Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Breakfast with Roosters: Blue Heaven Restaurant, Key West

A Restaurant Review

Behind the shuttered blue building on Petronia Street in the heart of old Key West, lies Blue Heaven Restaurant.  Street appeal doesn't earn an A plus, but the food sure does.

According to their website, “On September 19, 1992 Suanne the artist and Richard the writer cooked and served black beans, rice, and fish to their first lunch customers on the painted picnic tables under the tropical almond tree in the outdoor dining area

One and a half years later Richard lured his brother Dan down from his chef's position at the Carolina Inn in Chapel Hill, N.C. A formally educated chef, who started in the restaurant business at age 14, Dan wasted no time taking over dinner at the Key West restaurants. The fish plate turned into Black Grouper seared with dried herbs and served with a key lime honey glaze and a warm cucumber and red onion salad.

Journalist Charles Kuralt said Dan's scallop sauce "would make cardboard taste good." 
So, the funky place grew to legendary fame and remains quintessential Keys.

My husband and I entered through the gate and passed an outdoor shower with a sign reading, “Showers- $1.00, To Watch- $2.00.” We heard roosters crowing and a saw chickens scurrying among the tables. Definitely the free-range type. It was too early in the day for anyone to appear on the primitive wooden stage, whose proscenium was a row of blue bottles, but the scene held an electric and eclectic air.

Coffee was brought promptly, an extraordinarily good mug with a hint of vanilla. Our waitress offered the house specialty, the BLT Benedict- crispy bacon, chunks of Florida lobster and tomato served on an English muffin with a poached egg.  I couldn’t refuse. All of this came topped with Key Lime inspired hollandaise.  WOW. 

I proclaim the combination of bacon and lobster outstanding.  Florida spiny lobster is a bit chewier than the Maine variety, but still buttery and sweet.  Florida lobsters have no claws so all the meat comes from the tail.

I noticed another posted sign which boasted,” serving heaven on a fork and sin in a glass.” At this hour I skipped the alcohol, but truly my eggs were transcendent.  I ate way more than I should, as did Jay with his bacon, lobster and cheese omelet.

After all that food, we didn’t need or eat any lunch, instead we just toured the island until Happy Hour.  While breakfast ran around $30 per person, the cost was worthy of the feast.  I’ll give Blue Heaven four stars. Be sure to come early for breakfast and make reservations for dinner. 
Website: www.blueheavenkw.com

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Top Chef at The Players Club Sawgrass

Amidst cold January temperatures in Jacksonville, three chefs at The Players Club Sawgrass broke a sweat over a hottest contest in town.  TPC Executive Chef, Hector Gonzalez, laid down a challenge to his staff and they bite at the chance to compete for the title Top Chef.

Members and guests arrived for their first ever Club culinary competition. They savored vegetable and goat cheese ravioli with scallop mousse topped with stuffed calamari in a Pomodoro sauce, prepared by Tim Cacia. Tim’s flavorful recipe calls for braising two wine corks in the sauce, to keep the calamari from becoming tough.

Jay Norris cooked a Lebanese inspired Dukkah rubbed lamb loin with spring- roll wrapped parcels of spinach and feta. A dollop of hummus and a roast tomato completed the presentation.  Chef Norris said he feels comfortable working with lamb as he trained in Australia and New Zealand, where the meat is extremely popular.

Marvyn Mizell whipped up a colorful entrée of lemon meringue grouper with squid ink risotto. A raspberry

horseradish reduction was drizzled on the plate which further added to the dramatic display. I heard comments from many folks who said they were surprised with this delightfully light and unusual dish.

After an hour and a half of sipping complimentary wine and sampling the entrees, the tasters voted. Chef Hector Rodriquez announced the winner and presented prizes. Chef Cacia placed third, Chef Mizell earned runner-up and Chef Norris won the award of Top Chef honors, and perhaps earned the nickname TC of TPC.

Social and Member Events Coordinator, Jamie Fowler added, “With such great crowd support, we’re going to plan a similar spring event, perhaps a grilling competition on the lawn.”  I won't miss it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

On the Twelfth Day of Christmas...

On Twelfth Night I threw a party, as I do every year. The Christmas wreath comes down and Carnival (Mardi Gras) decorations go up.   I bake a King Cake in celebration of Three Kings Day, also known as The Epiphany.

Most people are confused with the Christian holiday that commemorates the biblical story of the three wise men, Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar, who followed the star to Bethlehem. They brought gifts to the Christ child.

Christians celebrate Epiphany with a variety of traditions: some cities hold parades, as they do in Florence, Italy.  In Latin America children dress up in king costumes and go door to door in their neighborhoods singing carols. Some children leave treats outside, like Christmas Eve milk and Cookies for Santa, except these goodies are for the three kings and their camels.

In France, people eat galette des Rois, or "king cake," that contains a trinket or bean hidden inside. The person who receives the piece of cake with the trinket becomes the "king" for the day. This year my husband, Jay, found the  plastic baby (representing baby Jesus) hidden in his dessert and declared himself "king."

Twelfth Night or King Cake parties at our house began in 2003, when Jay joined the Krewe of Endymion. This club, based in New Orleans, sponsors the Saturday night parade held the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Now... more confusion: Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras (Mardi is Tuesday in French) a day of feasting and partying. “Carnival” describes the period of time between Twelfth Night, which is always January 6, and Fat Tuesday, which falls on a different date each year, depending on when Easter occurs.   Ash Wednesday, which follows Mardi Gras, marks the beginning of the Lenten season, traditionally a time of fasting. Hence, Fat Tuesday originated when people made a habit of gorging themselves with food before making the culinary sacrifices prescribed by the Catholic Church during Lent.

My party menu always features Cajun and Creole food.  This year I served spicy Red Beans and Rice and golden sauced Shrimp Ettoufee.  King Cake, more like coffee cake, was served for dessert but the real star of the party was Flaming Cafe Brulot. Strong chicory coffee is mixed with sugar, spices and then ignited with warm brandy and Grand Mariner liquor. Gorgeous. (Perhaps the flames got overly wild this year!) As usual, my husband and Gary Granfield did the honors with great fanfare and superior results.

A Twelfth Night party makes a terrific way to end to the Christmas holidays and, of course, look forward to a Mardi Gras trip to Louisiana. Click here to see the recipe for Cafe Brulot.

Thanks to Angela K. Nickerson for the photo of the man in the Renaissance costume parade in Florence.