Tuesday, June 28, 2011


Trip Advisor is a great resource when you're looking for a restaurant, especially in an unfamiliar area.  Reviews for Sammy's Ice House were good -- so good that we decided to give it a try.  Right on the beach, Sammy's has a perfect location.  They're set up for drinking, with the bar taking center stage.

There are no booths, just small but adequate bar tables with bar stools.

Guy and I both wanted crab cakes.  He ordered the sandwich with fries for $10.95.

I ordered the crab cake by itself, no roll, no fries, for $8.95.

The crabcakes were huge, full of crabmeat and deep fried.  The flavor was good and the crab meat was tender and creamy.  Our server said the crab cakes were hand mixed and fresh, and it was obvious that they were.  Guy's french fries were disappointingly undercooked, though, and not a bit crispy.

The servers at Sammy's are uber friendly, but check your bill carefully because they do make mistakes.
At the risk of being told once again that I'm ugly, I will say that I am wondering how Sammy's got such good reviews on Trip Advisor.  The place is just okay for hub and me and we don't plan to return.  Around the corner is Rap's, a bar with good food, friendly service and lower prices .  Right across the street is Ruddy Duck with good food, good atmosphere and more food choices for about the same price.

Update March, 2012:  Sammy's Ice House is no longer open for lunch.  

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Take-out from Taylor's Texas Style Barbecue
In New Jersey, and the rest of the Northeast, pork barbecue is not a big item.  Being honest, I've never become a fan of places like Smithfield or Moore's.  So when I saw an ad for a new barbecue place, I didn't get excited.  When hubby was away on a fishing trip recently, not wanting to cook, I decided to give Taylor's a try.  The location, practically walking distance from Greenbrier, was just too convenient.

The inside of Taylor's is just what you would expect for a barbecue place:  stripped down and basic with no frills.  They offer plates of brisket, beef or pork ribs, 1/2 chicken, sasuage, pulled pork and chopped brisket, as well as sandwiches with chips.  Side dishes include cole slaw, potato salad, green beans, macaroni salad and boiled potatoes.  No surprises there.  You can also buy apple or peach cobbler by the pound or in individual servings.

I placed my to-go order at the counter:  a plate of pulled pork with cole slaw, green beans and red sauce.  "Do you want pinto beans?" I was asked.  Taylor's sets out a big pot of pinto beans that dine-in customers can help themselves to.  I nodded in the affirmative.

First off, let me say that the pork had a pure, fresh taste that was delightful.  The texture was too shredded for me -- I prefer chopped barbecue.  But the taste of the pork was so good, I could overlook the texture.  The green beans were Southern style -- cooked to death with fatback -- but tasty.  The coleslaw was also very fresh tasting and good.

And the pinto beans -- well, they were the star.  No sugar added, just nice plain pinto beans.  Very tasty.
Pinto Beans at Taylor's Texas Barbecue
How well Taylor's will do in this little Southern town is a question.  Locals are partial to East Carolina vinegary pepper sauce (which is quite delicious, I must admit), and Smithfield and Moore are firmly entrenched in New Bern.  But, honestly, on another night when I don't feel like cooking, I might just go back and get some more of this Texas-style barbecue -- and those pinto beans.

Taylor's Texas Style BBQ, 1904-E S. Glenburnie Road, New Bern (252) 649-1602
Monday thru Thursday:  11AM to 8PM   (Check for daily lunch specials, 11 - 2 Mon - Fri)
Friday and Saturday:  11AM to 9PM
Sunday:  CLOSED

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


The question was innocent enough:  "Do you know where I can buy a birthday cake for Mickey?"  Whether it was a loaded question or not, Mickey's husband liked my answer:  "I'll be happy to make one."  Our friends, Mickey and Tom are very forgiving when it comes to food.  I know they remembered the cake I made for their son, Ian, when he had his birthday.  The chocolate cream filling didn't set right and turned runny.  They said they loved it.  And now I was offering to make another cake.  But I was sure I could redeem myself.  At least I wanted to try.

My only cake pans are 8".  They're the old ones with the low sides, and I only have two.  I eyeballed about 2/3 of the batter to fill the pans.  When they came out of the oven, I quickly washed and dried one and filled it with the remaining batter, which turned out to be more like half instead of one third.  Oh, well, I thought, I can put the big layer in the middle.  No one will know.  I know now it was an omen.

The evening before, I had made the custard for the frosting and refrigerated it.  It was smooth and creamy and looked great.  I softened the butter and beat it with sugar, then slowly added the chilled custard.  It looked wonderful, but maybe just a tad stiff.  Since I wanted this cake to be absolutely perfect, I decided to add some heavy cream to thin it a little.  Somewhere in the dark recesses of my mind, a thought tried to break through:  whip the cream first and then add it.  I pushed the thought down and slowly added some cream to the frosting.  And it kind of.....seized.  Just like chocolate.  It was no longer creamy and smooth.  It was now curdled looking and the solids were separating from the liquids.

My plan had been to fill and frost the entire cake with this wonderful stuff that was now looking not so wonderful.  Plan B was already being formed in the same brain that just pulled off the biggest goof in cake making:  use the curdled frosting for the filling and top; cover the top with raspberries and frost the sides with chocolate buttercream.  Everyone will look at the raspberries instead of the curdled frosting.  I hope.

Mickey noticed, but didn't say anything till I mentioned it.  Our friend, Mark, couldn't get enough of it, because the flavor really was great.  It was best eaten with eyes closed though.

My cake was crooked, the custard frosting was curdled, and the perfectionist was not perfect on this day.  Maybe the third time will be the charm?

Here's the recipe, in case you want to give it a try:

Chocolate-Raspberry Cake with Two Frostings
Rating:  9 out of 10 

Custard Frosting and Filling:
1/3 cup cornstarch
1 cup low-fat milk
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup sugar
1 beaten large egg
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tsp. raspberry extract
1 Tbsp. raspberry liqueur (nips available at ABC store)
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, very soft
1 cup confectioner's sugar

In 1-1/2 quart saucepan, whisk cornstarch, milk, cream, sugar, egg and flavorings till smooth.  Cook over medium heat till thick, stirring frequently with whisk.  Remove from heat and place pot in tray of ice water.  Whisk till cool.  (At this point, custard can be refrigerated overnight, if desired.)

Beat butter and confectioner's sugar together with electric mixer; add cooled custard and beat till smooth and creamy.  (If you need to add more cream, be sure to whip it separately first before adding.) Refrigerate frosting for about 1/2 hour to help it spread better.  This  is enough to fill and frost a three-layer cake.  

Chocolate Cake:
1 Duncan Hines Butter Recipe Fudge cake mix, or your favorite chocolate cake recipe

Make as package directs, substituting coffee in place of water.  Make three layers.

Chocolate Frosting:
2 oz. (2 squares) Baker's unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3 to 3-1/4 cups sifted confectioner's sugar
1/3 cup milk or heavy cream
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter or margarine, very soft
2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. coffee essence (equal parts coffee and coffee liqueur)
1/4 tsp. sea salt

In small heat-proof bowl, melt chocolate pieces over simmering water till melted.  (Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water so that the lip of the bowl covers the lip of the pot.  It is important to keep steam or liquid away from melted chocolate, or it will seize.)  Cool slightly.

In medium  bowl, beat 3 cups sugar, milk, butter, vanilla, coffee essence and salt till smooth.  Slowly add cooled chocolate and continue beating till smooth and creamy.  Add up to 1/4 cup additional sugar, if needed, to make frosting of spreading consistency.

Other Ingredients
About 2/3 cup seedless raspberry jam or fruit spread
2 Tbsp. raspberry liqueur
2 half-pint containers fresh raspberries

Heat raspberry jam with liqueur over medium-low heat for a few minutes, till jam thins and smooths out.  Stir with spoon. Cool slightly.  Rinse raspberries and place, hollow side down, on several thicknesses of paper towels.  Top with additional paper towels.  Allow to dry.

Assemble the cake:  Place first layer on serving plate with pieces of waxed paper a few inches under, so that the paper pulls out easily when you are done frosting the cake.  This makes for easy cleanup and a neater bottom.  Spread about 3-1/2 Tbsp. jam over top of first layer, leaving about 1/2" to 1" open around the outside edges.  Top with some of the custard frosting also leaving 1/2" to 1" open..  Repeat with two more layers.  Frost sides of cake with chocolate buttercream frosting.  Place dried raspberries over top of custard frosting.  Pipe additional chocolate frosting decoratively around edges.

Monday, June 13, 2011


We've been ignoring Captain Ratty's.  Several years ago, we ate there and were underwhelmed with the food.   But neighbors and friends have been saying how much they like the restaurant, giving us reason to reconsider when an old, dear friend from New Jersey came into town last week.  Captain Charlie was hired to pilot a boat from Hatteras back to its New Jersey owner.  It had been over ten years since his last visit, and we were excited to see him and meet his new wife, Mary Ann.

Persimmons, our first choice for dinner, was closed (it was Tuesday).  That's when we remembered Captain Ratty's. When I called for reservations, I was told they had a party of 36 on the roof and reservations were not being accepted downstairs.  "Come on in," the spokesperson continued, "there won't be any problem getting you a table."  This made me more than a little nervous, and I envisioned either long lines or poor service, or both, because of the large party upstairs.  But Guy insisted we should try.

We arrived about 6:30 PM.  The place was bustling with activity, but they had a table for us with no wait.  Service was excellent -- and friendly -- and we each raved over our food choices.  

First comes Captain Ratty's special corn muffins, hot, moist and yummy, with the house salad and choice of dressing.  No iceberg lettuce here.  It was a lovely mixture of tender young greens, shredded red cabbage and carrots.

Maryann and I decided on the shrimp and grits.  Shrimp and grits is one of my most favorite entrees ever.  Captain Ratty's shrimp and grits has a unique presentation and has a little more meat than I wanted, but I have to say it was wicked good.  The bacon was fried perfectly and had a sweetness to it.  The kielbasi was very nice, and the shrimp was succulent and huge.  The grits were extra creamy and cheesy.

Captain Charlie got fried shrimp.  They were fried perfectly, nicely crisp and not a bit greasy.  He chose sauteed summer squash for his side.

Guy got grilled shrimp and baked potato.

Several nights later, Guy and I returned to Captain Ratty's to try their shrimp burger, which, surprisingly, isn't made with popcorn shrimp.  Good-sized shrimp (lots of them) are crisp-fried and not greasy.  For $5.95, you also get your choice of side.  Guy got French fries, and I got black bean salsa.  The black bean salsa was delicious, and there was so much, I took the leftovers home along with the corn muffins that we couldn't eat.  We'll be returning to try their fish tacos, crab cakes, fresh catch of the day, and maybe even their burgers or certified Angus beef steaks.  

Captain Ratty's, 202 Middle Street, New Bern, NC, 252-633-2088.  Open Lunch and Dinner, 7 days a week.  Private dining available for rehearsal dinners, special events, and company functions.  Lunch catering available for parties of 10 or more.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011


When we lived in New Jersey, thoughts of roasted pig never crossed our minds on holiday weekends.  Like most New Jerseyans, our focus was on burgers and dogs and maybe some grilled chicken.  All that changed when we moved south.....to pork country, where the art of smoking a pig is revered.

Roasting a pig takes skill and commitment.  Our pitmeister, Henry, rises at 4AM to start his 127-lb. pig, flesh side down on his grill.  

He can't go back to sleep, either, because he has to continually check to see that the pig isn't burning and that the heat is just right.  He turns the pig over, skin side down, for the last hour or two of cooking.

And he bastes it with his special East Carolina pepper sauce.

Henry has perfected the art of roasting a pig over the past 20 years.  His daughter's boyfriend, who assisted him, says he learned early to roast pigs and does about six a year with his church, but his are nowhere as good as Henry's.  

When the pig is done cooking, the two men start the job of pulling out the meat, which Henry chops.  He mixes in a bit of the cracklin' and a bit of his special pepper sauce with each bowl of chopped pork.

I sneak a few pieces from the first bowl, because I just can't wait any longer.  Henry doesn't mind my snitch.  He already knows what my comment will be, because he's heard it hundreds of times already.  Regardless, he still looks forward to hearing it one more time:  "This is the best pig I've ever tasted!"  

Everyone's here, waiting:  neighbors, friends, relatives.  Just waiting to get a taste of Henry's famous pig.

The table is set with pot-luck favorites, including desserts.  We're ready to have a feast.

I go back for seconds and thirds of Henry's pig.  The fresh taste with just a hint of pepper sauce, the tender meat and the smoky flavor all had me with the first bite.  Trouble is I'm ruined.  Typical pig pickins just can't measure up to Henry's.  Before the blessing is given, he tells us all that this could be the last year.  Everyone groans.  Then, when I tell him again how much I loved his pig, he asks, "Will you come back next year?"  Henry, you don't have to ask me twice.  

Sunday, June 5, 2011


From left:  Guy, Chef Sami, Darian
We liked Chef Sami Ben Selma when he was at La Fontana.  When La Fontana closed because of a fire, we followed Chef Sami to Sea Glass Bakery, where he opened an evening dinner service.  Then Pia's restaurant closed and she was looking for a buyer.  I put the two together, and Sami realized his dream of opening his own restaurant.

Bella Cucina is located in the old Pia's Restaurant on Trent Road.  He's open for lunch and dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, and brunch on Sunday.  Chef Sami, who is classically trained, hails from Milan, Italy, where he learned to make the cream sauces Milan is known for.  He also spent time in Sicily learning to make their red sauce.  After spending several years around the world cheffing for hotel restaurants, Chef Sami went to New York and then came to New Bern.

Recently, we ate at Bella Cucina with our friends, Darian and Bob.  As always, we had an enjoyable meal.
From left:  Guy, Darian, Bob and Judy

All of Sami's entrees come with a tossed salad and his wonderful warm homemade rolls.

My favorite entree at Sami's is L'Amica Del Texas (angel hair pasta with artichoke hearts, mushrooms, chicken and shrimp in a homemade blush pink sauce).  But I decided to just get a salad with grilled chicken.

Guy got the special which was a luscious mixture of artichokes, mussels and shrimp in a tomato-wine sauce.

Darian and Bob got Chicken Sorrento (chicken breast sauteed with mushrooms, artichokes and cherry tomatoes in butter-wine sauce with angel hair pasta).  

Needless to say, there's just never any room for dessert.  If you're thinking of going to Bella Cucina, reservations are a good idea.  The dining room always seems to be packed lately.

Bella Cucina, 252-636-006, 2909 Trent Road, New Bern.

Friday, June 3, 2011


Recently, when we were in Morehead City at lunchtime, we drove to Chefs 105 only to find out that they are no longer open for lunch.  They are now open 7 days a week starting at 4PM.  You can go in for drinks and appetizers, or a burger, or a full dinner.

We were disappointed to lose our favorite lunch place, but decided to drive back with friends for dinner during Memorial Day weekend.  Morehead City was jumping with people and Chefs 105 was packed.  Luckily, we had made a reservation and our table was waiting for us.

We started off with a bowl of steamed littleneck clams in a wine broth.  Delicious.

Next, the men had Caesar salads, of which I had a taste.  It's Chefs 105 version of Caesar's salad, not your typical traditional, but good.  I had the roasted red pepper tomato bisque.  It had corn and asparagus in it.  Different, tasty.

Rita and I ordered the cod in a miso broth with sobo noodles.  Unbelievably good.

Tom had the braised lamb shank and couldn't stop raving about how good it was.

Guy had the sirloin steak.  He had filled up on clams and Caesar salad and couldn't finish it but said it was delicious.

Chefs 105 is still my favorite Morehead City restaurant.  We'll be going back for dinner again soon.