The subject of good food is near and dear to me. I think I once wrote about two paragraphs describing steaks we ate in Buenos Aries, Argentina. Just writing that previous sentence made my mouth water. Yes, they were that good.
I get a little bit excited when we find a place with some
good great restaurants. Our lifestyle means we are often off the beaten path. Even an ample supply of groceries can be difficult to obtain sometimes. Once we are ashore, we are usually limited by how far our feet can take us. Renting a car opens up all sorts of opportunities. When I’m old and sitting in my rocking chair telling my tales of the days of yore, I can guarantee you fine-dining and awesome food will not be at the forefront of my stories about the cruising life. Yes, we have found some gems. But, they are far and few. And, usually nowhere near where we’ve parked the boat.
Being a Brit, fish and chips cravings are intertwined into my DNA. The Brits are not very well-known for good food, and I really don’t understand why not. Seriously, I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy a good roast beef, shepherd’s pie, pork sausages, or Cornish pasties. Perhaps England didn’t invent the hamburger or hotdog but they did invent the sandwich in 1762. John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, invented a meal changing world dining forever. As the story goes, he was playing cards and did not want to leave the gaming table to eat. I guess he had a winning streak going. He asked for a serving of roast beef to be placed between two slices of bread so he could eat with his hands.
Having a two-burner stove on the boat sometimes limits our creativity for meals. Prior to selling our house, Cindy and I entertained a lot. We both absolutely love to cook. A perfect day for us was to have two or three other couples join us for dinner on a Saturday night after our morning in the farmers market and an afternoon of cooking. It wasn’t unusual for our guests to enjoy a five-course meal over three or four hours in our dining room. They all ate meals on fine British bone-china and drank from Waterford crystal stemware. Ha! Now we have pottery plates we purchased from Wal-Mart. I think when we outfitted Cream Puff we splurged and bought the $2.00 plates. We both dislike using plastic plates and glasses.
Even with just Cream Puff’s two-burner stove, a traditional full English breakfast minus the black pudding, is a regular occurrence on our floating home. Sometimes on the French islands, getting bacon can be a challenge. Martinique and Guadeloupe had very limited choices. I’m mean, who doesn’t like bacon? The French, who are supposedly recognized for fine food, really need to expand their breakfast cuisine. Yes, while fresh croissants, yogurt, and fruit are yummy, imagine how much better they would all be with bacon. Let’s be ultra-realistic here, everything is better with bacon.
We are never quite sure when arriving on a French island if bacon is going to be available. Lately, we seem to have no issues at the local Champion and Carrefour grocery stores. Some bacon is sold in small packs, enough for two people. Perfect! It’s not the best bacon. We don’t have choices of cut thickness or types of smokiness. But, some bacon is better than no bacon.
As food lovers, we get pretty excited when we find a good restaurant. And, we get even more excited when the food is fabulous and the prices are reasonable. This brings me back to fish and chips. Damn good fish and chips are an art form like no other. Ask any British person. They’ll tell you.
Obviously, if a person wants damn good fish and chips, they go to England. The Brits are serious about fish and chips. Name any other country with national Fish and Chip contests and awards. Get my point? But let’s face it; traveling halfway across the globe for a meal isn’t realistic for most people. Outside of the UK, damn good fish and chips can be a little bit harder to find. So when I do find them, I’m excited.
Right now, I’m excited. Not only am I excited but I have a serious dilemma. We discovered a small restaurant in Pape’ete with real beer-battered fish and chips. It is the Urban Café. In addition to their damn good fish and chips, they sell an incredible bacon cheeseburger. And, the bacon on their cheeseburger is the good kind. It is smoked, thick, and crispy. The burger is 100% Angus beef and they know how to cook it. What do I choose? The Brit in me will order damn good fish and chips every time. Living in the USA for many years taught me to appreciate a good burger. If finding damn good fish and chips in the USA is hard, so is finding an awesome burger outside of the USA. Trust me, I’ve tried. Now, do you see the dilemma?
If you are in the USA there are two places deserving of the Cream Puff Approval Award (CPAA) for damn good fish and chips. They are Moon Under Water and Prince of Wales. Both are located in Florida. One is on the east coast and the other on the opposite side in St. Petersburg. Let’s start in St Pete.
In downtown St. Petersburg is a fabulous little restaurant on the bay-front called Moon Under Water. Their half-order of fish and chips is more than enough to feed even the hungriest person. The fries are so-so. The fish is real cod with a malt-beer batter and cooked to perfection so the fish is flaky but moist. They have malt-vinegar on the table. It’s not Sarson’s Malt Vinegar but it’s a step in the right direction for Americans. Brits don’t use tartar sauce. Real Brits don’t even know what tartar sauce is.
In addition to fish and chips, Moon Under Water sells what they refer to a British Pastry. It is the closest thing I have come to find outside of the UK resembling a Cornish Pastie. From there menu:
English Pasty (turnover) Angus ground beef and vegetables in gravy, wrapped in flaky pastry served with peas and choice of rice or fries $16
I used to order mine with baked beans and without the gravy. I have no idea why they thought gravy would add to the pastry. If I closed my eyes and put a little HP Sauce on the pie, I could enjoy a taste of England. To top this off, I would wash it down with a pint of honest to goodness real out-of–the-tap Guinness. Now we’re talking!
The other CPAA goes to the Prince of Wales restaurant in the historic district of downtown St. Augustine. This place we discovered sort of by accident. During our stay in St. Augustine, we fell in love with a BBQ restaurant just up the street. We walked past it a few times on our way to get BBQ. When getting back to the boat after stuffing my face with brisket, baked beans, and mac & cheese, I decided to look up the Prince of Wales on the internet. Hmmm, great reviews on the fish and chips. Perhaps we should try it. Also on the menu: Guinness on tap, Sold!
In addition to damn good fish and chips, the Price of Wales sells bread pudding topped with Bird’s custard. Bird’s custard is another British invention. It is, in my opinion, of the same historic importance as the invention of the sandwich. Now, I have a confession to make. I love bread pudding. It was one of my favorite desserts as a kid and still is today.
My grandma made incredible bread pudding. Beside hers, the best I’ve ever tasted was at Mr. B’s in New Orleans, Louisiana. I also make a pretty mean bread pudding. I used to serve mine with a mild rum sauce. Never in a million years did I think to put custard over it. What the heck is wrong with me? When I said, everything is better with bacon, the same is true with desserts. All desserts are better with hot Bird’s custard. Another of my favorites: Apple crumble pie with hot custard. If there is a heaven, then apple crumble pie smothered with hot Bird’s custard is served there daily by angels.
Imagine my excitement when I was served a bowl of bread pudding smothered in Bird’s custard. But wait, there’s more. They also sold spotted dick with Bird’s custard. What the heck is spotted dick, you ask? It is another fine British invention. Perhaps not of the same magnitude as the sandwich or Bird’s custard, but pretty close. It is suet with dried fruit bits, normally currants and raisins. It is delicious. And, a good spotted dick is another art form. The best part: What child doesn’t like to loudly order spotted dick in a crowded restaurant?
Another CPAA goes to The Fish House in the little mountain town of Boquete in Panama. Panama would be the last place in the world I would normally expect to find damn good fish and chips. Hmm, I was wrong about this. And as luck would have it, on the day we were there (Wednesday), fish and chips were the special of the day along with a free beer. About the only beer in the entire world better than cool Guinness fresh from the tap is free beer.
We drove for 7 hours to get to Boquete from the marina where Cream Puff was moored. No, we didn’t do it for just the fish and chips. We went there because we had read about this beautiful town and wanted to enjoy some cool weather up in the Panamanian mountains. In our week-long stay there Boquete did not disappoint us. We loved our time there. The scenery was magnificent. And yes, there was a time later on in Panama when I actually did think about doing a fish and chip run to Boquete. I thought we could go up on a Wednesday for fish and chips with free beer and drive back Thursday. Yeah, the idea seemed even crazier at the time. We decided to eat Mexican food instead.
At this point I bet you are probably asking yourself, so why isn’t the UK renowned for fine foods? How does this old man, a product of the fine British public education system, become so enamored by fine food if there isn’t any there? Also, keep in mind it was Great Britain who launched Jamie Oliver to the world. And then there is Gordon Ramsay, not a bloke to be proud of but a decent cook nonetheless.
Could this lack of culinary recognition for the UK be the greatest injustice of the century? Think of all the culinary specialties I have just mentioned. And to name a few more, what about Worcestershire sauce, Cadbury’s chocolate, trifle, Yorkshire pudding, Marmite (okay – maybe not Marmite), Bisto, steak and kidney pie, roasted potatoes, bubble and squeak, pork pies, toad in the hole, bangers and mash, scones, and Devon cream. Frankly, you haven’t lived until you have had tea accompanied by scones covered in jam and Devon clotted cream.
This brings me to the point of my post. We are going out for lunch today. When eating at the Urban Café, a recent recipient of a CPAA, should I order damn good fish and chips or an awesome bacon cheeseburger?