Saturday, May 10, 2008

A Tale of Two Cities

I hope the owner of the Dickens copyrights doesn’t sue me. After all, I make a fortune on this blog, right? On to my story:

A beer at the beach

Finding a new place dine is exciting. I enjoy opening a menu for the first time and perusing the creative resume of the author. Sometimes serious, often whimsical, it’s as entertaining to me as anything else I could read. Second to this enjoyment is sharing my discovery with friends and loved ones. So this week I ate at two places in two cities that I have been to frequently. They are very different from each other in almost every way. One is a breakfast joint; the other a beach bar. One is on a quiet street well off the beaten path in Connecticut and the other in the center of happenings on a popular Florida beach.

What a great beach bar

Sunset at Frenchy's Rockaway Grill

I’ll begin in Chronologic order. Frenchy's Rockaway Grill has been one of my favorite places to go in the Tampa Bay area for the past decade or so. The 90 minute wait is a clue that I am not alone in this feeling and it is the only restaurant to date where I’m willing to wait that long to eat a meal. From the moment you step into the sandy, wooden paneled interior on your way to the patio overlooking spectacular Clearwater Beach sunsets, you can’t help but feel that THIS is what a Florida beach bar should be like. Rockaway presents no audaciousness and nothing fancy. Plastic patio furniture that jiggles when you try to use a knife sets the tone. The just-old-enough-to-serve-alcohol wait staff sport bright colored T-shirts, suntans and necklaces made of shells (I was once one of those teenagers). I’m sure the location of this place alone would keep the bar busy but then add great food and live music and WOW… what a winner!!

The only way to get fresher fish straight from the Gulf of Mexico would be to go catch it yourself. Frenchy owns a fleet of fishing boats and catches his own local seafood. No middle man and never frozen, the local prize fish is Grouper. It’s a hearty, thick filleted fish that holds up well in many cooking environments. A trip to Florida without trying Grouper would be like going to a Jimmy Buffet concert and not hearing Margaritaville. Frenchy makes a memorable Grouper Sandwich and you can get it several ways. Blackened is my favorite but grilled or fried are also tasty options.

My menu favorites would be the “She Crab Soup” and the “Fish Tacos”. The soup (which will add an inch to your waste just by looking at it) is, by far, the most stunning combination of rich cream, butter and crab that I could possibly dream of. The tacos are served on flour tortillas with grilled or blackened (your choice) Amberjack and Grouper topped with typical taco vegetation and cheese. There are lime wedges and salsa on the side to waken the couple of taste buds who slept through the blackened fish.

Yummy fish tacos

This week, I had the oysters on the half shell and the tacos. I could not have been more pleased. My 4 year old daughter, Olivia, munched on the saltines served with the oysters. Her hand quickly rises into the stop-right-there position and she offers up a quick “no thanks” when presented with the opportunity to eat an oyster. I believe I have described her strict peanut butter and jelly and all things sweet diet. She’s doing a wonderful job sticking to it although she occasionally slips up and allows a green bean or two in.

Olivia declines the raw oysters in favor of the crackers
Next, we move on to food venue #2. A breakfast and lunch place, Somewhere in Time would be the antithesis of Rockaway. While only 5 minutes from Interstate 95 in Old Mystic, Connecticut, this place feels very isolated. It shares a store front with just a few businesses, has a kitchen smaller than my own and seats about the same number of folks I plan on having at Olivia’s 4th birthday party later this month (that’s metaphor for –not many). This week, while in Mystic on business, I took some of my colleagues to this restaurant. I have been there several times and I find their breakfasts to be mouthwatering and delightful. They have a broad omelet menu and use unique combinations of meats, cheeses and other mouthwatering tid-bits to produce quite the variety. Their home fries are a specialty as well. Cut into small cubes, they are fried perfectly crisp on all sides and have a spicy kick. I have not tasted any quite like these but I believe there was a hint of smoked paprika that accompanied said kick.

Breakfast in New England at Somewhere in Time

Brian and I each had omelets while Darwin had whole grain Blueberry pancakes. I was perusing the menu (lovingly) when Brian ordered so I missed what he had. I later asked and he replied, “The garbage omelet.” I assume he meant it had everything on it because he ate it as if his next stop was the Lethal Injection chamber. We both commented on how fantastic the potatoes were and Darwin enjoyed his pancakes. My Omelet was stuffed with a Portuguese sausage called Linguica, roasted red peppers, slice tomatoes and pepper jack cheese. It was straight from Omelet heaven (I know that place exists and it’s very close to Anything-with-egg-in-it-is-wonderful-ville).

Remnants of my delicious omelet

I find it quite gratifying when places I enjoy are enjoyed by others. It’s sort of a validating feeling. Darwin and Brian both agreed that Somewhere in Time was a small gem that I had stumbled across. Interestingly enough, Lisa isn’t horribly fond of the food at Frenchy’s (no knock on Frenchy’s- Lisa just is a picky eater who doesn’t care for seafood) but she loves the atmosphere and she goes for that. We’ve been together for nine years and she just tells me this. Duuuhhhhh. I should’ve known. She did, however, like the breakfast at Somewhere in Time when we vacationed up there last year.

It’s an odd sort of curiosity to me how two towns have such different styles yet are equally as compelling to me. Both feature fantastic choices on their menus but geography divides the tastes. I find it glorious that I enjoy both (and many others).

On to this week’s recipe. I have no real wisdom from this article to associate with this recipe other than when I made this for the 1st time, it was delicious. I did not cook this week and I went searching through my queue of printed original recipes for an offering. I settled on the Shrimp and Grits because I just spoke of both seafood and breakfast. Shrimp and Grits was the closest thing in my arsenal but it really has nothing to do with either Rockaway or Somewhere in Time. Still, if you make this, you will not be disappointed (unless you are allergic to shellfish –then we have a problem. Please scroll back to the meatloaf recipe from late last month).

Twisted Shrimp and Grits

¼- ½ pound chopped Pancetta
2 ½ cups shrimp stock (see below)
1 cup quick grits
½ stick (4 tablespoons) butter divided
2 tbsp chopped parsley
2 tbsp chopped chives
¼ tsp Cayenne pepper (or to desired heat)
Salt and pepper to taste
1 lb shrimp peeled and de-veined (1 ½ lb if you use head on shrimp)
2 tbsp+ 1 tsp olive oil divided
Juice of 1 lemon

For the shrimp stock:

Once the shrimp are peeled, add peels (and heads if you bought head on) to 3 ½ cups cold water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce to 2 ½ cups (about 7 minutes). Strain and reserve liquid.


In the same pot used for shrimp stock, sauté the Pancetta until Pancetta crisps. Drain most of the fat leaving just a bit. To the Pancetta add stock, grits and 1tbsp butter. Bring to simmer, reduce heat to low. Season with Cayenne pepper. Cook an additional 3 minutes.

In sauté pan, melt 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. Add shrimp. Cook on medium heat until pink (approximately 2 minutes per side). Squeeze lemon over shrimp just after turning. Remove from heat and set aside.

To plate, place a good ladelful strategically placed on plate. Garnish with Shrimp. Sprinkle with Chives and Parsley drizzle 1 teaspoon Olive Oil and serve.

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