Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Robert St. John: Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning

 For the past 23 years I have written a 1,000-word column every Monday morning. Always early in the morning. I haven’t missed a week. Ever. I typically let the column sit for a day and then revisit it on Tuesday morning, catching things that need to be edited, sentences that need to be swapped around or eliminated, misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, and just general things I forgot— or remembered— that should be included in whatever topic I may be writing about on that day.

 This morning I am writing on a Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. I did absolutely zero labor on Labor Day and that may be a first. I spent time with family and friends and had a blast. I am having a hard time getting focused this morning, so I am going to do something I have wanted to do for several years and cover a wide array of topics and things that are on my mind that have taken place in the past several days.


Here are some random thoughts on a Tuesday morning:

Plum jelly is the most underrated jelly. I grew up a strawberry or grape jelly kid. My mom bought Bama, and as a kid I collected tiny jelly jar glasses. I still have some Archies jelly jar glasses in the kitchen cabinet at home. A couple of decades ago I switched to blackberry jelly, and the kind without added sugar. Blackberry preserves are excellent on biscuits, and when country ham is added to that mix, a simple quick bread becomes a southern delicacy. In this part of the country Mayhaw jelly is one of the top homemade jellies you’ll find in kitchens of ladies who can fruits and vegetables.


Though plum jelly has made a reappearance in my life. If there was a jar of plum jelly around when I was a kid, it would have been stuck on a back shelf in my grandmother’s refrigerator (“icebox” as she called it). She probably would have used it as a component for another recipe and then it— as forgotten products do— made its way to the nether regions of the fridge and was forgotten until she was out of grape and strawberry.


Though plum jelly should never be categorized among the misfit items in a refrigerator or cabinet. Plum jelly is good. It’s damn good. So much so, that I have started buying it and using it on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and on buttered toast and biscuits instead of the longtime frontrunner, blackberry.


While we’re on the subject of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I catch flack occasionally for being an adult male who still eats pbjs on occasion. I’ll defer to the longtime Grande Dame of the New Orleans restaurant scene, the late Ella Brennan, who said, “You know why kids like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? Because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are good.”


Apple jelly might be another underrated jelly. But that’s another column for another day.


I was recently in Birmingham on business and visited a unique restaurant. I tend to get a little jaded about restaurants as living in them, working in them, and researching them for the past 40 years has left me in an occasional state of been-there-done-that. Though sometimes I hit on a concept and am literally struck silent. Many times, my dining guests wonder if something is wrong. There is never anything wrong. It's all actually “right.” I'm just taking it all in. The brilliance of the design, the simplicity of the menu and workflow, and the originality of a concept. I can remember being in Au Cheval in the West Loop neighborhood of Chicago for the first time and my dining companion thought I had become sick to my stomach. It wasn't that. Not at all. I was just in awe of the brilliance of the design, layout, food preparation, and atmosphere. It was almost sensory overload.


That happened last week in Birmingham when I visited Rougaroux. It's a dive. As anyone who has read this column for years knows, I love a dive. Most professional surveys of customers rank service as the number one item guests are looking for in a restaurant. Atmosphere comes in second, followed by food in the third spot. I am the exact opposite of that. It's all about the food for me. I can forgive poor service if I get my food properly prepared. I prefer a dive or joint, as I'm a fairly casual person myself, and spent 30 years of my life doing research and development in, around, and for fine-dining restaurants. I've had enough.


That is why Rougaroux put me into my latest restaurant stupor. I just sat there taking it all in. There's nothing really to speak of that is monumental about the atmosphere, other than it was mostly a don't-give-a-damn attitude that wound up working out splendidly. There was a limited amount of indoor dining and slightly more outdoor dining, and it was fine. Not comfortable, but OK. The food was stellar. Seriouly, 100% spot on. Stellar.


Owning a restaurant outside of New Orleans and trying to serve New Orleans food is a challenge. As anyone who's ever done this knows, you always encounter a citizen from New Orleans who is sitting in your dining room and the first words out of their mouths are typically something like, “I am from New Orleans, so you know I know food...” What I can tell you is that as much as I love New Orleans and its cuisine— and I truly love that city and its cuisine so much that I am a part-time resident— but there are a lot of people in that city who don't really know food. If you are reading this and are from New Orleans, I'm not talking about you.


Rougaroux knows New Orleans cuisine. The chef, Ryan Champion, worked under Frank Stitt at Bottega and Ella Brennan at Commander’s Palace. But he obviously wasn’t making pb&js and delivering them next door to Ella. He knows his way around a fine dining kitchen. But there's nothing fine dining here. Proudly so. And I love that. What he knows is Creole New Orleans cuisine. The gumbo was spot on, very okra forward with plenty of seafood. The red beans and rice were a 10 out of 10. And the Ferdie special— the classic po-boy from Mothers with ham and debris— was infinitely better than the original, and was at least an eight-napkin indulgence.


Future visits to Birmingham will always include a trip to Rougaroux.


So, my idea of covering a wide array of random topics didn’t quite work out. I covered two. What have we learned today, kids? 


1.) Plum jelly should be on the top shelf in the front of the refrigerator and not relegated to the back by the jar of pickles that is two-years old


2.) Rougaroux in Birmingham might not look like much, but it could very well be the best lunch destination in that city, if not all of Alabama.



Plum sauce for dipping

I don’t know where I got this recipe. I don’t think it’s mine, but it might be. It was on my hard drive and one of the only plum recipes in my collection. It may be a Tom Fitzmorris recipe, if so, thanks, Tom


4 black plums, peeled and pitted

1/2 cups sugar

1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger

2 Tbs. chopped chipotle pepper, seeds removed

1/ cup rice wine vinegar


Combine all ingredients in a stainless steel saucepan. Bring to a light boil and cook for about ten minutes. Puree. Refrigerate what's not used right away.


Anonymous said...

I still wish RSJ would write a paper about the problems he encountered while trying to open a multi purpose project in "The Fondren".

(It had to more difficult than hosting tours in Italy)

Anonymous said...

6:16, the story will be more interesting when it includes the demise and closing experiences, which will likely occur before 2024.

Anonymous said...

All the bullshit and nonsense about what St. John the Babblist knows and what inferior folks don't, summed up succinctly by this asinine statement:

"What he knows is Creole New Orleans cuisine. The gumbo was spot on, very okra forward with plenty of seafood..."

About like saying "Pizza Hut of Brooklyn knows real NY style pizza, which as any real expert knows has plenty of pre-sliced cheese food product and is dripping with pureed Polk's Redhots, all on top of a thick layer of Blue Plate."

Here's the deal:

The various Creole seafood soups aren't gumbo and none contain any okra either for its "forwardness" or even as a thickener as it is actually used in stews. Some do use filé powder on the rice, some don't, and some are served with nothing but the soup itself ("Cajun gumbo" is whatever the maker wants, including potato salad, but "Cajuns" and Creoles are totally unrelated groups).

True gumbo is a totally different thing. It is a "peasant stew" made with leftover fowl, sausages, ham/tasso bits, etc., and except for gumbo z'herbs, it does often use okra as a thickener but never filé and okra and none are truly white Creole dishes. Often even when white Creoles make such stews they omit the okra and use filé to taste in the bowl or if with rice, on the rice. There is no Creole (either the original or later meanings) seafood soup with okra because it wasn't what either white or mixed-race Creoles ate. The oddball is "gumbo z'herbes" which isn't really gumbo either, but it is the name that stuck in most mixed-race Creole circles. It contains no okra but it does have sausage and/or ham and chicken stock so it isn't vegetarian even though it is a often a Lent meal whose name implies that it is. Most white Creoles call it potage aux herbes or caldo Gallego, depending on the exact contents, and not "gumbo aux herbes." Hey, it's New Orleans.

Most folks outside of New Orleans (and many newcomers within) don't know or care about the differences and even those who do know often use "seafood gumbo" because the average person doesn't know. Plus many restaurants use terms like "seafood filé gumbo" which is a real mishmash of terminology. All of that is perfectly fine. But someone claiming to be a hotshot food expert and restaurateur with 30 years of research and experience should know the difference as a matter of course (pardon the pun). Especially when they are writing about it. Just one more example of St. John being more brag than fact and completely full of...well, not gumbo.

Anonymous said...

6:16 and 9:48, do tell YOUR accomplishments before criticizing successful people and wishing failure upon them. How horrible of you.
And 9:56 KnowItAll, how boring it must be to be around you. Please go back to the Louisiana swamp.

Recent Comments

Search Jackson Jambalaya

Subscribe to JJ's Youtube channel


Trollfest '09

Trollfest '07 was such a success that Jackson Jambalaya will once again host Trollfest '09. Catch this great event which will leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Othor Cain and his band, The Black Power Structure headline the night while Sonjay Poontang returns for an encore performance. Former Frank Melton bodyguard Marcus Wright makes his premier appearance at Trollfest singing "I'm a Sweet Transvestite" from "The Rocky Horror Picture Show." Kamikaze will sing his new hit, “How I sold out to da Man.” Robbie Bell again performs: “Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be Bells” and “Any friend of Ed Peters is a friend of mine”. After the show, Ms. Bell will autograph copies of her mug shot photos. In a salute to “Dancing with the Stars”, Ms. Bell and Hinds County District Attorney Robert Smith will dance the Wango Tango.

Wrestling returns, except this time it will be a Battle Royal with Othor Cain, Ben Allen, Kim Wade, Haley Fisackerly, Alan Lange, and “Big Cat” Donna Ladd all in the ring at the same time. The Battle Royal will be in a steel cage, no time limit, no referee, and the losers must leave town. Marshand Crisler will be the honorary referee (as it gives him a title without actually having to do anything).

Meet KIM Waaaaaade at the Entergy Tent. For five pesos, Kim will sell you a chance to win a deed to a crack house on Ridgeway Street stuffed in the Howard Industries pinata. Don't worry if the pinata is beaten to shreds, as Mr. Wade has Jose, Emmanuel, and Carlos, all illegal immigrants, available as replacements for the it. Upon leaving the Entergy tent, fig leaves will be available in case Entergy literally takes everything you have as part of its Trollfest ticket price adjustment charge.

Donna Ladd of The Jackson Free Press will give several classes on learning how to write. Smearing, writing without factchecking, and reporting only one side of a story will be covered. A donation to pay their taxes will be accepted and she will be signing copies of their former federal tax liens. Ms. Ladd will give a dramatic reading of her two award-winning essays (They received The Jackson Free Press "Best Of" awards.) "Why everything is always about me" and "Why I cover murders better than anyone else in Jackson".

In the spirit of helping those who are less fortunate, Trollfest '09 adopts a cause for which a portion of the proceeds and donations will be donated: Keeping Frank Melton in his home. The “Keep Frank Melton From Being Homeless” booth will sell chances for five dollars to pin the tail on the jackass. John Reeves has graciously volunteered to be the jackass for this honorable excursion into saving Frank's ass. What's an ass between two friends after all? If Mr. Reeves is unable to um, perform, Speaker Billy McCoy has also volunteered as when the word “jackass” was mentioned he immediately ran as fast as he could to sign up.

In order to help clean up the legal profession, Adam Kilgore of the Mississippi Bar will be giving away free, round-trip plane tickets to the North Pole where they keep their bar complaint forms (which are NOT available online). If you don't want to go to the North Pole, you can enjoy Brant Brantley's (of the Mississippi Commission on Judicial Performance) free guided tours of the quicksand field over by High Street where all complaints against judges disappear. If for some reason you are unable to control yourself, never fear; Judge Houston Patton will operate his jail where no lawyers are needed or allowed as you just sit there for minutes... hours.... months...years until he decides he is tired of you sitting in his jail. Do not think Judge Patton is a bad judge however as he plans to serve free Mad Dog 20/20 to all inmates.

Trollfest '09 is a pet-friendly event as well. Feel free to bring your dog with you and do not worry if your pet gets hungry, as employees of the Jackson Zoo will be on hand to provide some of their animals as food when it gets to be feeding time for your little loved one.

Relax at the Fox News Tent. Since there are only three blonde reporters in Jackson (being blonde is a requirement for working at Fox News), Megan and Kathryn from WAPT and Wendy from WLBT will be on loan to Fox. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both and a torn-up Obama yard sign will entitle you to free drinks served by Megan, Wendy, and Kathryn. Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required. Just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '09 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS.

Trollfest '07

Jackson Jambalaya is the home of Trollfest '07. Catch this great event which promises to leave NE Jackson & Fondren in flames. Sonjay Poontang and his band headline the night with a special steel cage, no time limit "loser must leave town" bout between Alan Lange and "Big Cat"Donna Ladd following afterwards. Kamikaze will perform his new song F*** Bush, he's still a _____. Did I mention there was no referee? Dr. Heddy Matthias and Lori Gregory will face off in the undercard dueling with dangling participles and other um, devices. Robbie Bell will perform Her two latest songs: My Best Friends are in the Media and Mama's, Don't Let Your Babies Grow up to be George Bell. Sid Salter of The Clarion-Ledger will host "Pin the Tail on the Trial Lawyer", sponsored by State Farm.

There will be a hugging booth where in exchange for your young son, Frank Melton will give you a loooong hug. Trollfest will have a dunking booth where Muhammed the terrorist will curse you to Allah as you try to hit a target that will drop him into a vat of pig grease. However, in the true spirit of Separate But Equal, Don Imus and someone from NE Jackson will also sit in the dunking booth for an equal amount of time. Tom Head will give a reading for two hours on why he can't figure out who the hell he is. Cliff Cargill will give lessons with his .80 caliber desert eagle, using Frank Melton photos as targets. Tackleberry will be on hand for an autograph session. KIM Waaaaaade will be passing out free titles and deeds to crackhouses formerly owned by The Wood Street Players.

If you get tired come relax at the Fox News Tent. To gain admittance to the VIP section, bring either your Republican Party ID card or a Rebel Flag. Bringing both will entitle you to free drinks.Get your tickets now. Since this is an event for trolls, no ID is required, just bring the hate. Bring the family, Trollfest '07 is for EVERYONE!!!

This is definitely a Beaver production.

Note: Security provided by INS