Sunday, March 25, 2007

The Pirates House - Guest Review


by Kelly Brewer

Many Savannah tourists find themselves at the end of a well trod path, waiting hours in line with other well-intentioned folks to enter "Momma and Her Boys" Southern eatery. (Not the real name, cause here in the South, we don't slander our elders nor our local celebrities.) Like knee socks with Bermuda shorts and a long-lensed Canon about the neck, don't fall into this tourist trap. The line leads only to disappointment and mediocre food.

If you came to rub shoulders with Miss Paula, head on over to Wilmington Island, where she is more readily found than in her restaurant. But, if what you're hankering for is some good ol' southern cooking, follow me five blocks south to The Pirate's House on East Broad.

From real-life shanghais to underground rum running tunnels, there is a wealth of pirate legacy to be discovered at The Pirate's House, but the real treasure is the food. Famous in its own right (but without all that FoodNetwork publicity) and conveniently located at the beginning or end of a jaunt down River Street, (depending on the day's parking situation) lunch at The Pirate's House incorporates itself nicely within a day's activities.

Whether you're at the start or finish of your cobblestone journey, you'll find a bounty fit for satisfyin' or energizin' during The Plantation Buffet. (11:30a-3:00p) For around $14 you can fill your plate with the equivalent of an entire chicken, deep fried and glazed in a honey pecan sauce so good your momma's face will hurt before she's been slapped, then wash the whole thing down with a pitcher of sweet iced tea and start on a second chicken. But pace yourself cause we've only just begun. Leave room on that plate for the macaroni & cheese, collard greens, squash casserole, green beans, sweet potatoes and barbeque ribs. Oh! and don't forget to save room for the nanna puddin'.

There are other fixins to be had, but I can only speak as to what goes on my own plate, and then, only with my mouth full, cause it's all so good.

If you'd have told me when I was a child that someday I would go back for second (and sometimes third) helpings of any sort of squash, I would have told you to shut your mouth. (Not really. I was raised to know better!) But, thank goodness for the wisdom that comes with age. We aren't talking about the squishy squash and soggy saltine casserole concotion found at family reunions and church potlucks either. Made with chunks of squash that require you chew before swallowing, the dish is pure, edible gold. Is it any wonder the spirits of pirates past are believed to still hang around the place?

I'm getting ahead of myself though, because before it was a hangout for blood thirsty pirates, it was settled as the Trustees' Garden in 1734. Old as the city itself, the plot of land was used as a proving ground for all sorts of botanical ventures and is indirectly to be thanked by pretty gals all over Georgia for favoring Peach trees over Mulberry.

The garden keeper's home is considered the oldest house in Georgia, and now functions as a private dining room called The Herb House. You can rent the room for a nominal fee and claim proprietary rights over the nearby dessert table, or you can just stick your head in and look around for free, annoying those who did decide to shell out the 35 clams for (semi) privacy.

Piracy on this plot started some twenty years after the abandonment of the garden settlement. With its eventual transformation into tavern and inn, the location became an ideal spot for sailors dropping anchor just across the street in the Savannah River to retreat for a little rum and relaxation, and the perfect setting for pirates to recruit new crews (willingly or un-).

The Pirate's House will probably always be most noteable for its role in Robert Lewis Stevenson's Treasure Island, where in an upstairs room Captain Flint cried out his last words "Fetch aft the rum, Darby." (No doubt to accompany his second (or third) helping of the squash--the stuff really is to die for.)

Pirate activity continues today in the form of a roaming Jack Sparrow, theatrically tipsy and ever eager to hand the wee ones a handful of gold dubloons. (If you're grown, they're 2 for $1.) The Pirate's House has also capitalized on the belief that Savannah is a haunted city by offering dinner packages and tours of the old rum cellar. Whether you come seeking history or ghosts, you'll return because of the treasure hidden in plain sight at The Pirate's House. And like a true pirate, you'll only divulge your secret to the truly worthy, letting the rest of the hungry land-lubbing tourist line up five blocks north, like sheep to the slaughter, while you go back for seconds.

**Can't get enough of a pirate's life? Come to Savannah in October for Pirate's Fest on nearby Tybee Island.

[Ed.: I had the pleasure of dining in The Herb House with Kelly and her assembled clan back in aught-five and it is definitely the place to go in Savannah. (Don't know if anyone peeked in, as I was sitting at the end facing the stairs, so my back was to the main dining room. This put me in pole position for the dessert table.) I also hit a lot of other interesting establishments in Savannah, which, by the way, has free wifi access in many places all over town, including several of the 20+ squares. One of the other more memorable meals was at Aligator Soul, which I will have to tell you about one day.]

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Brentwood Tavern

Cool place with zero web presence

Location: 6701 Burnet Rd, Austin, TX 78757
Phone: 512-420-8118
Hours: Sun-Thu 11a-10p, Fri-Sat 11a-12a

Our next rush hour review takes us to the Brentwood neighborhood to a joint that seems to be half Old West cantina, half neighborhood bar. If you arrive from the south, you're greeted by Dog Almighty, home of a plethora of hot dog options (but since I rate hot dogs up there with road kill, you won't find a Dog Almighty review here) and the Travis County Farmer's Market. All three share a parking lot, but the Dog and the Market both close at 6pm, so there's plenty of parking for dinner. Just walk across the bridge under the big welcome sign and you're there.

Inside are concrete floor, natural wood walls and low ceilings, but the only reason to step inside is to let the hostess know you're there cause if the weather cooperates you're sitting outside where you can watch the horseshoe game. It was a little chilly, but I talked The Woman into an outside table, especially when she heard they hand out big Mexican horseblankets to wrap up in. (That red thing isn't the blanket, it's her jacket. The blanket was on her legs, covering her cute little schoolgirl shoes.)

One skim of the menu shows that it barely escapes being pigeonholed as traditional bar fare by adding a twist here and there. The burgers are really what it's all about, with the Mullet Burger leading the pack in popularity. Angus beef on your choice of bun with jack cheese, bacon, avocado and some other stuff. (I'm handicapped by the fact that they have no website with a menu I can consult, nor little paper menus you can take with you and I didn't feel like transcribing the menu while I ate. I'm just funny that way.) We got the fried okra for an appetizer based on an inside tip from The Good Daughter. It was perfect - crunchy on the outside and nice and slimy on the inside. Num num.

I opted for the Chicken Mullet (donating the bacon to a worthy cause) with a side of bock beans. (Pinto beans cooked in a bock beer concoction. The Woman didn't like it, but it was just right for me. Made me feel like I was back in Fred. Not that they cook beans with beer in Fred since it's a dry county, but it had that down-home flavor.) The Woman got some kind of burger. I took one bite to verify it was more than acceptable. If you're going for the beef, the burger is the way to go.

There are things besides burgers and sandwiches on the menu. I've also had the fish tacos, which are quite good, with black beans. I'd give you more of an idea of the variety, but I'm a little handicapped, here. (Hey, BT, get a website!)

I hear the Tavern is a hopping place during prime time, and I'm sure that's an attraction for their target market, but if you’re looking for a quiet place for an early supper, you’ve found it. The nice thing about Brentwood Tavern is the nice thing about Austin, live music. We caught a local country guy releasing a new CD. He had a few nice tunes but he was breaking in a bass player, so it was hit-and-miss for a while. They do have live music often, but I can't tell you the schedule because . . . well, you know by now, don't you?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Hula Hut - Podcast

Mexonesian on the lake.


The Wunderfool/SpyMan team hit the road again. This week we invade the Hula Hut for some ono grindz. (a little Hawaiian lingo, there).

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Star of India

North Indian in North Austin


So it's rush hour date night and we're on our way to Threadgill's when The Woman suddenly veers off Anderson Lane. Oncoming traffic and my life pass before my eyes as we dash into a strip mall parking lot. When I inquire sweetly just what the heck is going on, she just points to a large sign: Star of India, Traditional Indian Cuisine. As an ancient philosopher once said, "Yeah, baby!" Sure, Threadgill's is nice, but it's not Indian, now is it? (Not that it should be. I'm just pointing out the facts as they lay.)

What with one thing and another, moving and renovating and getting laid off and looking for work and outlining the next novel and visits from The SpyMan and watching the entire boxed set of "Jeeves and Wooster" with Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry and grandkids birthdays and balancing the checkbook and such, we haven't actually gotten around to eating at an Indian place since we got here. We did make some at home with the help of Patak's curry paste, but it doesn't even come close to the real stuff made by real Indian folk.

So we scurry in all flushed from the excitement, and perhaps the cold rain, and as one of the perks of an early dinner on rush hour date night is that we beat the crowds, we are seated immediately and reply that, yes, we will try the buffet. As if they could stop us. OK, so it looked like every other Indian buffet you've seen, only I liked the look of this stuff better. What with the new regimen, I leaned more to the vegetarian selections, which were all great. Not that I neglected the meat dishes, which were also great, I just got more of the veggies.

After sating ourselves with the first round, we asked for a menu just to see what other delightful things they might have available. It was naturally full of dishes that you can't pronounce and can't wait to eat. I flipped immediately to the vegetables to search for the magic word bhindi, and there it was.

Bhindi Masala: Okra cooked in garlic, onion and Indian spices.
Now you're talking my language! Or check this one out.
Malai Kofta Kashmiri: Sumpling of fresh vegetables and cheese cooked in a mild almond and cream sauce.
OK, so perhaps it was supposed to be sampling, but I like sumpling better. Sounds like a sumptuous dumpling and why wouldn't you want one of those? "Dear, could you pass the okra sumplings? I simply can't resist them!"

Of course we went back for seconds and blew any caloric limits we might have entertained. Of course we waddled out like Mr. Pickwick and company and scurried through the rain back to the car. Of course we're going back. As a great philosopher once said: It's not, "Why would you?" It's, "Why wouldn't you?"