch, and we would have missed it thanks to construction traffic on I-10, so we ate at McGee’s- and I don’t regret it one bit. Though next time I want to get a turducken plate and some boudin balls!
How did I forget to write about our trip to Dogfish Head Brewery over the Memorial Day weekend? It was a busy weekend. I was busy at work and couldn’t write during lunch. But let me tell you, if you’re ever in Rehoboth Beach Delaware, or a short ferry ride away in Cape May, you ought to stop by the Dogfish Head Brewpub for some delicious pub grub and fantastic brews.
Behold their shrimp pesto pizza. Fresh tasting and delicious, the shrimp not overcooked. It went well with the casked 75-minute IPA they were serving. It was a mix of their better-known 60 and 90 minute IPAs. Get it? The Chicory Stout was outstanding, one of the best coffee stouts I’ve ever had. It was a bit strong with the pizza, but smooth enough for a hot summer day.
The crab dip appetizer was fittingly fine for a seashore venue. The only disappointment is that not too many of their specialty brews are available on tap. Sure, there’s a variety- like the tasty Festina Peche, and the fantastically flavorful Palo Alto San Marron unfiltered brown ale- but I’ve sampled them all in bottles already. I was really hoping for some keg-only stuff or their wilder concoctions like the Black & Blue Berry Belgian Ale. I snagged a 750ml of it for take-home, and it’s one of the best fruit beers I’ve had. A bit too sweet, more of a dessert beer than let’s say, Sweetwater Blue from Atlanta. Not as refreshing as Abita Strawberry Lager. I’d class it with Samuel Adams Chocolate Bock, for dessert drinking.
Dogfish Head is one of my favorite craft brewers, and I wish their pub was closer so I could frequent it and taste their rarities. They have a distillery upstairs and craft flavored vodkas and gins up there, also available for drinking at the pub. I had a long drive to D.C., so I stuck with the beer. However, this is a neighborhood gem, and if you’re in the area it’s worth a side trip if you love beer. Next time we tour the actual brewery. You need to get tickets on their website, so don’t show up empty handed.
What’s better than lobster?
Lobster tail stuffed with crab Imperial. The Merion Inn in Cape May offers such decadence, and it is fantastic. Nice chunky pre-cut lobster mixed with luscious sweet crabmeat in a rich sauce. Crab imperial is essential crab salad with some bread cubes, broiled to bubbly perfection, so this is similar to Lobster Thermidor with crabmeat added. It made me look askance at my surf ‘n turf, and wish I’d gotten mine stuffed with crab! The filet was perfectly cooked and very tasty, too.
It’s pricey; this ain’t Maine, and the Merion has jazz piano, it’s not a roadhouse style seafood joint. But if you’re in Cape May, I’d go here for my special occasion instead of the more historic Blue Pig Tavern. The crab cake sandwich there was bland and forgettable. Two lobster tails, a bottle of wine and some delicious appetizers like cheese pastry cigars, and bluefish mousse might run over a yard and 3/4 with tip, but you’ll love it, and remember it.
A lobster roll is simplicity- lobster, mayonnaise, roll. A New England classic, it’s beginning to be appreciated elsewhere. If you spice it up or add fancy ingredients, you ruin the delicate lobster, but I’m sure we’ll be seeing them with bacon or foie gras at some point. Where to get one in New York? Well, near Battery Park and the Financial District on Stone Street, I know just the place- the Urban Lobster Shack. No seats, just a walk-up window serving a short menu of lobster roll, crab roll or tuna roll, clam chowder or bisques, some chips, and a few bottled drinks. For $15 I got a lobster roll, New England clam chowder and a drink. Hard to beat!
This little unassuming storefront caught my eye as I walked past Nebraska steakhouse- a classic joint that makes kick-ass chili from filet mignon tips- looking for someplace other than my usual haunts in the area. Not far from The Burger Shoppe, they challenge the shoppe’s recession special with their own $15 lunch. And depending on the mood you’re in, it’s definitely worth a try. The lobster roll was delicious- the buttery roll cradling a generous portion of fresh, delicate lobster tossed with creamy mayo. Their clam-crammed chowder was creamy and rich, and every spoonful had tasty bits of clam. The roll comes with a teensy dab of coleslaw, that would be my only improvement. The roll isn’t gigantic, but with soup it is more than enough for lunch.
After reading their website, I found that the Shack is a downtown lunch location, and they have a larger restaurant in the East Village with a bigger menu. Definitely worth a try if you want New England style seafood- I’ll be heading there soon.
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