shamrock

Chef Interview: Corky Sullivan of Shamrock, Rose & Thistle

Tucked away in the quaint and affluent neighborhood of Spring Hill is a little cottage that is an English tea room by day and a trendy gastro pub at night.  I am of course referring to the Shamrock, Rose & Thistle Tea Room and Gastro Pub.  And like the mythical city of Brigadoon, Shamrock, Rose & Thistle is not readily apparent to the naked eye. 

But you don’t have to wait a century for a chance to enjoy Shamrock, Rose & Thistle.  You just have to pull into the parking lot of the Holiday building on Old Shell then drive all the way to the back.  There you will find what looks like a quiet little village with it’s centerpiece being the inviting wraparound porch and wafting scent of fresh baked scones of the Tea Room.

The decor is Old Mobile with a touch of merry old England.  This one-time household has transformed into a cozy eatery cloaked with elegance and charm.  But good looks will only take you so far.  Luckily, the menu is a reflection of the innovative mind of a young, creative chef Ron Sullivan.  He is known to his friends as Corky and the frivolity of his nickname is a hint at the fun approach he takes to plying his craft.

Before commanding the kitchen at Shamrock, Rose & Thistle, Corky spent a few years honing his skills.  Though a Mobile native, he began his career in Orange Beach cooking at Zeke’s Landing.  He is a graduate of the Gulf Coast Culinary Institute at Faulkner State but he has also packed a lot of diverse experience into his brief career.  Sullivan was a sous chef at one of Mobile’s hottest restaurants NoJa owned by molecular gastronomy guru Chakli Diggs.  He held a similar position at Tony Nicholas’ The Hungry Owl and worked the kitchen at McSharry’s Irish Pub in Fairhope.  Chef Corky also ran the show at Mars Hill Cafe for while as well.  Pretty impressive considering he is only 24.

I sat down with Corky recently while enjoying one of his outstanding Wagyu beef cheeseburgers, just two chefs chatting about food.

ME: Corky, has your early experience heading the kitchen at Mars Hill helped prepare you for taking over at Shamrock, Rose & Thistle?

CORKY: A lot actually.  I was kind of learning then and I now have been able to take ideas and let them play out more in this kitchen.  I’ve used the benefits of experience to benefit production.  It’s great to have experience under belt to go into a situation.

ME: So tell me about working for Chakli Diggs at NoJa.

CORKY:  I loved working at NoJa.  He’s one of the more talented chefs becuase he’s always pushing himself, always trying to be ahead of the curve whether it be with his innovations in molecular gastronomy or his approach to making real Asian food as opposed to what most Americans think is Asian food.  He spent time making sure his food was going to be the best.

ME: Burgers are a big part of being a gastro pub.  Where have you looked for inspiration for burgers.

CORKY:  When I was out in Chicago I went to a place that did grass fed beef, attention to detail.  It was fun to be around.  I worked with Tony Nicholas for a while which was a great experience.  He’s a talented Creole-style Southern chef.  He was that one chef who was always going to run a tight shift.  He is the burger king of Mobile there’s no doubt.  The Stuffed Tony Burger, you gotta try it.

ME: So let’s talk about what you’re doing here at the Shamrock, Rose & Thistle.  What’s your approach?

CORKY:  The first thing I’m trying to do is expand the menu to the gastro pub theme.  We want to do incredible food that’s welcoming.  So anybody can come and eat; it’s casual but you can still get incredible food.  We’ve tried to be authentic to the focus of the restaurant.  We try to do English food, Irish food, Scottish food.  We’re actually playing around with some haggis right now.  I’m really liking where the restaurant is heading right now.  We’re making a lot of cleaner approaches is the way I like to say it.  Paying better attention to the way flavors are being paired and layered.  Just paying more attention to detail is something I try to push.  I’m blessed with a really talented crew.  My sous chef Johnathon and brunch cook Michael, they’re eager to see what ideas we’re putting forth.  They take ownership of them which is really helpful.

ME: What’s your philosophy on sourcing?

CORKY: Every chef is directed to be as local as possible, every good chef, in my opinion, anyway.  We try to locally source as much as we can.  We try to be as local as we can.

The Shamrock, Rose & Thistle is located at 4513 Old Shell Rd Ste. D in the Holiday Place Village.  They are open for lunch daily Tuesday through Sunday (brunch) from 11-2 with dinner service available Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 5-9.  Afternoon tea is also offered each day until 3PM.  For reservations call 251-343-4669.

Burger Crawl: Mobile, AL

Mobile, AL is known for some of the best seafood in the entire world.  It also comes as little surprise that Alabama’s port city is a haven for great soul food as well.  When it comes to BBQ Mobile is closing in on cities like Memphis and Kansas City.  But Mobile is no slouch when it comes to the great American burger either.

A PRIMER:

  1. A burger crawl is when you try a burger from several different places in the space of a few days or even all in one day.
  2. I break burgers down into these categories –
    • classic diner style – a 5 oz or larger patty with typical bun and condiments
    • fast food style sliders – pattys that are less than 5 oz on normal buns
    • fantsy-pants burgers – not a derogatory term at all, these burgers feature premium ingredients, innovative toppings and creative buns.

Recently I went on a burger crawl in Los Angeles, a town with a reputation as a burger Mecca.  It just seems fair that I’d make a burger crawl in my own hometown as well.  Check this out.

The Burger Master in Eight Mile has been kicking out the Mobile area’s best burger for nearly half a century and has done so by enduring Hurricanes Camile, Frederick, Georges, Ivan and Katrina plus a grease fire that gutted the original building just a few years ago.  But they are still going strong and they still make one of the best burgers you will ever eat.  The Master Burger is not a fantsy-pants burger but rather a stellar example of the classic diner burger – 8 ounces of 80/20 ground beef perfectly cooked on a griddle with ample cheese, fresh toppings and a well toasted bun.  The onion rings are also unbelievable.

 

Callahan’s Irish Social Club in the historic Oakleigh District has a burger reputation that is second to none.  But for Senior Bowl Week this year they unleashed a special fantsy-pants burger just for visitors in town for the game.  They called it the LA (Lower Alabama) Burger – served on a terrifically toasty bun, it was topped with spicy mustard, slaw, pepper Jack cheese and pickles but the patty was the heart of this beast.  Ground into the beef was smoked sausage from an artisan smoke house in Conecuh County.  In Mobile this sausage is referred to simply as Conecuh and is held in as high a regard in the South as Scharfenberger chocolate or Allen Brothers steaks. The aura of the Conecuh reached my table a few seconds before the burger actually did.  Such an intoxicating aroma and what an incredible flavor.  I’m not a fan of Cole slaw on a sandwich or even within walking distance of one but on this burger it made for a perfect condiment.  Callahan’s regular burgers are top notch but this LA Burger was epic.

 

 

Rochelle’s in Creighton is another old school diner with a classic diner style burger.  8 ounces of ground Angus beef greets the diner who chooses to order the cheese burger or in my case the garlic cheese (a dash of garlic powder gives this its name).  At Rochelle’s you won’t have to choose between cheddar or Swiss because they just go right ahead and give you both.  The bun is a standard seeded bun but at some point they smash it.  I don’t know why.  It looks weird but rest assured this is a fantastic burger.  Great crust on the patty with a tender center.  Also, the onion rings are quite good as well.

 

 

One of the great anomalies in Mobile County is that one of the most sophisticated menus is in the tiny Crawford community, a village so small that it is jokingly referred to as a suburb of Semmes.  Never heard of Semmes?  That should tell you how small Crawford is.  But it is there you will find the Little House Bistro with a menu straight off the Food Network.  Chef Marc Walden brings the years of his cross country culinary trek to bare on a very innovative menu which features two excellent fantsy-pants burgers, the Bistro Burger and my favorite the Deep South Burger with pimento cheese, lettuce, tomato and “comeback” aioli.  I of course added both bacon and caramelized onions.  The pimento cheese is Chef Marc’s grandmother’s recipe and it is one of the best I’ve ever had.  I love good pimento cheese but good pimento cheese is hard to find.  Somewhere along the line the cheese becomes an after thought but not at Little House.  With them the cheese is front and center.  This place is definitely worth the trip out Hwy. 98.

 

 

The Big Time Diner at Cottage Hill Rd. and Demotropolis is a throw back to another era.  The decor looks like something from the set of American Graffiti but the food is hardly outdated.  Rather they feature a menu steeped in traditional diner food like a classic diner cheese burger with toasted bun, gooey cheese and a large juicy patty.  This is a very good burger but I have to admit the black pepper heavy onion rings kind of steal the show.  BTD has long been the benchmark restaurant in this part of town and the busy parking lot is a testament to food done right.

 

 

An English tea room is not where one would normally look for a great burger but the Shamrock, Rose & Thistle Tea Room in Springhill is also channeling that gastro-pub vibe thanks to Chef Corky Sullivan’s exciting approach to flavors.  For his signature burger Chef Sullivan relies on an old chef’s secret – if you use really good ingredients the rest will take care of itself.  Corky uses a Keiser roll that is well toasted and fills it with an 8 ounce Wagyu beef patty.  That right there makes it an amazing burger but he’s not done.  The caramelized onions bring a nice dark-sweetness to the burger and the seriously crispy apple wood smoked bacon is a revelation. The burger is finished off with high quality cheddar cheese and an herbed mayo.  Without a doubt the best burger I’ve ever had in this city.  Hats off to the young chef with the amazing palate.

These are not the only great burgers in the area.  I just simply ran out of time.  Others I’ve had in the past and highly recommend include Heroe’s Sports Bar downtown, Butch Cassidy’s on Florida Street, Dick Russell’s BBQ in Tillman’s Corner and Time 2 Eat Cafe in Theodore.  There are a few national chains that do pretty good burgers as well like Cheeburger, Cheebruger, Five Guys and Hardee’s Thickburger is still a game changer.

Video Recipe: St. Patrick’s Day-After Cajun Corned Beef Hash

Mired in a St. Paddy’s Day hangover from too much green beer, Chef Stuart approaches the morning after with as little effort as possible. By using the leftover corned beef and potatoes that were cooked in crawfish boil for his Rouxben (see last episode) he makes a tasty skillet of Cajun Corned Beef Hash.

Irish Blessing: “May you have the hindsight to know where you’ve been, the foresight to know where you are going and the insight to know when you have gone too far”

Food Network’s St. Patrick’s Day Line-up

Food Network's St. Paddy's Day Line-up

In Ireland St. Patrick’s Day is a solemn, religious affair; one of the few days in Ireland where drinking is actually frowned upon and there is no corned beef to be found.  You can learn more about that by reading Corned Beef & Other Irish Myths.

St. Patrick's Day Recipes on Food NetworkSt. Patrick’s Day was first celebrated in the New World in Boston in the year 1737 and it has since spread across the country.  In Chicago they dye the river green.  In New York they have a parade.  New Orleans has a parade as well, Mardi Gras style where the throws of beads and doubloons are replaced with potatoes and cabbages.  But you don’t have to head downtown to enjoy the ‘wearing O’ the green.’

Food Network has a plethora of programs to make you shout erin go bragh!  They also have dozens of great recipes on their site that touch on the tradition of the holiday and celebrate the innovation of 21st Century Irish Cuisine.  They have offerings from Alton Brown, Sunny Anderson, Ina Garten, Tyler Florence and more with recipes like Beer-Battered Broccoli, Spinach-Pesto Ravioli, Irish Grilled Cheese (pictured), Emerald Eggs and Avocado Hummus

The crux of FN’s St. Paddy’s Day programming is to send their resident Ginger, Bobby Flay, back to the home of his ancestors for a culinary tour that is second to none.  Here’s a sneak peak as Bobby visits Ireland’s most famous culinarian, Darina Allen:

Corned Beef & Other Irish Myths

Irish Blessing: “May you be half an hour in Heaven before the Devil knows you’re dead.”

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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.

Stu’s Latest Kindle Single is Just $2.99

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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