By Paul Suplee, MBA, CEC, PC-3
Just when I thought that my life couldn’t get any more colorful and adventuresome, I made the potentially poor decision to open my own restaurant. Good lord, I’m 50 years old. What in the world was I thinking? Oh well, god hates a coward.
It has been an absolute whirlwind of pain threading our way through the various governmental and lending agencies and, boy, when you do this the money sure goes fast. It’s almost as though the whole process is a shell game designed to weed of the faint of heart. They haven’t gotten me yet, and I plan on seeing this thing through to the bitter end. Of course, for me I’m hoping that happens in five years when I sell the joint and retire to the Keys.
We had two soft openings last week and they went splendidly. Alas, as there is no better way to curse a grand opening than to brag about the soft opening, I imagine I better keep my mouth shut.
I breathed a huge sigh of relief as I wrote the menu in the absence of a boss. I am the boss (actually one of two) and as such I have creative freedom. Naturally, when you walk into a place that already has an installed 300-pound smoker, and you have a 65-pound commercial pressure smoker, of course an easy fit is to have smoked meats, seafood and vegetables on the menu.
Wanting to shy away from being called a “smokehouse” or barbecue joint, I created a menu that we refer to as “American Cuisine leaning towards Southern.” Fried green tomatoes, shrimp & grits and macaroni & cheese all adorn the menu, as do fresh fish and other seafood options from the grill. But at the end of the day, you can’t walk away from that beautiful Southern Pride SPK280 smoker. It is truly a thing of splendor. As such, we have plenty of smoked goods to offer.
However, on the salad side I stayed fairly traditional. As much as I love grilled Caesar, I opted for simple and, believe me, we will still sell a lot of salads. People like fresh salads and I tend not to mess with them too terribly much. As the menu stands, one of the culprits is a variation of the famous Caprese, and frankly this is one of my favorites plays on a theme, ever.
Not being one who really enjoys raw basil, I adore this puree that I make with roasted garlic and just a hint of acid from sherry vinegar. The herbal nuances shine through this sauce and add a great deal of complexity to an otherwise plain salad. Further developing the flavors on the plate by using Burrata (a cream-filled fresh mozzarella), I’m pretty sure that this will be one of our best sellers.
Further mixing things up with heirloom grape tomatoes, peach tomatoes, chocolate-sprinkle cherry tomatoes and anything else that we can get from Chesterfield Heirlooms, it’s a salad that brings me joy. Sometimes it’s the small things in the biggest storms that can set us straight.
1 pound Burrata cheese, 4-ounce balls
2 Heirloom Tomatoes
1 Tbsp. Basil puree (recipe follows)
1 tsp. EV Olive oil
1 tsp. Balsamic or sherry glaze (recipe follows)
Smoked sea salt, as needed (recipe follows)
- On a clean plate, lay out some of the heirloom tomatoes in a somewhat orderly fashion
- In the middle of the tomatoes, perch a ball of burrata so that it becomes the focal point of the plate
- Drizzle the top with the basil puree, glaze and olive oil
- Gently shower the salad with chunks of coarse sea salt, which of course you could cold-smoke for an hour to add another layer of flavor
makes about 1 quart
A handful of fresh basil leaves
1 cup EV Olive oil
Splash sherry vinegar
salt & pepper to taste
1 cup oil-roasted garlic
- Blend all ingredients together until pureed
- Adjust seasonings and refrigerate until use
Balsamic or Sherry Glaze
Makes about 1 cup
2 cups Welch’s white grape juice
2 cups Decent quality balsamic vinegar
- Combine the two and bring to a low simmer on low heat. This takes a lot of time so plan accordingly
- If you go too fast, it will taste like burnt raisins, and if I catch you doing it, I will smack your knuckles with a wooden spoon. Low. Slow. Period.
- When it is just a little looser than you like, pull it off and chill. It will thicken slightly as it cools
Smoked Sea Salt
Makes 1 cup
1 cup Coarse sea salt
- The key here is to lightly dampen the salt, as this will allow smoke to more readily adhere to the surface of this magical mineral
- Place your salt in a bowl and, assuming you have a spray bottle with only water in it, mist the salt and toss
- Repeat until the salt in well-moistened and spread in a thin layer in a pan that will fit in your smoker
- Fire up said smoker but this is a cold smoke, so don’t go too hot
- Cold smoke the salt for one hour, remove and air at room temperature for one hour, and then place in a sealed jar