Posted by: acooksca | 03/12/2015

SFO to NAS, with Food Stops in Between

Flying over The Bahamas

Flying over The Bahamas

Last month we flew a small plane from San Francisco to Nassau, Bahamas and back, stopping at places we have never been before. We found memorable local foods, the top rated clam chowder in the country and a really curious spoon shortage. Here are some highlights.

Franklin’s Bar-b-q in Austin – I got an email from Robb Walsh, cookbook writer and restaurant reviewer for the Houston Press, saying if we hit one bar-b-q place it had to be Franklin’s for the best brisket you’ll ever eat. I was hoping he had a different suggestion. The lines at Franklin’s can be 3 hours long and when the kitchen runs out they just close up. But this was a good day. The man in front of us was willing to be late for his part in a State hearing because the line was shorter than he had ever seen.

After a quick hour we made it to the cutting board. And we have to say that

 Franklin's BBQ in Austin

Franklin’s BBQ in Austin

not just the famed brisket but everything… ribs, links…all were exceptional. But that brisket: slow smoked for 12 hours, a fatty cap melts into the muscle permeating it with rich beefiness, interior collagen dissolves to a custardy textured and a thick, crunchy crust surrounds the whole.

No spoons for The South – we first noticed it in Lafayette, LA when the smoked duck gumbo and shrimp etouffee came to the table without spoons. Here, in the heart of Cajun Country, these dishes are thicker than their New Orleans counter parts but still…a fork wasn’t quite up to scouring the bowl. Across Louisiana, Florida and even in The Bahamas spoons were not part of standard restaurant table settings and hard to get. If we told the waitperson we were “sharing a dessert” one spoon showed up. Say we wanted to “taste our partner’s chowder” and that was clearly an odd you’re-not-from-around-here behavior. Invariably, we passed one spoon back and forth.

Red Gulf Prawns in Key West

Red Gulf Prawns in Key West

Prawns that are more – Our waiter in Key West said the red prawns, just pulled from deep winter waters of the Gulf, had extra fat and a taste akin to lobster. So right he was. An order is a pound of huge prawns that have been gently poached with Old Bay seasoning in their shells. Suck the poaching broth from the shell, peel the prawn and nibble these tender, sweet beauties. Do it on a dock in The Keys and you feel right at home.

Bobby Flay needs a vacation in Nassau – restaurants in the overly glitzy Atlantis Resort boast celebrity chefs and New York prices. That doesn’t mean, however, that the kitchens can execute their vision. In Bobby Flay’s Mesa Grill the “crisp baby greens” were sodden in a bath of heavy dressing and the duck quesadilla was all sweet sauce and little else. Their masa harina mini muffins were excellent, however and useful to mop up the jammy sauce. Flay should return for some R and R (Re-evaluating and Retraining the kitchen).

Exuma, Bahamas Fish Fry Shacks

Exuma, Bahamas Fish Fry Shacks

Fish Fry shacks in Exuma – our taxi driver told us about Shirley’s, one of a half dozen beachside food shacks in Georgetown. These are wooden bench places with a radio tuned to the island station, a menu of fried or grilled local catch and a handful of Bahamian beers. Shirley’s is popular for Conch Fritters, puffy fried dough balls containing chunks of abalone-like conch. They come with tarter sauce, a bottle of local hot sauce and the warm sweet-salty evening air of Exuma.

World Champion Clam Chowder in Florida– The small island of Cedar Key, Florida (pop.700) sits in the quiet North West of the state, far from the glitz of the big Florida resorts. But they have Tony’s. In 2011 this 54-seat restaurant

Steamed clams at Tony's  in Cedar Key

Steamed clams at Tony’s in Cedar Key

took its third consecutive championship at the annual Great Chowder Cook-Off in Newport R.I. Tony’s is now the top winner in the Chowder Hall of Fame. After net fishing was banned in this area, the government helped fishermen establish clam and oyster beds. The resulting bivalves are plump and sweet. Tony’s serves steamed clams up right in the shell with drawn butter. I suspect the reserved broth ends up in their chowder, which is extra- clammy, solid with meat and enriched with a finishing dose of cream. You can order it by mail:

Saved by Epic Bars – Emerging from the fantastical Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico at 3:00 p.m. we needed lunch before flying on to San Antonio. Fortunately, we had a stock of Epic Bars… protein bars made of grass fed meat and dried fruits. They are terrific. Epic Bars became our go-to snack on long flights or emergency rations when stuck with no options for dinner. Bison with bacon and cranberries, beef with habanero and cherries and our favorite, lamb, currant and mint. They are sold at Whole Foods Markets. The lamb bar is hard to find and when I finally found a box of 12 bars in Phoenix, just 2 days before the end of the trip, I bought the box to leave in the plane. Just in case.



  1. Sounds like so much fun and good food. And so much fun seeing you in New Orleans!

    • We always have a great time there and it was even better meeting up with you for drinks, dinner and Jazz.

  2. Thanks, DiAnn, glad you enjoyed.

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