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I always preferred multiple choice...

For several years now, Wesley True has been bringing Mobile an unmatched culinary experience with his fine dining institution, True.  True has a varied and impressive background, that includes respected positions at two restaurants holding the coveted Michelin Two Stars, a sous-chef position at Gordon Ramsey’s Mesa Grill, and a finalist nod for the very prestigious James Beard award.  Starting tonight, the eatery will make a major change to the menu; from the pricier, fine French cuisine, comes a more casual, comfortable and affordable old-world Italian selection.  Tonight and tomorrow (Friday 1/13 and Saturday 1/14), patrons can get a taste of the new eats at a 50% discount when reserving ahead.

Tuesday, I (along with 5 other guests) had the opportunity to get a sneak peek at what will no doubt become a new Mobile favorite.  The menu is small but varied.  Choices range from recognizable fare such as spaghetti with meatballs in a tomato sauce, to local seafood, to several cuts of steak, to risotto and beyond.  At lunch, an assortment of flatbread pizzas, and sandwiches prepared with house-made focaccia, are also available.

The new line of dishes accentuate the ultimate in freshness, and According to True, “One benefit of this menu is that it’s easy to integrate local products.  We have sourced local seafood, lamb, pig, quail, beef, and eggs, and we have a lead on a farmer in Baldwin County who grows specialty produce.  We’re very excited about what the future holds.”  Items also feature local cheeses from Elberta, and house-made ricotta.

After sampling practically all of the antipasto selections- the, Prosciutto with Alabama Crab Meat, White Wine Poached Pear and Pickled Onions was my personal fave, while the Marinated Mushrooms, and the Meatball in Tomato Sauce also garnered high praise around the board- our entrees arrived.  I had the Local Shrimp and Mussels on a Fried Polenta Cake with a Spicy Sicilian Butter Sauce.  The shrimp were abundant, large, and very fresh, and the spicy sauce perfectly complemented the sweet polenta.  One companion from Texas, which apparently automatically makes him an expert on steak, described the Rib-eye as “The best steak I’ve had in Mobile.”  I tried it, and tend to agree.  Another guest had the Marinated Hanger Steak with Sautéed Broccoli Rabe and Walnut Pesto and got the “most diverse explosion of flavor” he’d ever experienced.  The Lobster Cauliflower Risotto with Local Goat Cheese and the Wild Mushroom Risotto with Parmesan and Basil were also heartily enjoyed.  Portions were quite nice, though side items are also available to those with a ridiculous appetite.

And now we come to…dessert.  Despite everyone being uncomfortably bloated and sufficiently full, True insisted that we have not one, but TWO of each of the three dessert options.  First, a trio of house-made gelatos.  Delicious and safe flavors of pistachio and chocolate were followed by Olive-Oil and Sea Salt Gelato.  Sounds crazy, right?  Wrong.  Unbelievably good.  A perfectly paired combination of sweet and salty.  Consider it the fine dining equivalent of dipping your french fries into your milkshake.  A Polenta Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream and White Wine Poached Pear, and a Panacotta with Plum Sauce and Apple Compote deliciously finished out the final round of this knockout meal.

True also boasts a climate-controlled wine room with 1200 bottles representing over 150 selections of an award-winning wine list, with glasses and bottles available to fit any budget.  An eclectic classic cocktail list is also available, which includes a Negroni- my cocktail of choice at the moment.

All in all, I’m glad to see one of Mobile’s most unique dining experiences become more accessible to the average Joe like myself.  This weekend’s half off special is a great way to check it out for yourself, but remember that you must make a reservation first.

TRUE is located at : 9 Du Rhu Drive
Suite 201
Legacy Village on Springhill Ave.
Mobile, AL 36608

You can make your reservations by calling (251) 344-3334

*Thanks to Ryan Johnson and Tasha Tupa for their help

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Tuber Time

Photo by Tasha Tupa

So supposedly this is winter time.  You know what that means on the gulf coast: a roller-coaster ride of high and low temperatures, and having to keep your entire wardrobe at arm’s length.  Shorts and tee-shirts one day, heavy coats and long underwear the next.  OR, that ever popular shorts-with-a-jacket combo that will always baffle me.  But I digress.  We occasionally get some weather that resembles winter, and that correlates directly with the making and consuming of soups, stews, chilies and chowders.  So, in case we get another spat of northern air, here’s my recipe for potato soup, which is pretty traditional plus a simple white wine reduction and some ranch flavoring.

First, a little disclaimer: anyone that’s ever cooked a dish from scratch, with no recipe, hates to hear, “This is so good, can I get the recipe?”  Okay, yeah, let me just consult my logbook, and tell you what I put in this.  Nope, normally you’re eyeballing left and right, and constantly tasting until you get what you want out of it.  The hardest part is quantifying the ingredients.  With that being said this is my attempt at putting on paper what I’ve done in the kitchen.  Use at your own discretion and taste often while cooking.

INGREDIENTS:

-6 russet potatoes on the smallish side, mostly peeled, then cut into 1 inch cubes
-About 1/3 cup of FRESHLY chopped or minced garlic. I used probably 6-8 medium sized cloves
-Chicken stock (Swansons in a box is good)
-Whipping cream or half and half (milk will also do but will take longer to thicken)
-Medium sized white or yellow onion, diced, or 3 or 4 shallots
-3 tbsp sour cream
-Half a pack of Hidden Valley Ranch Dressing mix
-butter
-5 or 6 strips of bacon
-white wine
-salt/pepper to taste
-fresh chives, finely chopped (green onion will work in a pinch)

Boil the potatoes until they’re pretty tender, but not yet falling apart. While that’s happening, sweat the onions, shallots and garlic in butter in a shallow frying pan big enough to cook bacon in, until they’re translucent.

When the potatoes are ready, strain most of the water out of the pot, leaving just about two inches in the bottom. Add about half of the chicken broth and enough cream to easily cover the potatoes. Add the onion/shallot/garlic (keep the pan handy), and slowly stir in the sour cream, and ranch dressing mix.  Add half a stick of butter, or 4 tbsp. Simmer on med-low heat.

While it’s simmering, cook the bacon up in the same pan that you cooked the veggies in, and put to the side. Pour the drippings into the soup. [Another disclaimer: this soup is not even kind of healthy.  Paula Deen herself might be appalled] Now heat the pan up until you see wisps of smoke, and deglaze it with 2/3 cup of white wine. Tip the pan up and reduce the wine up by about 1/3. Add the reduction to the soup. Add more chicken stock and cream until it’s the consistency you want, but remember that as the potatoes cook and fall apart the soup will thicken.  Salt and pepper to taste. Dice the cooked bacon.

Bowl it up, spoon in a nice plop of sour cream, add some finely grated cheese, the bacon bits, and finely chopped chives.  Serve with some crusty bread and enjoy!

***NOTES***

-When cooking with wine, remember to use actual drinking wine, and not cooking wine.  Cooking wine contains salt, and often other ingredients.

-I’ve, in the past, substituted shallots for the onion with great results.  If you have the means, do it!  Shallots add more depth and an extra buttery kick.

-Many people use white pepper in potato soup to retain that pristene cream color, but nothing compares to the taste of freshly cracked black pepper, and frankly, I like the way it looks in this soup.

-Once again, I only intend for this to be a guide, not a bible.  Send me your thoughts, ideas and results, if you decide to try this!

-I hate the title.  I struggled with it.

What are your thoughts on this subject?  To quote my friend Simon, “…putting only ketchup on a hotdog is the equivalent of eating a salad composed entirely of iceberg lettuce, cheese, and ranch dressing,” although I think adding cheese is giving them too much credit.  Look, everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if your opinion is pro-ketchup, just know that your opinion is wrong.

Here’s a pretty interesting and entertaining article on the subject.  It doesn’t appear to have been proofread, but nevertheless…

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/craig-goldwyn/ketchup-on-hot-dogs_b_928338.html

You’ll have to copy and paste it, haven’t figured out how to hyperlink on here just yet.  Thanks to Gayle for it.

For the record, my favorite hot dog to make at home will include:

-Cheap Oscar Meyer Classic Wieners, the ones with “Pig lips and assholes,” to quote Dan Aykroyd in “The Great Outdoors.”
-Hot dog chili sauce. Castleberry’s is my favorite but it’s becoming harder and harder to find.  Texas Pete’s is horrible.
-Diced, pickled jalapenos and white onion.
-A decent amount of French’s yellow mustard.
Celery Salt (a must on EVERY dog I make, and a very underrated condiment in general)
All placed within a steamed Bunny brand hot dog bun.    And of course no ketchup in sight.  I don’t want you to even wave a bottle of the heathen sauce in my direction.


I figured I’d make my inaugural blog post here on Nom Chompsky about what I consider one of Mobile’s best kept culinary secrets, Roshell’s. While not too much of a secret (they’ve been in business for quite some time, no easy feat in the fickle town that we live in), it just doesn’t garner the attention and praise that I, and others I know, feel it deserves.

Roshell’s is basically the definitive “greasy spoon” joint that is stuck in times past. The type of place where there’s nary a flat screen TV to be found, and where plastic forms of payment are not accepted, but your cash or check is welcome. It’s a bona-fide hole-in-the wall with a seating capacity of probably less than 40 or 50. A small, open kitchen space is situated directly behind what is obviously a very old Formica topped sit-down lunch counter with fixed stools. A handful of booths (some of which are in a slight state of disrepair) line the wall, underneath large picture-windows still dressed with fading painted advertisements of “Burgers,” “Po-Boys,” and more. A dining room in the back has a few round tables that can seat slightly larger parties than the booths.  Up until recently smoking was permitted in certain areas of the dining room.  I assume a recent health department regulation, which automatically takes points off of an establishment’s health score if they allow smoking, is at the heart of the change, a change which surely was met with dismay by some regulars.

The would-be Roshell’s was opened in 1953 as Mack’s Bar-Be-Que Drive Inn, by Mack Flowers Sr. A young lady by the name of Roshell started working there in 1974, and at some point married the Senior Flowers’ son, Mack Jr. They bought the store in 1989 and renamed it “Roshell’s.” They still run it today, and when you walk in, you can almost guarantee that Roshell herself will be behind the lunch counter, working the grill and plating up food.

Ah, the burgers…I guess I should briefly mention the food. If you decide to follow this blog, you will undoubtedly see more than the occasional review, recipe and mention of hamburgers. It’s an area in which I am a self proclaimed expert. While I love all my food children the same, a good all-beef patty, seasoned and cooked to perfection stuck between two hearty, toasted buns, is the one I am secretly the fondest of (ssshhh…don’t tell pasta). I’ve had the burger at all of Mobile’s “famed” burger joints, and at many places not known for the sandwich, and Roshell’s easily ranks in my top two.

They call them “Steer Burgers” and they are Roshell’s trademark. A big hefty patty of good quality ground beef, hand spanked and cooked just right. It’s not the type of place where you specify what temperature you want your burger done, but do know that you will not be receiving a chunk of overcooked stuff that used to be red meat, nor will you recieve a bloody mush ball. They know what they’re doing. Steer Burgers come in a variety of flavors, from your classic cheeseburger (with two types of cheese), to a bacon cheeseburger, to garlic, ranch, bleu cheese and a variety of other options. They are dressed how you want them and served on a toasted sesame seed bun with a pickle spear. But if you really want the one that I put near the top of my list, step up and get the Cheeseburger Po-boy ($7.75 with chips, sub fries for an additional charge).

The secrets to making this sandwich great are not really secrets at all. For starters, all of their po-boys are made on New Orleans’ very own Gambino’s French Bread. It’s cut into about an 8″ section, butterflied and placed in the same press-style bun toaster that they’ve been using for decades. What you get is a very hearty piece of bread, perfectly flaky and crispy on the outside, yet still chewy and hearty enough to support a serious chunk of meat. Then they hand spank a big hunk of ground beef into a nice, big, oblong patty, and cook it to perfection on the same flat-top grill that has been there since before Roshell started. That’s another thing; while they clean the grill of all excess debris and grease at the end of the day, they don’t scrub it new, either. And that’s how they produce a ridiculously tasty patty without using any crazy seasonings, spices, or sauces. The flavor is in the grill. Put these ingredients together with several slices of cheese and dress it the way you want, and you have yourself a great meal. Eat it all with fries and it’s enough caloric intake to last you all day, if you aren’t me.

While the burgers are the star of the show, Roshell’s offers up a good variety of other Southern soul staples as well. Fried seafood (I hear the oysters are fantastic), gumbo, “hot-plate lunches,” and of course a broad variety of po-boys, to name a few. Her hushpuppies are a little bit legendary as well, containing onions and jalapenos. As a country boy, I love a place that offers big slices of juicy, red, beefsteak tomatoes as a side dish. On my latest excursion, my lunch companions got the red beans and rice with sausage (the special of the day), the shrimp poboy, and the Reuben, which easily competes with Callaghan’s and Butch Cassidy’s. All were met with big eyes and very soon the table was silent but for the sound of fervent mastication.

I’m not sure why Roshell’s rarely comes up in the discussion of great lunch spots and eateries in the greater Mobile area, as it is every bit a Mobile institution as the Dew Drop Inn, Callaghan’s, and Butch Cassidy’s (who are all due the praise that they get, of course). Maybe it’s the location, in the heart of Crichton. Perhaps many hipper midtowners and downtowners aren’t willing to step outside of their comfort zones. Maybe because there isn’t a plethora of plaques and antiques and knick-knacks to look at on the walls. I don’t know. What I do know is that if I want to leave all pretension and posturing aside to enjoy a meal cooked with love and dedication to simplicity and quality, I’m heading to Roshell’s. God Bless Roshell’s.

Roshell’s is located at 2904 Spring Hill Avenue, Mobile, AL 36607

Hours: Lunchtime (presumably 11am or so) til 8pm, M-F. Closed Saturday and Sunday.