diners drive ins and dives

Panini Pete Does Mobile

Panini Pete's InteriorAlmost six years ago a CIA grad named Pete Blohme opened a casual little sandwich shop in the Fairhope French Quarter.  Blohme’s “everything from scratch” approach was a refreshing addition to the Mobile/Baldwin dining scene.  His mixture of upscale ingredients and novel flavor pairings were tailor made for the artsy Eastern Shore crowd.

Panini PeteThe chef’s panini were so good that people started to take notice.  Important people, like the Food Network.  A few years ago Panini Pete’s was featured on the hit food/travel show Diners, Drive Ins & Dives.  Pete and host Guy Fieri made fast friends and it is a friendship that has open a few doors.  Doors I’m sure Pete had never even considered back when he was the Executive Chef at the University of Alabama.

Since being featured on Triple D, Blohme has appeared on numerous TV shows on the Food Network and CMT.  He is also a member of Fieri’s culinary caravan called the Traveling Road Show and a member of America’s Chefs, a group performing cooking demos for and feeding our troops.

Pete’s fame these days is enough that he is bringing his act across the bay to the state’s second largest city, Mobile.  Occupying the old Loretta’s space in the heart of LoDa.  It’s a prime location with a lot of history, the perfect fit for the guy who has reinvented the sandwich.

Panini Petes MobileFor the second week in a row downtown Mobile has been treated to an age old tradition that is rarely seen in South Alabama, the soft opening.  Last week it was Culinard’s new training restaurant the Kitchen on George this week it was Pete’s place.

The interior is comfortable and trendy while the exterior is pure Mardi Gras, the ivy covering the brick walls is adorned with hundreds of beads from carnivals past.  Pete was of course on hand to meet and greet and was kind enough to give me a private tour of the new kitchen.  I’m a chef; I geek out on stuff like that.  The crowd was happy and full.  Notables on hand from the local food scene were Bob and Buffy Donlon (the folks who rescued Wintzell’s Oyster House) and LuLu’s at Homeport owner Lucy Buffett.

For guests there were ample samples of Pete’s culinary genius being distributed like his amazing beignets, inventive burgers (I was blown away by the Eastern Shore – onion confit and herbed goat cheese) and of course his name sake panini.  So many panini in fact I didn’t get to try them all.  I did make sure to try the famous ones – the Pete’s “Muffaletta” Panino and the House Roasted Turkey (see video below for the 411 on that).  Also available for noshing was Pete’s homemade potato chips.  See what I mean about everything made from scratch?  Oh, for the record Pete makes his own mozzarella cheese, too.

The new Panini Pete’s is a welcome addition to the Port City.  This town has earned the right to have fast food that is also good food.  The restaurant is located at 19 S. Conception Street and Pete plans on opening to the public Thursday; once open they’ll be serving breakfast and lunch Monday through Friday.

Review: Crave with Troy Johnson

Let’s set the stage.  Here is how the Food Network web site describes its new food/travel series Crave with Troy Johnson:

Hosted by food critic and journalist Troy Johnson, Crave takes viewers on a cross-country journey for the most perfect versions of the foods he craves. Enthralled by the culinary wonders surrounding him, Troy will travel anywhere and try anything in pursuit of his obsession. Whether it’s pizza and pork or fried chicken and ice cream, Troy is on a quest to discover foods that make his mouth water while taking viewers on his nation-wide expedition to indulge in his food fascinations.

For those unfamiliar with Johnson he started off life as a music journalist but somewhere along the way became a food critic.  Having found his niche his star began to take off.  In 2007 he became the Troy Johnson Cravesenior editor of Modern Luxury’s Riviera magazine.  It wasn’t long after that the accolades came rolling in.  He has since branched out into broadcast media as a regular guest as a food and drink expert for KPBS radio in San Diego.

Food Network broke Troy in slowly by having him guest on shows like The Best Thing I Ever Ate before handing him the keys to Chelsea Market.  And no doubt the Network is banking on Crave to help fill the void caused by the court ordered stoppage of Diners, Drive-in & Dives.  Although the suit was settled last week and taping should resume soon it may be a while before new episodes hit the air.   Thus the nine episode deal for Crave.

His every-man style should make for a perfect host for a show like Crave.  And as a writer, Johnson knows the value of research.  Check out this gem he once gave a web site, “The Romans invented the cheese wheel and used to roll them along with everything else when they were doing battle.  They think this is why the Romans were able to kick everyone’s asses in Europe. Since cheese doesn’t spoil very easily, they always had a hunk of protein-and-fat-jammed energy source tucked up their man-skirts. Other armies’ food would spoil, leaving them weak and hungry. The cheese-eating Romans kicked their ass.”

So now you know the back story, it’s time for my take on what Johnson calls a, “series of unauthorized biographies of our favorite foods.”  The first thing that comes across is just how natural Johnson is on camera.  Not bad for a guy who has spent most of his career expressing himself in the written word.  It is not an easy transition to make.  His schtick of dropping one-liners steeped in pop culture or obscure historical references is reminiscent of Dennis Miller or Robin Williams.

As far as the show itself, Crave has many of the best elements of previous food/travel shows like Unwrapped, The Secret Life Of and yes Triple D.  It will also appeal to fans of nerdy (for lack of a better word) shows like Food Detectives and the recently mothballed Good Eats.  That is where Johnson’s pension for meticulous research pays off for the viewer.  He covers each episode’s theme from both a historical and a scientific perspective.  And best of all he does it with an irreverent (dare I say raunchy) sense of humor not scene on the Food Network since Anthony Bourdain.

I really liked Crave a lot.  I like the host and I like the way they handle the subject matter.  Visually it is shot well and seems to flow extremely well.  I kept thinking, “A commercial already?”

Crave airs Mondays at 8:30pm/7:30c on the Food Network.

Review: Sandwich King with Jeff Mauro

Jeff Mauro Food Network StarLast week the world (OK the food geek world) watched as Jeff Mauro was anointed the newest Food Network Star after a topsy-turvey 10 weeks of some of the craziest (see Penny Davidi) TV on record.  But now the reality show is over and reality begins.  It’s time to take a look at the Sandwich King.

Star premieres have been a mixed bag.  Party Time with the Hearty Boys and The Gourmet Next Door didn’t excite viewers therefore neither is still around except in occasional reruns.  Guys Big Bite, $10 Dinners and Aarti Party were all well received and all three are still going strong.  Then there is Big Daddy’s House.

Let’s be honest, the first episode of Big Daddy’s House was not very good.  It featured a gaggle of recycled recipes from Food Network’s early years as opposed to the inventive recipes that were host Aaron McCargo Jr.’s signature during the contest.  Speaking of Aaron, throughout the competition he was repeatedly reminded to stop mumbling and to stop turning his back to the camera.  For the pilot he still had not mastered his lessons.  Though the show has improved a little over the years it still isn’t on many people’s list of favorites.

That isn’t a problem for Mauro as he’s a natural born entertainer.  Though he may not have the culinary skills of other season seven contestants like Whitney Chen or Justin Balmes at the same time he’s no Chris Nirschel.  Jeff’s cooking prowess is more than adequate for this show as he has ample technical proficiency to go with his creative flair.

Here’s how Food Network described the Sandwich King in a press release from Monday:

On his new daytime show, Mauro broadens his inspired sandwich resume as he takes Food Network viewers on a delicious odyssey, preparing dishes inspired from some of his favorite local restaurants around his hometown of Chicago, such as the Peoria Packing Butcher Shop and the Isaacson & Stein Fish Market. Whether he is satisfying his cravings for a Chicken Steakhouse Sandwich served on a crusty buttered French bread, a Chicken Vesuvio Sandwich on a French roll with peas, mushrooms and more, or a pressed panini taken to the next level – a Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini; Jeff adds his own twist to each dish – delicious proof that a sandwich is so much more than the sum of its parts.

So there’s the set-up now let’s take a look at the execution.

The first thing that jumps out is that parts of the show were shot on location at a beef stand in Chicago, Johnnie’s Beef.  That’s a nice touch; it was very Triple D-ish.  These Star premieres are usually done on the cheap.  Not so here.  In fact, there’s a great polish on the episode.  The camera work is very interesting with an unconventional angle here or there.

Jeff for his part is just what we came to expect during Star – warm and energetic.  He threw in the requisite stories that Bob and Susie love so much.  He also demonstrated a little food knowledge during his presentation.  He commanded the camera.  Though there were no full on belly laughs, Jeff did manage a handful of one-liners worthy of a chortle.

For a first episode it was extremely good.  I especially like how Jeff showed the viewer how to make both a classic recipe and one that was new and cutting edge.  If Food Network isn’t careful they may just have a hit on their hands.

Among the recipes in episode one is a homemade giardinara to go with the Chicago style Italian beef sandwich that Jeff did in the Comedy Roast episode.  But the shining star was the Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini.  I mean come on, figs and a fatty pork press meat?  How do you not love that?  The recipe for that bad boy is below or you can get all of the recipes from the premiere of Sandwich King HERE.  Be sure to check out my interview with Jeff HERE.

Mortadella and Fig Focaccianini
Recipe Type: Sandwich
Author: Jeff Mauro
Prep time: 10 mins
Cook time: 55 mins
Total time: 1 hour 5 mins
Serves: 4
From the premiere of Sandwich King.
Ingredients
    FIG SPREAD:

  • 2 cups dried figs, stems removed and halved
  • 3/4 cups balsamic vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
    SANDWICH BUILD:

  • 4 squares focaccia bread
  • 8 ounces Italian sharp cheese, such as Fontinella, or asiago, sliced
  • 1 pound mortadella, thinly sliced
  • Olive oil, for brushing
Instructions
    FOR THE FIG SPREAD:

  1. Bring the figs, 1 cup water, balsamic and sugar to a simmer in a small pot.
  2. Simmer until the figs rehydrate and the liquid reduces and thickens, about 15 minutes. Let cool. Once cool, place in a food processor and puree until smooth, 20 to 30 seconds.
    FOR THE SANDWICH BUILD:

  1. Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat or heat a panini press.
  2. Slice 1 focaccia square in half. Place a thin layer of the fig spread on the inside of both halves.
  3. Place a couple slices of cheese on the bottom, and then place 4 ounces mortadella on top.
  4. Close and lightly brush the bread with olive oil. Griddle the sandwich until golden and warm, about 4 minutes a side.
  5. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  6. Grab daintily with one hand and bite like a maniac.

Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives Canceled?

Guy Fieri on the BeachPage Productions which produces Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, Outrageous Food and a handful of other popular food shows is suing the Food Network.  They are accusing the network of pulling a chew-and-screw.  The term refers to people who order dinner at a restaurant then skip out on the bill.

According to a law suit in Minnesota Federal Court, Page alleges that Food Network agreed to purchase three more seasons of Diners totaling 39 episodes.  But one year into the agreement Food Network wants to pull out.

Apparently it isn’t a ratings issue as Food Network wants to keep running Triple D they just don’t want Page involved in it anymore.  So it isn’t really canceled per se it just isn’t currently in production.  Food Network, who owns the contract with star Guy Fieri, claims to be unable to “provide the services of the host.”

Though things should work themselves out in court for now the uncertainty is sure to leave Food Network fans feeling shell shocked.  Especially considering Alton Brown’s announcement this past spring to shut down production of his hit series Good Eats.  If things do not work out that means that two of the network’s most popular shows would no longer be a part of their line-up.

Page Productions also alleges that Food Network has not paid them for work already completed.  The suit was filed by Minneapolis-based law firm Fredrikson & Byron on behalf of Page on May 13th of this year.  The suit does not interfere with Page’s other Food Network property Outrageous Food staring Tom Pizzica.

UPDATE: The Triple D law suit has been settled.  Learn the outcome HERE.

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Stuart in 80 Words or Less

Stuart is a celebrity chef, food activist and award-winning food writer. He penned the cookbooks Third Coast Cuisine: Recipes of the Gulf of Mexico, No Sides Needed: 34 Recipes To Simplify Life and Amigeauxs - Mexican/Creole Fusion Cuisine. He hosts two Internet cooking shows "Everyday Gourmet" and "Little Grill Big Flavor." His recipes have been featured in Current, Lagniappe, Southern Tailgater, The Kitchen Hotline and on the Cooking Channel.

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Stuart’s Honors & Awards

2015 1st Place Luck of the Irish Cook-off
2015 4th Place Downtown Cajun Cook-off
2015 2nd Place Fins' Wings & Chili Cook-off
2014 2015 4th Place LA Gumbo Cook-off
2012 Taste Award nominee for best chef (web)
2012 Finalist in the Safeway Next Chef Contest
2011 Taste Award Nominee for Little Grill Big Flavor
2011, 12 Member: Council of Media Tastemakers
2011 Judge: 29th Chef's of the Coast Cook-off
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Wing Cook-off
2011 Cooking Channel Perfect 3 Recipe Finalist
2011 Judge: Dauphin Island Gumbo Cook-off
2011 Culinary Hall of Fame Member
2010 Tasty Awards Judge
2010 Judge: Bayou La Batre Gumbo Cook-off
2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Award Nominee
2010 Chef2Chef Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2010 Denay's Top 10 Best Food Blogs
2009 2nd Place Bay Area Food Bank Chef Challenge
2008 Tava: Discovery Contest Runner-up

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