Tag: seafood (Page 1 of 2)

Boston: We Missed The Sam Adams Tour But Ate The Best Pasta

We tried to go on the Sam Adams brewery tour but failed.

Somehow we got lost walking to the brewery even with our phones. And then when circled back to the brewery, we learned tours aren’t offered on Sundays.

The taproom, however, just opened so we had a drink.

It turns out that mostly tourists arrive at 10 a.m. to drink at the taproom on Sundays. Jake tried a flight of the more unusual beer flavors. I tried to order the lightest, fruitiest beer. They’re always too strong.

Still, I had fun sipping a beer and flipping through books about Boston. The taproom offers many books about Boston’s history and Samuel Adams + board games.

Our day was full of eight hours of walking between visiting the brewery and Museum of Fine Arts. We welcomed an early dinner by the time we got back to our Airbnb.

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Boston: The Original Regina Pizzeria & Neptune Oyster

While staying in the the North End of Boston, we noticed two restaurants where lined up waiting for tables outside: The Original Regina Pizzeria and Neptune Oyster.

We might not have made very far past the North End for meals, but we did hit them both.

We cut our journey along the Freedom Trail short to go to Neptune. We figured if we arrived fifteen minutes before opening, we could make the first seating. We were right by exactly six people.

Neptune is tiny and extremely popular. Your shoulder will most likely touch your neighbor’s.

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The Magic Of Sea Salt Eatery

I would have stood in line outside for two hours two weekends ago at Sea Salt.

The Twin Cities were in full celebration mode, for it was our first, completely sunny, 60 degree+ weekend since last fall.

We’ve been frozen for six months.

“Bold North! Bold North!” we boasted for the Super Bowl. The weather gods laughed and taunted us with our own frosty words.

One weekend, a blizzard dropping 14 inches of snow fell on our heads trapping us in our houses. And then somehow, by the next, it had all melted away.

Sea Salt is notorious for almost always being busy. Whenever the weather is bad, people will joke about how it’s a good time to visit Sea Salt because the line will be short.

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Steaming Your Own Mussel Feast: A Guide For The Squeamish

Steamed mussels are the perfect meal to prepare if you want to feel like you’re feasting like royalty on a dime.

While bowls of mussels cost anywhere from $12.99-$25 at restaurants, they literally cost less than $5 a pound at the nicest seafood shops around the Midwest. Making your own mussels also means that you can ensure that they’re stored properly and cleaned well.

Before I even tried my first mussel, I remember reading about them in Anthony Bourdain’s book Kitchen Confidential. He writes:

I don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them.

I purchase seafood the same day I cook it and prefer to visit seafood-only stores like Coastal Seafood in the Twin Cities or Bob’s Seafood in St. Louis. It puts my mind at ease. You know that the fish mongers are experts because seafood’s all they sell! Plus, you might be surprised to find the prices are better, too.

If you examine older recipes for steamed mussels, they might instruct you to soak your mussels in a solution of water and flour to encourage them to purge any grit. Everything I’ve read recently says today’s farmed mussels are mostly grit-free. The Prince Edward Island mussels I bought at Bob’s Seafood were cleaned and de-bearded. This makes the cooking process even more simple.

The fishmonger at Bob’s instructed me to remove the bag of ice from my package of mussels when I got home and store them in the fridge for the few hours before dinner. They do release some liquid, so I recommend storing them in a contraption that allows the liquid to drain away from the seafood. I rigged old take-out containers by poking holes in the lids and placing them upside down inside the container. Then, I placed the mussels on top of the lids and stored them in the fridge for a few hours. Most articles recommend also covering the mussels with a damp cloth or paper towel.

When you are ready to clean your mussels for cooking, your goal is to essentially to remove any debris clinging to the shells and toss any damaged or dead mussels. Details follow in the recipe below. Don’t be surprised if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. I’m squeamish and found this alarming. My advice is to simply press forward. You can do this! You’re so close to a big pot of delicious mussels. 

We’ve ordered mussels everywhere. Our favorite version of all time is served at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. The shellfish are served in the most savory, winey sauce flavored with tomatoes, garlic and pancetta with plenty of charred bread. No one’s got them beat in terms of broth. We’re too far away from Meritage to visit for an occasional fix of moules frites so here’s my best impression:


Cooks’s Notes: Adapted from Ina Garten’s recipe for Mussels in White Wine. Inspired by the moules frites at Meritage in St. Paul, MN. If you want a chunkier sauce, use diced tomatoes or squeeze whole ones. I used a cheap bottle of pinot grigio and all was well. You could always use a nicer one. Just don’t use something sweet like a moscato or reisling. Ina Garten uses shallots. I thought diced onion tasted just fine. Fresh herbs are always ideal and dry work fine in a pinch, too. 

3 lb. mussels (Serves two people very generously or three with no leftovers).
Thick cut bacon, about five strips
Butter, four tablespoons
Olive oil, about two tablespoons
1/2 onion, small dice
5 cloves garlic, minced
White wine (I used a $5.99 bottle of Beringer Pinot Grigio)
2/3 cup tomato sauce
Black Pepper
(Optional) Red pepper flakes

1. Rinse & inspect mussels. Gently brush them with a cloth or brush under cold running water to eliminate any grit. De-beard if necessary. Discard mussels that are damaged or open. Mussels will open and close slightly. Check an open mussel by tapping on the outside or squeezing it closed. If it remains open, toss. If a mussel that was closed when you were washing it opens a little bit, it’s alive. Don’t be alarmed if you hear little suction noises as they open and close. If you’re squeamish like me, this is kind of freaky. Do your best to forge ahead.

2. In a large stock pot, cook chopped bacon with a little bit of olive oil. When it’s crispy, remove and set aside. Remove bacon grease from the pan leaving the residue for flavor. This can be saved for cooking later. If there’s a lot of debris, strain through cheesecloth.

3. Return stock pot to burner. Saute onions in about two tablespoons of butter and a drizzle of olive oil until softened. Add garlic, red pepper flakes, herbs (if using dried basil and thyme, start with a good pinch of each), black pepper, and a good pinch of salt. Stir until fragrant.

4. De-glaze the pan with one cup of white wine. Scrape the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to incorporate the brown bits into the sauce. Simmer for a few minutes until slightly reduced.

5. Add the tomato sauce, a good splash of water or low-sodium stock and stir. You want plenty of flavorful broth because dipping bread into the mussel sauce is the most fun part of eating mussels! Simmer until the sauce tastes mellow and doesn’t have an alcohol bite. This will take a few minutes. Add another dab of butter, touch of honey (or sugar) and salt and pepper as needed.

6. Turn up the heat a little bit so that the sauce is boiling and add the mussels. Give them a quick stir and cover. Reduce heat back to medium-low. Steam until the mussels open, shaking the pot every so often so that the mussels on the bottom don’t burn. This should take between 5-8 minutes. Some of the mussels just won’t open, so don’t wait until every single one opens. Turn off the heat and remove the pan when most of the mussels are open. Toss the mussels that won’t open. If they’re cracked open pretty well, we still eat them.

7. Serve immediately with plenty of crusty bread for dipping. If you need to wait a little bit before serving the mussels, place them somewhere off the burner with the lid removed. They’ll be OK for a little bit. Overcooked mussels develop a firm, mealy texture. You want them to remain silky and delicate.

When You Celebrate A Birthday At Joe’s Crab Shack

Photography Disclaimer: If you have a low tolerance for lousy phone food photography, avert your eyes after the section about Joseph’s Grill. This post is chock-full of bad phone photos. Pinky-orange crab, yellow-tinted whites, neon cocktails + a blurry, self-gratuitous selfie all bathed in the jarring lighting at Joe’s Crab Shack. I wanted to keep Martha Steward on her toes. Frankly, perfection bores me. If you feel the same way about food blogs, then this post is for you. 

How does one describe my mother-in-law?

Well, for one thing, she really likes themes. Like, really, really likes themes. Theme parties have become such a normal part of Jake’s existence, that he hardly bats an eye at her newest schemes. He smiles as he recollects a childhood of flower parties, color parties, first or last initial parties, and happy pumpkin parties.

On the other hand, my family didn’t give much thought to themes. They took it as far as asking me what I wanted on my birthday cake and possibly finding matching invitations, but no further. It’s no wonder that themes kind of frighten me.

We returned to the Twin Cities last weekend to celebrate Jake’s dad’s big 60th birthday and the theme was “Joe” since his hame is Joe. When I first caught wind of the themed weekend my mother-in-law hatched, I experienced a wave of anxiety. We were supposed to eat at three Twin Cities restaurants with the word “Joe” in their name, all on one day.

The restaurants chosen were Joseph’s Grill, Joe Senser’s, and Joe’s Crab Shack. Until this day, I had never visited any of these places.

We convened at Joseph’s Grill Saturday morning. Dreading two more Joe’s stops later that day, I kept it simple with poached eggs and a virgin Bloody Mary. Jake ordered the Greek Florentine Omelet filled with lamb, feta, tomato, onions, spinach and topped with tzatziki sauce. I’m sure it’s no surprise his entrée was more exciting than mine and, so I kept stealing bites of his lamb. If you go to Joseph’s, try something with lamb.

Joseph's grill collage border Collage

All in all, everyone was satisfied with their first Joe meals. Our server was friendly and served with finesse, portions were large and we were full.

My mother-in-law broached lunch at Joe Senser’s on the drive home and nobody bit. “What about if we just stop there for appetizers before dinner,” she asked? We groaned and arrived at the group consensus to strike on less “Joe restaurant” from the itinerary.

And then there was Joe’s Crab Shack. My first thought was that Joe’s Crab Shack looks like a space ship. Or at least, something can could be seen from space.

Joe's outside

The interior of the restaurant is as festive as the exterior. Bright lights, tropical stuff mounted on the walls and even an in-store gift shop.

Joe’s Crab Shack doesn’t waste time with napkins. Each table receives a big roll of paper towels. I was in the restroom when our server introduced himself and reacted with confusion when I noticed the roll. “Who the hell is Andrew and why is his name written on a paper towel?” I asked, before it dawned on me.

Paper Towels watermarked

Andrew did a great job taking care of our table. Joe’s is located near Northwestern College & Bethel. Many of the restaurants in this part of Roseville employ students from these colleges.

Because we were celebrating a special occasion, one of Jake’s brothers treated us to a variety of appetizers. My favorite items were the crispy hush puppies which arrived in a metal bucket along with ranch dressing. It can’t be hip to enjoy ranch as much as I do.

And then there were the drinks. A few people ordered the Category 5 Hurricane, a cocktail with a disclaimer. The menu states that each customer may only order two which is a good rule because the drink’s not only goblet sized, but strong. Plus, there’s no telling what might happen if a drunken brawl erupted at Joe’s. There are just too many mason jars and pointy marlin fish on the walls for anyone to be safe.

hurricane waternarjed

On the other hand, my margarita was weak. I know this to be true because I am the epitome of a lightweight and if I can’t feel a cocktail it’s weaksauce.

Those of us who ordered crab experienced a moment of surprise when servers approached our table to tie paper bibs around our necks. Mine said Hottest Legs Around. I could not complain because at least it wasn’t decorated with an STD joke. The rest of the bibs said things too ridiculous to mention here (nod to Marilyn Hagerty with my use of the word ridiculous).

“Help,” scream my eyes.

Bib watermarked

Of course Jake and I ordered crab at Joe’s Crab Shack. We split a Classic Steampot for two.

I was delighted that our steampot contained two, separate, perfectly symmetrical mesh bags because it meant we wouldn’t have to fight over halfies. Each contained two queen crab leg clusters, a handful of shrimp, one ear of corn, halved red potatoes, and a sausage.

Crab Pot watermarked
Customers can choose from six different flavor options for steamed seafood, but we kept it simple with Old Bay. If you want drawn butter with your crab, you have to request it. Joe’s serves it in small plastic cups that cool quickly into solid masses. I did not let this slow me down.

Jake ate slowly and avoided the “filler” items, hoping I’d leave him some crab. He waited in vain as I ate every single thing in my bag.

Crab Remains photo

The crab legs weren’t particular meaty, but tasted fresh enough, unlike crab legs I’ve ordered at similar (and nicer) establishments that reeked of ammonia. I assumed the sausage would be a bland filler, but found it to have a pleasant snap and flavorful spicing.

And then my father-in-law turned into a bird.

Chain restaurant birthday rituals are their own strange bird. They always seem to involve things like balloons, marching in single file lines, clapping, and singing and this was no exception. Joe’s took the restaurant birthday thing one step further by dressing Joe up as a bird with a styrofoam beak and wings and encouraging him to flap around the dining room. I don’t know if my memory of this incidient is hazy from too many sips of Jake’s Hurricane or a possible retreat into my happy place, but I have this picture so it must have happened.

Bird watermarked

My father-in-law was a great sport.

Joe wasn’t the only birthday boy in the shack. Shortly after, staff led another birthday charge. While they didn’t give the next birthday boy the royal bird treatment, they showered him with a procession of singing and clapping. A birthday celebration at Joe’s Crab Shack is perfect for those who want everyone to know it’s their birthday or tolerate mild form of public humiliation. Everyone else will want to die.

At the end of the evening, Joe declared that this was his favorite birthday of all time. 

The zany restaurant crawl was not made in vain and we could feel confident our dirty-joke bibs were worn with honor. The weekend served its purpose to celebrate Joe and launch him into his 61st year surrounded by family. Someone else’s birthday is never really about us, anyway.

Is Joe’s Crab Shack for everyone? Probably not. But I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a darn good time.

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