Thursday, June 24, 2010

Eat Here refresher course with a side of potato salad

Kind veteran readers, forgive me the re-telling of this old tale (or skip over it completely, if you like). New readers, this is by way of explaining why a blog so often centered on beaches, whales, turtles nesting and changing tidelines takes its name from something that might be culinary, or perhaps a pretentious literary device. Either way, it's why Eat Here is called Eat Here.

There are restaurants in the mythology of our town and our circle, real and imagined, really good and really ordinary. There are the legendary: Malaga Street Depot and its offspring and cousins, including The Zanzibar and Gypsy Cab Company, and even The Cafe Alcazar. Each is its own intriguing story. The Depot and the Zanzibar really are the stuff of legend. Gypsy has its lengendary status, but also dwells in the present day; you can go there are check it for yourself. The Alcazar straddles the line a bit for me, but you can, I hear, go there, too.

And there was a local blue collar lunch joint years ago called Helen's Eatery, which eventually became Stephanie's. When it was Helen's, someone had painted "Eat here" above the "Helen's Eatery" on the sign. This mild silliness was a quiet family joke long after Helen's was forgotten and Stephanie ran the place. She served breakfast and lunch, and I had a vague fantasy of taking over the place for the evenings, maybe just on weekends, and serving a limited menu of real, simple, honest food; the kinds of things people would cook themselves if they had time. I'm a good cook in that sense. In our family shorthand, we called it Eat Here, and when I cooked something that was well-liked, Mac or Dylan or Rodney would say, This should be on the Eat Here menu.

To my endless delight, thanks to the wonder of the blog and the mixed community of reality and imagination it makes possible, they ARE on the Eat Here menu today. Things like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, fried chicken with cream gravy, the marvelous cream biscuits adapted from a James Beard recipe, and Dylan's beloved macaroni and cheese are on the menu. Some have even been lovingly adapted, as in the case of the mac and cheese, elevated to a matter of culinary interest by dear Lorie with the addition of fresh spinach and mushrooms. If you want the recipe to something on the Eat Here menu and can't find it, just email me.

I have a summer pasta salad recipe, but I'd like to hear yours. With the abundance of summer yours probably changes, as mine does, depending on the yield of the garden or the farmer's market. But you probably have a favorite and I'd love to know about it. Another favorite with us is potato salad, and the standard is one commonly credited to Elvis. (No, not that Elvis; Rodney's brother married a woman named Elvis. I'd guess her to be in her mid-60s, and she was born in the Memphis area. Apparently it was a fairly common name, bestowed without consideration of gender.) This recipe made appearances at family gatherings regardless of time of year, but it evokes summer for us, matching well with anything off the grill. It's shown in the photo with burgers, sliced onions and the green foundation of a salad, yet unmade.

Peel (or scrub) and chop about 8 mid-sized potatoes. Red potatoes are fine, especially if you prefer them unpeeled, but thin-skinned new white potatoes are ideal for their texture when boiled. Boil these in salted water (I use about a teaspoon of kosher salt) until they're fork-tender but not overcooked. Meanwhile, boil some eggs. Because hard-boiled eggs are nice to have on hand, I usually cook about 6 at a time, though you only need 2 for this recipe.

I learned this trick along the way for boiling eggs: put them into an appropriate-sized pot, cover with cold water, bring the water to boiling and let the eggs cook for about 2 minutes. Turn off the heat, cover the pot with a lid, and let the eggs stand for 20 minutes or so. Perfectly boiled eggs every time. Oh, one more thing: very fresh eggs are very difficult to peel after you boil them in my experience.

While the eggs and potatoes are cooking, finely chop about 1/4 cup each of white or sweet onion, celery and kosher dill pickle. Chop 2 hard-boiled eggs to about the same dice when cool enough to handle. Drain the potatoes and while they're still warm, add the chopped eggs, onion, celery and pickle. Salt and pepper to taste, using a light hand.

Mix together about a cup of fresh homemade or very high quality mayonnaise, 2-3 Tablespoons of mustard, and about 1/4 cup of juice from the kosher dill pickle jar. Blend this together lightly with a fork, pour over the potato salad and toss. Taste and correct for salt if needed, again using a light hand. Sprinkle the top with sweet Hungarian paprika and ground cayenne pepper. Cover tightly and refrigerate for half an hour or so. The goal isn't to chill the salad, really, but to allow the flavors to marry. When you taste it after this half hour's rest, you'll be able to do one final correction for seasoning. Serve immediately, or chill to serve later.

Chopped green onions can be used instead of the white or sweet onions. This changes the flavor, but adds interest and color. Fresh, finely diced garlic also adds interest. Rodney's favorite variation is the addition of finely diced crisp bacon; not good for you, of course, but sort of the ultimate kiss of the Southern kitchen. Finally if you prefer to avoid mayonnaise or simply don't like it, you can use 1/2 - 3/4 cup of olive oil, whisking in the mustard and pickle juice as you might to emulsify a salad dressing.

Art, my loves, and just a touch of science: such are the best summer salads, and such is so much else in life. Drizzle that watermelon with a touch of balsamic vinegar, and pass the bowl this way.


  1. Hehe! I'll probably be emailing you for every recipe. They all sound delicious, especially the fried chicken and cream gravy.

  2. Ask away, my friend! I forgot to ask you about the meat loaf recipe of the park guy...I was so caught up in your writing that I missed circling back to ask. :)

  3. I always boil my eggs WITH my potatoes. It always seems to work.

  4. Ms. Moon, why did I never think of that? Do you time the eggs, or assume they're done when the potatoes are?
    And does the relative freshness of the eggs make a difference in your experience? I feel shamefully ignorant about eggs since mine are more often than not bought at Publix.

  5. The park guy's meatloaf recipe was interesting. His father taught him to make it using the regular mixture of meatloaf. But instead of making it into a loaf shape, he would flatten it out, lay cheese inside, and roll it up like into a log fashion.

  6. What a fun post ~ I always love when you talk about restaurants. Eat Here is definitely my newest favorite, even more than Ned's Kitchen, but don't tell Ned!


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