My First Pop-Up: Valentine’s at Bay City Grill

Valentine's DayNot familiar with a “pop-up restaurant?”  They started out as underground (see undocumented) eateries run out of people’s houses, vacant store fronts or even after-hours restaurants.  In the beginning they were care-free and even a little bit dangerous serving illegal ingredients like wild abalone, blow fish or unpasteurized milk.

Today they have evolved into fun and sophisticated one night events thanks to the efforts of chefs like Pierre Koffmann and Ludo Lefebvre.  Ludo, especially has made a career redefining the concept of the pop-up restaurant.  He’s even turned it into a hit series on the Sundance Network.  On Ludo Bites America, the famed chef travels the country taking over restaurants for one night, putting out an inspired menu that is reflective of the local cuisine with Lefebvre’s unique interpretations.

In episode three of Ludo Bites America he did a pop-up in my hometown of Mobile, AL at the popular luncheonette Queen G’s Cafe.  Ludo took our good old Southern seafood and gave it a gourmet spin with a three course tasting menu.

Bay City Grill Satsuma AlabamaWell now I’m going one better.  On Valentine’s night I’ll be taking over the menu of Bay City Grill in the North Mobile suburb of Satsuma.  We’ll be presenting a four course prix fixe for just $75 a couple.  Imagine that.  A four course gourmet meal for two with no grueling wait in the lobby of some cheesy chain restaurant.

The event is by reservation only.  For more information you can visit the web site of Bay City Grill.  Meanwhile, here’s the menu:

1st Course choice of:

Caesar Salad – Romaine lettuce, Caesar dressing, cherry tomatoes, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and croutons.

House Salad – mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, cheddar cheese, choice of dressing and croutons.

Chicken & Saffron Rice Soup – tender chicken simmered with fresh vegetables and saffron rice.

2nd Course share a choice of:

Gulf Crab Cakes – two crab cakes, pan fried and served with a zesty rémoulade.

Asian Shrimp – four juicy shrimp wrapped in light and flakey phyllo dough, served with a soy-ginger dipping sauce.

Mozzarella Sticks – five crunchy and gooey mozzarella sticks with a tangy marinara for dipping.

Fritti Misti – one crab cake, two Asian shrimp and two mozzarella sticks with corresponding dipping sauces.

Valentine's Pop-up at Bay City GrillEntrée choice of:

Prime Rib – 12 ounces of slow roasted prime rib, cooked to order, creamy horseradish sauce and au jus.  Served with baby baked potatoes and grilled asparagus.

Chicken Giardiniera – crispy fried chicken breast tossed with penne pasta, Giardiniera (Italian marinated carrots, celery, cauliflower and colorful peppers), blistered cherry tomatoes and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.

Coffee Rubbed Pork Tenderloin –rich Memphis aioli and a blend of coffee, chili powder and cumin give this elegant tenderloin the smoky flavor of a backyard barbecue.  Served with baked sweet potato and maple-butter.

Dessert – choose from an assortment presented tableside.

My New Favorite Burger: Panini Pete’s Eastern Shore Burger

Last year I made a pair of Burger Crawls, one in Los Angeles and the other in Mobile.  I waxed poetic about the Stout Burger at Stout, a gastro pub in the heart of Hollywood.  Likewise I gushed about the Wagyu Burger at Shamrock, Rose & Thistle Tea Room in Mobile’s Spring Hill neighborhood.  I declared Shamrock’s burger the best in the Mobile area and the Stout burger was the best I had ever eaten.  All that has changed.

Panini Pete's MobileMy good friend, Pete Blohme has operated his celebrated sandwich shop over in Fairhope for years now.  Panini Pete’s has been featured on the Food Network and the friendship that sprang from that first taping with Guy Fieri has evolved into something straight out of a cop/buddy film.  The Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host hit is off swimmingly with the South Alabama chef and since then Pete has been seen on multiple episodes of Guy’s TV shows not to mention being a primary component in the Guy Fieri Road Show.

Well a few months ago, Pete opened up a satellite of his famous eatery in downtown Mobile.  Showing off the Tinsel Town flair that he picked up from his buddy Guy, Pete did a soft opening of his new digs last November and was nice enough to invite me in to take a gander.  The evening featured bite-sized versions of his popular menu items including his infamous turkey panino and some of his outstanding burgers.

One nibble in particular has haunted me since that night, Pete’s Eastern Shore Burger.  A simple but eloquent offering of 100% Fresh Ground Certified Angus Beef on a perfectly toasted bun with onion confit and herbed goat cheese.  That’s it, folks – a bun, a patty and two condiments.  Best.  Burger.  Ever.

Panini Pete's Eastern Shore BurgerThe other day I slipped back by the new location to chat with my buddy and to try the full half-pound version of the Eastern Shore Burger.  Bigger is better.  It’s hard to put into words how perfectly the juicy burger, savory-sweet onions and the pungent goat cheese come together.  It’s poetry on a bun.  It is officially my new favorite burger.

I also sampled Pete’s one-of-a-kind shoestring fries.  Shoestring is putting it mildly.  These fries would make fat jokes about your typical shoestring fries and on bite number one it was obvious these were fresh cut.  They were fried crispy on the outside and tender in the middle then seasoned with an inventive blend that was a bit spicy (not unlike a Cajun Seasoning) and with the distinct air of cinnamon.  It was different yet comfortable.

There are a lot of cheflebrities out there who are heavy on the celebrity but light on the chef.  One stop at Panini Pete’s proves that Blohme is not one of them.  His creativity and attention to detail is evident in every morsel you shovel down your gullet.

Last spring Pete, Guy and I had dinner with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley and a few hundred of our neighbors in Gulf Shores.  Check out the festivities.

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.

Mobile’s Best: An Ode to Sandwiches

In 2007 I did an article for ‘Zalea Magazine entitled An Ode to Sandwiches.  It was a tour of some of my favorite sandwiches in the Mobile area.  Due to restraints on the page a few of my favorites were yanked by the editor so I thought I would drop them off here with a few of my new favorites.

I’ll start with the Mellow Mushroom at the corner of Old Shell and University. Yeah, I know it’s a chain and as a rule I don’t eat at them but the ‘Shroom has an impressive list of hoagies with the Tempeh being the most interesting offering:  Tempeh is unfermented, marinated tofu and it is offered on your choice of French or whole wheat bread with mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, Teriyaki, Balsamic vinaigrette, feta, grilled onions, green peppers, mushrooms, and sprouts.  The flavors are strong and pungent.

The Roast Duck Panini at the Royal Scam is amazingly decidant while still holding true to the comfort aspect of a sandwich.  Along with the duck breast you will find spinach, applewood smoked bacon, Gorgonzola, herb/garlic cheese and balsalmic vinaigrette.  Oddly enough, it is not the best sandwich I have had at Dave Rasp’s swanky tapas bar.  At one time they offered a vegetarian panini with goat cheese that was hands down the best sandwich I have ever had.

Regency Shopping Center offers two of the best sandwiches starting at Orleans ‘Po Boys (Airport and University and now Schillenger’s Road) which has been kicking out Mobile’s favorite sandwiches for over 10 years now.  They have award winning traditional ‘Po Boys, but their most popular is not exactly traditional.  The Joe Don includes roast beef, ham, Swiss cheese, gravy and LTO. The bread they use is absolutely perfect with a light, crunchy crust and a soft, airy middle.

Fifty yards or so away is La Cucina home of the Tortas Tampiquena which is tailor made for carnivores.  This huge sandwich is stuffed with Chorizo (a Spanish sausage), chicken, and a grilled hot dog.  They also pile on the cheese, mayonnaise, and LTO.

Looking for an excuse to visit the small Baldwin County community of Crossroads?  Stop by the Hurricane Drive-In and try one of the best BBQ pork sandwiches you will ever eat.  Thick, tender cubes of slow smoked pork tossed in a sauce that is neither too sweet nor too tangy on a large fresh bun.  Try it with the world’s best onion rings and a chocolate malt.

The Spot of Tea on Cathedral Square also boasts a healthy list of sandwiches with its two crown jewels being Jeromeo’s Hot Pastramio (pastrami topped with pepper jack, sliced pepperoncini, and Dijon mustard on New York rye) and the best Monte Cristo you will likely ever try.

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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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