Sunday, September 19, 2010

Lunch at Barbara Jean's

I love food. I especially love food that lingers in my memory, that stands out from the crowd, that makes me wax eloquent (or at least loquacious) about the taste, the texture, the experience. And that is why, though we didn't EAT dessert first, I have tell you about it first. They call it Chocolate Stuff, and frankly, I don't care what they call it, as long as it is always on the menu. The flavor of the chocolate is rich and fudgy and dark without being too dark. The texture is what makes this dish AND makes it difficult to adequately describe. It's first one spoonful of gooey warm pudding, the next spoonful with a bit of a caramelized crunch. The first time we had it, it came topped with whipped cream---a huge scoop of it. Today Andrew, our server, decided we needed the whipped cream separate. We did not argue with Andrew, because he was right. Chocolate stuff is served very warm (and gooey, did I mention gooey??) and being able to add the whipped cream on an as-needed basis was, well, perfect.

A couple at a table near us overheard us ordering Chocolate Stuff and asked us if it was all the menu claimed it to be. We assured them, owing to our prior experience on a dessert-only date to Barbara Jean's a month ago, that if they liked chocolate they would LOVE this Stuff. There are times when I recommend things with some reservation, hoping that I'm not leading someone astray. This was not one of those times. I knew they would like it, and they did.

We first discovered Barbara Jean's over Mother's Day weekend in Beaufort, SC, when we dined there en famille, and waddled away stuffed and happy. Then one day this summer while walking around the historic area of downtown Charleston, I noticed that someone had plopped a Barbara Jean's right there on South Market Street. Technically this might make Barbara Jean's a chain, but it's a regional chain, and according to their website there are only five of them, so it still qualified for coverage here at Did y'all save room for dessert?
The first time we ate there, I had the crab cakes, which were wonderful. I cannot tell you how they compare to say, authentic Maryland crab cakes, but they were as good as or better than ones I'd had in Washington, D.C. Today I thought I'd be what we call brave and order the Chicken Fried Steak with cream gravy, mashed potatoes and a squash casserole that was so good it could have been dessert or a main dish. It took a certain amount of bravery for me, Texan that I am, to order Chicken Fried Steak so far East of Fort Worth, The Chicken Fried Steak Capitol of the World and Massey's Restaurant on 8th Avenue, which had the best CFS the last time I was in town. I even asked Andrew to tell me if he knew how it would compare with an authentic Texas CFS, but he didn't know. So Hubby suggested I order it so I could educate Andrew in case anyone ever asked that question again (it could happen). Well. The steak itself was spot on. Chewy but not too chewy, with a very nice flavor. The cream gravy was just OK, a little on the thin side, flavor- and texture-wise. The breading of the CFS was tasty, but distractingly crunchy. All in all, considering this was a very Southern restaurant serving a very Texas dish, it wasn't bad. I don't know that I'll crave it, but I'm glad to have tried it.

The mashed potatoes were yummy, which helped make up for the slightly too chunky texture. I realize there are many firm believers on both sides of the creamed vs. mashed potato debate, but to me these potatoes couldn't quite make up their minds whose side they were on. Ah, but the squash casserole...Wow! I must confess, since we had talked about going to Barbara Jean's for lunch today, I found it hard to concentrate on the sermon at church because I suddenly remembered their amazing squash casserole. This might mean that this dish is a tool of the devil, or just that I am weak and easily distracted by the thought of great food on the horizon. Barbara Jean's squash casserole is another one of those foods that that linger in my memory. It was Family Reunion Good, you know, like Great Aunt Whatshername always made for any family gathering, that sort of good. I pity those who don't like squash and will never try this.

Hubby ordered grilled catfish and was given the choice of either grilled or blackened, or a combo of both. He got the combo and said he liked the blackened fish better, although the grilled was more to my taste (aka less spicy). For his sides he got broccoli/rice casserole (mine is better) and stewed tomatoes, which I do not eat, but he loved. Being a good Charlestonian, Hubby is a devoted aficionado of rice, so he was happy the catfish was served on a bed of herbed rice. In case you're counting, that's two rice servings for this meal, and no, that's not too much. I told him he had a great color palette going with his lunch choices. Pretty, isn't it?

With your meal you get a choice of wheat dinner rolls, jalapeno cornbread or pumpkin (!) bread. Do yourself a favor and get a mixture of of all three. The jalapeno cornbread was the perfect mix of sweet/spicy + cornbread flavor. The wheat rolls are usually quite good, though today, not so much. The pumpkin bread, while not your normal dinner roll choice, is spicy and lightly sweet and moist and cake-like. One bite and all the cinnamon/pumpkin spices fill your head, and frankly I think this is a good thing.

FOOD: 4 out of 5
ATMOSPHERE: 2 out of 5

OVERALL RATING: 4 out of 5...We'll go back. I need to have try the crab cakes again and I KNOW I'll be dreaming of Chocolate Stuff and squash casserole!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Breakfast at Saffron Cafe & Bakery

Hubby and I went out for breakfast today at the magical land of Saffron. What makes it a magical land? Hubby and I have been at least three separate times in the last several months only to find it closed. The last time, we pulled up and the lights on inside and the cars in the parking lot gave us false hopes of finally scoring some dessert. But alas, the cars were only construction workers there to work on the remodel.

Last week Hubby was given the task of picking up a birthday cake for someone at the office, and naturally I teased him. "Sure, you're going to Saffron. Have you got a back-up plan? You know, just in case THEY'RE NOT OPEN???" He was indeed able to pick up the cake, it was reportedly delicious and the rumor began to circulate that they were open for breakfast.

Turned out the rumor was true. The remodel is complete and breakfast is served daily, including lunch and some pretty fabulous-looking pastries. I have to mention here that the Best Cake I Ever Ate came from Saffron a few years ago, so I had high hopes.

Hubby ordered the short stack of pancakes with a side of sausage. He liked them both, stating that the pancakes were fluffy and the sausage was really good.

I ordered the French toast, something I rarely do because I think I make the best French toast ever. Their French toast was good, although from the menu description I expected a lot more cinnamon. When we placed the order, the less-than attentive server asked if I wanted the fruit (which comes with it) or sausage. I chose fruit and even told her so. I got both. Mystified? Yeah, we were, too, but since they didn't charge for the extra sausage we let it go and Hubby got extra, something his meat-loving soul relished.

A word about the coffee: The first two cups were very good, despite the fact that I had to ask for a refill. Later, when we were ready to leave, someone began circulating with a coffee pot, and all I could think was, "Where were YOU 10 minutes ago??" The third cup was so bitter and burnt tasting it was a shock to the system. What I want to know is this--how hard is it really to make decent coffee? Just a question for the universe, and since I don't make my own coffee at home, there's only so much I know about it's preparation.

The remodel turned Saffron from functional but small and uninteresting into a space that is relaxing, understatedly elegant and larger. There is also a nice outdoor dining area at the rear of the building, which might have been a better choice because the ambient noise echo of the interior gave Hubby a bit of a headache.

As I said before, the service was lacking. We were served our food before getting forks, knives and napkins, something that Hubby and I agreed was cruel treatment indeed. When I asked for that second cup of coffee, it took a couple of minutes for the coffee pot to make it to the table, and then I had to request more cream. How I love restaurants that automatically give you cream at the same time that they bring you coffee! It's just so right, you know?

Saffron also boasts an assortment of deli-type menu items for lunch, including "Mediterranean Specialties" which may or may not include the interesting, um, appliances above the pastry case. Nope, not sure what they use that for. I am just a simple Southern girl after all...

SERVICE: 2 out of 5
FOOD: 3 1/2 out of 5
ATMOSPHERE: 3 out of 5

OVERALL RATING: 3 out of 5...We'll go back another time, but we hope the service will improve.

Let's get this party started

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. They also say that you should give credit where credit is due. And so it is my pleasure to introduce the inspiration behind "Did y'all save room for dessert."

Libby is a friend from high school with whom I have reconnected through The Magic of Facebook. She is what you might call a Classy Dame, who has, among other talents, giftings and activities, a food blog. It is such a Great Food Blog that it inspired me to try my hand at, well, food blogging. I may never fully attain the culinary level at which she eats and blogs, of that I am aware. I am even accepting of this fact. Food that is too high class kind of makes me nervous, simple Southern girl that I am. But I love to eat out and I love to write, so I thought, why not?

Many many thanks to Libby for being my inspiration!! Hopefully we can share a meal soon that will give us both something to write about :)

Until then, if you dine out in the South, you can count on the fact that your server will ask, sometime near the end of your meal, "Did y'all save room for dessert?"