Hibachi Express

I love sushi, but I am not going to write a column about it—Joel Stein

I am not familiar with Mr. Stein’s work, but I will write about a restaurant that makes sushi.

I was in Morehead, KY yesterday and had some time to stop at one of my favorite Asian take-out eateries. Yes, even in eastern Kentucky we have access to good Asian take-out. I really like the food from Hibachi Express. It is very tasty and as far as a good ole boy from the hills can tell, it seems to be pretty authentic compared to other high end Asian restaurants where I have eaten.

Hibachi Express is in a fairly nondescript location, at one end of a gas station/C-store. It reminds me of my son when we ate at a restaurant in a similar-type location in my hometown. He asked if we were going to eat at the “gas station restaurant.”

I have gotten food here seven or eight times and have always loved the flavor of each dish. Today was the first time I ordered sushi from Hibachi Express. I had the Spicy Tuna Roll and it was very good. I also ordered some Vegetable Lo-Mein. It was one of the best Asian dishes I have eaten in recent memory.

This Spicy Tuna Roll was very good.

The Vegetable Lo-Mein was one of the best tasting Asian dishes I have had in recent memory.

This dining experience was typical of what recent events offer, eating my good Asian food in my car in an ice-covered Kroger parking lot. To quote a favorite song from The Andy Griffith Show, “Welcome sweet springtime, we greet thee in song.” When can I start singing?

Roasted Mushroom, Pepper, and Red Onion Salad

Too many green salads suffer from a lack of imagination—James Beard

I am currently looking out my window at the ice and snow that was dumped on us in the last few days and awaiting for the electrical currents to return from their temporary respite.

In these cold days, most normal folks think of eating something hot such as chili, soups, stews and whatnot. Not me. I am thinking of the delicious salad from last night. I love salads and can eat them at any time.

Since Mrs. Big Surf and I are trying to reform our diets to the warmer winds of the Mediterranean, I am always foraging through Mrs. BS’s many cookbooks, internet, and YouTube. But sometimes a person just wants to do something their own way. This is a constant tete-e-tete with her and I. She cooks really good food from really good recipes and I do way too much experimenting, and I am not a good enough cook to experiment as of yet.

This salad was one of my successes. I sauteed red onions, mushrooms, and a yellow pepper in extra virgin olive oil. After these vegetables cooled, I tossed them with grape tomatoes, scallions, spinach, and feta cheese. I dressed the salad with red wine vinegar, more extra virgin olive oil, salt, pepper and dried oregano.

I will make this again, maybe tonight if the electric stays on holiday.

Greek Style Shrimp with Tomatoes and Feta

Let food by thy medicine and medicine by thy food—Hippocrates

It is hard to overcome a lifetime of bad habits.

Bad habit number 1…I grew up planted in front of the TV watching sports and sitcoms and that continues to this day.

Bad habit number 2…I can’t do number one without stuffing my face with some kind of unhealthy snack.

My wife and I are trying to eat healthier. She equates this with the need for popping more popcorn and I am only eating a half box of Cheez-Its at a setting. It’s hard to overcome bad habits.

As we move through the middle ages of life, we are starting to accumulate more photos of our insides than our outsides. We feel now is the time to eat better. We have started by trying to stay with a Mediterranean Diet.

Last night, I found some frozen shrimp in the freezer. I also found a nice looking recipe in America’s Test Kitchen’s The Complete Mediterranean Cookbook, which was a gift from a friend. This Greek style shrimp with tomatoes and feta was simply delicious. I like this book because it gives some options. We have a well-stocked pantry but no ouzo. This recipe called for ouzo, but said you could sub vodka mixed with anise seed. I have fixed many recipes out of this book and all have been really good.

As we begin our attempt to move from eastern Kentucky to the Mediterranean region in our kitchen, I will keep you abreast of our journey. At least we can travel through our culinary experiences.

Turkish Cay (Chai)

No road is long with good company—Turkish proverb

I read somewhere that offering tea in Turkey is akin to a handshake in the United States.

Though this thought seems to be hyperbole, it is not far from the truth. I have visited Turkey on two separate occasions, once in Istanbul and once in Malatya. The one common thread running through these cities, one a very large international city and the other a smaller traditional Turkish city, is the hospitality of the Turkish people and the offering of tea (cay which is pronounced cheye).

I was offered tea in the shops, a barbershop, a Turkish bath, and homes. And of course in the cafes. There are tea cafes that are for men only. This is part of the tradition of being a Turkish man, to meet in the cafes and drink tea. Men and women can go into the Turkish tea gardens and drink tea. My point is that the culture of tea in Turkey is very important and to refuse someone’s offer of tea is bordering on an insult.

I love this part of the Turkish culture and I hope it never changes. I love the fact that people gather in shops and cafes and just enjoy being with one another. It is a change we could adopt in the US. The closest we have is the coffee shops, but most folks are in there on their devices.

The above photo is of tea in a tulip glass in a cafe in Malatya, Turkey. It was a relaxing few minutes watching the city go about its business while seated at an outdoor table.

My son and daughter-in-law recently gave me a gift of a Turkish tea pot, which is actually two kettles.

This tea pot has given me comfort in the few short weeks I have owned it. The tea is a learning process.

When I drink the tea from the tulip glasses, I am transported back to the cafes in Turkey. I would have liked to have spent more time there.

I think about how the Covid virus has impacted this tea culture in Turkey and I realize that so many people have had to get through their day without their friends sitting around a table drinking some tea and conversing and just enjoying each other. I hope they can get back to seeing each other soon.

In the mean time, I will try to perfect my Turkish tea and think about those people who are missing their friends.

Greek-Style Eggplant

When my baby cooks her eggplant, about nineteen different ways, sometimes I just like it raw with mayonnaise—From “Eggplant” by Michael Franks

Mrs. Big Surf and I are contemplating going “full boar” or “whole hog” into the Mediterranean Diet. Oopsie, I guess since pork is not a staple of this diet, please forgive the above phrases.

On our first date, my lovely wife told me she “never dove headlong into something, instead she would stick her big toe in to test the waters.” That has held true for 36+ years. So our foray into the Mediterranean Diet has been a slow one.

I made the above delicious meal with a recipe from http://www.themediterraneandish.com. It is only one way to fix eggplant, now there are only eighteen more ways to go.

I know we will have to give up pizza, French fries, fried potatoes, fried chicken, fried pork chops, sausages, salty snacks, donuts, and anything fried in a mixture of flour and eggs…unless we can get a mapmaker to prove that eastern Kentucky borders the Mediterranean Sea.

Big Surf’s Top Ten Airport Meals

O’Hare Airport, Chicago

Let’s get spaghetti. How expensive can that be?—Big Surf Daddy to His Lovely Wife, on dining in Manhattan

Covid has grounded us like a dense fog enveloping the runways. We are on board but can’t get away. We can’t go to our favorite restaurants and traveling is difficult. I have no desire to travel to any city of more than 50,000.

However, like a bowl of bran, this too shall pass.

There will be a time, hopefully soon, that we will, again, all feel safe eating out, staying in hotels, and getting on a plane. So in anticipation of all of you who can get to the airport early enough to pass through security points and still have time to leisurely spend enjoying some food (that should be about the number of people who read this blog), I have traversed my vast notes (one page ) on favorite foods I have eaten in airports.

Like the quote above, airport food can cause us to regurgitate our travel budgets and per diems into a little puddle on the counter near the tip jar by the cashier, as if there would be any money left for a tip. But if you are like me, I love to eat in airports because that usually means I have made it through security and my blood pressure has come down to something that can be measured.

At first I am usually overwhelmed by the number of choices on which to nosh. After a few minutes I can gather my thoughts and eliminate most of them (either by price or number of drive-thrus I saw on my way to the airport ).

Now forgive me if I sound like a well- schooled traveler, for I am not. My goal here is to sound pretentious enough that you may think I may know what I am talking about. Nevertheless, here are my ten favorite places to enjoy a bite in the airports I have visited:

  1. Sunshine Gate, Munich International Airport.

I know the reviews of this eatery are suspect and in fairness, I did wait a bit in line. However the currywurst was so good, it was worth it. This has been the best tasting thing I have eaten in an airport. Sorry I don’t have a photo of this, we were eating with two small grandchildren at the time.

2. Huxley’s, Heathrow Airport, London.

Smashed avocados on toast at Huxley’s

It is usually breakfast time when most Americans arrive in London and it was no different for us. We had a delicious traditional English breakfast of smashed avocados on toast. The food was very good and the coffee was wonderful.

3. Yo Sushi, Istanbul Airport.

I loved this place as much for the presentation as for the food. Though the sushi was really good, the conveyor belt presentation, ala THE JETSONS, was the draw here. You sit at your table and the food presents itself to you. You just pluck it off the moving belt as it comes by. So cool.

4. Pappasito’s, Houston Hobby Airport.

This has been my most recent meal in an airport, six weeks ago. The Monterey enchiladas were very, very, good. It moved up quickly on my list.

5. La Carreta, Miami International Airport.

The Cubano here is very good when warm.

I have eaten here probably more than any other airport restaurant. This is authentic Cuban food in a large sit-down restaurant. The Cubano sandwich, when it is served hot is so good. However the last two times I ate here, it was more on the cold side. So ask them to heat it up.

6. Sky Asian Bistro, Philadelphia International Airport.

Lately in Philly, I run through the airport like George Costanza. But I stop here for really good sushi when I have time. Again, sorry, no pictures here either, usually in a hurry.

7. Shapiro’s, Indianapolis International Airport.

I love Shapiro’s deli. I have eaten the Reuben sandwich here numerous times. It is big enough to share with Mrs. Big Surf. Sorry, no picture here. I have no excuse this time as I have eaten here often waiting for my flight.

8.Flocafe Espresso Room, Athens International Airport.

Check out the flaky pastry crust at Flocafe in Athens.

The drawing card here is the coffee. I loved the coffee and you can also enjoy some Greek food and pastries. Again there are some mixed reviews about this place, but our experience was very nice and relaxing.

9. Abitino’s, JFK International Airport, New York.

The Caprese Pizza at Abitino’s.

I can only recommend the pizza. We were traveling with a group of family with small children and had to have pizza. The Caprese pizza was really good.

10. Bubbles Wine Bar, O’Hare International Airport, Chicago.

No food here but a good selection of wine. We had a cabernet. It is a nice place to relax and meet fellow travelers. Sorry, no picture here either…was having too good a time with Mrs. Big Surf.

So there is my ten favorite airport stops for food. Air travel is so much more stressful nowadays so try to get there early and find a place to sit and eat…that always makes me feel better.

I would welcome anyone else’s suggestions on airport food.

Life on the Streets of Cap-Haitien

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Don’t insult the alligator until you have crossed the river.— Haitian proverb

 

After my recent trip to Haiti, I found this Haitian proverb.

Like most of the problems I have, I tend to overthink–same here.  I’m thinking about this proverb…does it mean “don’t poke the beast”? Does it mean live with the alligator a while to experience what his life is like on a day to day basis? Or just keep your mouth shut if you don’t know what you are talking about?

The Haitian people never cease to amaze me.  Their lives are hard, they are poor, they struggle but they have the best smiles.  They go about their day and survive as we all do, the best we can.

I took a lot of photos of the people on the streets in Cap-Haitien because I am fascinated by the lively activity and the colors.  Most of these photos were taken from the third or fourth row of a 15-passenger van that was at full capacity and then some.

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The drivers in Haiti have to navigate what looks like total chaos to me.  However, I guess to them, it is normalcy.  The following two shots are looking through the windshield from my vantage point in the van.

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The following photos are from some rural scenes in northern Haiti.

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I’ve stated before that my trips to Haiti are challenging and difficult at times, but whenever I come home, I always have a deeper respect and admiration for the people of Haiti and I pray that one day their lives will be easier and more comfortable and more prosperous.

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Eating in Barcelona

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Estava bonissim!!

 

The above phrase is Catalan that translates to “that was delicious”.

This would have been an oft repeated phrase while we were in Barcelona, if I would have known it then.

My family and I recently visited Barcelona in January, six adults and four children under four.  Now some people would admire our courage and fortitude to attempt this traveling high wire act without a net, others would call it lunacy. When you have grandchildren that live in a foreign country, you do what you can to see them.  We were able to meet them for a week in Barcelona and it was wonderful.

Now I don’t have to tell those of you with small children and grandchildren that eating with a large group with four small children is a challenge at home, much less in a large restaurant, and even more in a small European cafe.  Just trying to find places to store the strollers is hard enough.  We had a double stroller, about the size of some European cars, that was like parallel parking a car between two cramped tables. The Barcelonans, to their credit, were very nice about it in the restaurants and went out of their way to accommodate us.

But, be that as it may, this blog is about the food we ate in Barcelona.  We were not able to eat a lot of meals together as you can imagine. Most meals we carried into our rental house in El Masnou, a beach town outside of Barcelona (that will be another blog). However, the food we ate in Barcelona was so good.

Our first meal was in the morning after we all met in the Eixample neighborhood of Barcelona.  We found chocolate croissants and coffee at Forn de Sant Jaume.

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Forn de Sant Jaume in Eixample.

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We loved the chocolate croissants and coffee at Forn de Sant Jaume.

 

Our only meal in the evening was at Set de Born. We rode the train into Barcelona and walked through the El Born neighborhood and found Set de Born.  This was a very good choice. We ate too early in the evening for the Barcelonans so we had the restaurant to ourselves and the staff was very accepting of our group. This was the one meal the little ones weren’t on top of their table manners, just on top of the table. Nonetheless, the staff was very kind and patient and we appreciated that.

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I loved the intimate setting of Set de Born, tucked into a narrow street in El Born.

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We started with some marinated olives…very, very good.

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I loved the anchovies on tomato at Set de Born.

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The meat plate with homemade sausages and Iberian ham was the hit of the meal, with very good reason.

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This is how our typical table looked in Barcelona, lots of food to choose from. The cheese plate was delicious, so was the tomato bread, and the goat cheese salad.

 

We visited the Santa Caterina Market two times. I got some more marinated olives that were a treat while walking the streets of Barcelona.

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I highly advise a foray into the many booths and stalls of this market.  It can be overwhelming, but keep in mind, there are no bad choices in here.

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The shaved ham cone was a big hit in our group, one of our purchases in the Santa Caterina Market. Why are there not any of these in the U.S.?

 

A highlight of our eating experience in Barcelona was churros!!!  I can’t express how good this treat is.  Our churro consumption was in Churreria Laietana in El Born. I don’t have any way to compare churros, but I do know this, these would be hard to beat.

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This lady that served up churros at Churreria Laietana was very impressive.  She could handle English and Spanish with ease, in a very busy and chaotic setting, while handing out little plates of love, all the while with a smile on her face.  I think she was also doing air traffic control in the back.

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CHURROS! CHURROS! CHURROS!  at Churreria Laietana

 

Our last meal together in Barcelona was a real treat. We had an afternoon meal at

El Quatre Gats (the Four Cats), one of the more famous restaurants in Barcelona.  It has a lot of history and is noted for being one of the hangouts of Picasso in his younger days.  It is located in the Barri Gotic  (Gothic quarter of Barcelona). I enjoyed this meal most of all.  The children were well-behaved and the staff was so nice and agreeable to our wishes.  Again, we ate at an earlier time than most of the Barcelonans, so it wasn’t very crowded.  This was a good plan on our part so as not to be too disruptive.  I think this is my best advice with those traveling with small children in Barcelona, eat early so as not to find the restaurants and cafes too crowded.  Keep in mind that a lot of restaurants in Barcelona do not even start serving food in the evening till about 8:00 PM.

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The 4 Cats entrance is inviting.

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The classic look of the historic 4 Cats.

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Just chunks of parmesan cheese to nibble on before the meal at 4Cats. Why don’t we ever think of these things?

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Tomato bread is a favorite tapas dish in Barcelona.  We ordered it everywhere we ate. I think the best I had was at 4Cats.

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The prettiest dish we ate all week was the roasted eggplant at 4Cats. It was as delicious as it was beautiful.

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These pork cannellonis were really good at 4Cats.

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One of my favorite dishes of the week…seafood rice at 4Cats.

 

If you are in these areas of Barcelona, I would highly recommend these eating establishments.

Barcelona, estava bonissim!

 

 

 

 

Ode to the Shrimp

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The USA and USSR will only agree when shrimps learn to fly—Nikita Khrushchev

My love affair with the shrimp as a delectable treat started when I was a wee lad.

I first had this delicious little crustacean on my plate on our family trips to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in the early sixties, when our family took a few  beach vacations. This was before Myrtle Beach became MYRTLE BEACH, the beach destination for all of Appalachia and the golf mecca of, well, just about anyone who could swing a club and felt justified to spend a weeks pay on a green fee so they could shoot 120.

At that time my pre-pubescent taste buds only desired the little shrimpies fried and dipped in ketchup. When we stopped taking beach vacations, these little decapods didn’t show up on my plate very often since eastern Kentucky did not employ an abundance of shrimpers.  However I was still able to sample them at Red Lobster or Long John Silvers when they started dotting the roadways of Kentucky.

My love affair intensified with the little delicacies when I lived in Houston, Texas and I realized you could have them fixed all kinds of different ways. My favorite way turned out to be the peel-and-eat-variety with cocktail sauce.

Since we, as lowly and destitute students had no money to sample some of the finer restaurants in Houston, we were always looking for cheap food.  We found the peel-and-eat mother lode at a restaurant on the shipping channel of East Houston…Shanghai Reds. On Friday night it was all the shrimp you could eat during happy hour. So for two hours we would show up and gorge ourselves like the Romans before they visited the vomitoriums.  Now this may have been a myth in ancient Rome but to many of my mates at the University of Houston, it very easily could have been more fact than myth.

As many love affairs come to an end, so did mine.  I thought I developed an allergy to my true food love. My lovely wife, who always  is so attentive and in tune to my whims and vagaries kept telling me it was all in my head.

So not paying attention to said lovely wife, I was without them for many years…until…my lack of attention to detail finally paid off.

I had been taking glucosamine for joint pain for about 6 months, probably at the request of my lovely wife.  I never knew what glucosamine was made from and one day I read on the bottle in bold print “IF YOU ARE ALLERGIC TO SHRIMP OR SHELLFISH, DO NOT TAKE THIS PRODUCT.” It was probably her way of proving that I was not allergic to shrimp.

Nevertheless, I was finally released from my pseudo somatic shrimp uncoupling!  Since then, I have been on such an amorous affair with  my favorite half-pint, salty, invertebrate it would make E.L. James blush, for I have found at least fifty ways I can eat this delicacy (Forrest Gump’s friend Bubba comes to mind).

Shrimp can live for 1-7 years, usually spending their lives near the ocean floor, or river or lake floors if they are fresh-water shrimp. They are omnivores, eating tiny helpings of plant and meat, like me if you substitute tiny with washtub-size.

They are the food source of many fish and whales and larger shrimp, when times are tough.  Their main defense mechanism is to quickly swim backward or sometimes hide in the sediment. So coupled with their sometimes propensity to feast on their own kind and backpedal rapidly, I envision they all are desiring to serve in the Congress of Oceania.

I say all that to say this, shrimp probably live a difficult life, but don’t realize it until they are in the midst of a big net with all their relatives, or in the belly of a larger marine creature or larger shrimp.  They live a sacrificial life, providing us with much happiness as when they are occupying a plate in front of us, such as the shrimp scampi dish I prepared in the above picture.

I hope God in His infinite wisdom has provided an eternal reward for shrimp, where they can live and swim freely and not have to hide in the muck of the ocean floor and can dine on the best algae and plankton. And all of their elections are fair and free of muck.

Louisville, KY (Another Eating Weekend)

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I never met a Kentuckian who wasn’t either thinking about going home or actually going home.— A.B. (Happy) Chandler

 

We all have fantasies.

My latest fantasy is to be able to eat three meals a day in Louisville, KY until I go through the entire menu of Louisville restaurants, which of last count has over 2,500 of them. This should take me about three years taking into consideration I may have to leave to go see grandchildren.

Bon Appetite magazine has called Louisville,”One of the best foodie small towns in America.”  Now to  me, coming from a small town of about 2,000, Louisville is a big city.  However I am not going quibble over a few hundred thousand residents at this time. My goal is to tell you about some good food in Louisville. You can find a previous blog written, by yours truly last year, about another eatin’ weekend in Louisville.

Our strategy this particular weekend was to pick restaurants that we had not visited in past trips to Louisville.  Believe me this was no easy task, because we have loved a lot of restaurants in this city that were hard to pass up.

Our first stop was lunch on a Friday afternoon, a very interesting choice, if only for the name alone…Mussel and Burger Bar .  Guess what?  We had mussels and a burger.

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The seafood burger at Mussel and Burger Bar was tremendous.

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This was one of the best mussel dishes I have eaten.

 

The next meal was our evening meal. We met some cousins at Havana Rumba in the Highlands, one of three restaurants of the same name in Louisville.

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This seafood stew, served with fried plantains and rice and beans was so tasty.  It was a chef’s special that night, along with shrimp ceviche that was very enjoyable.

 

On Saturday, we ventured out for some Vietnamese pho.  We found Pho Phi in St. Matthews. I love pho.  Mrs. Big Surf allows me to have this one food romance.  She tolerates it and actually likes it well enough to eat with me when I have a cravin’.

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Pho at Pho Phi satiated my pho yearnings.

 

Our evening meal on Saturday night was very special.  We dined outside at Couvillion, (pronounced  coo-ve-ohn).  Couvillion has a Cajun menu that was hard to work our way through, meaning we had a hard time making a decision about what to eat.  It all looked and sounded really good.

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At Couvillion, we began with roasted cauliflower, described in the menu as “slathered with cajun mustard vinaigrette” with capers and chili flakes.  This was the best tasting dish of the weekend.

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Mrs. Big Surf ordered the duck creole with ricotta dumplings.  This was so savory and delicious, I almost put my face in and bobbed for the dumplings.

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I had the catfish couvillion, which is a rich, red fish stew usually with catfish. It was also very good.

 

 

We had one more meal in Louisville, breakfast on Sunday morning, before heading up to Indiana to babysit grandchildren.  A friend of mine had read about, and urged us to visit  Biscuit Belly

I read about this new spot downtown and realized we could be standing in line outside.  We must have timed it right. There was a short line inside that moved quickly. However, by the time we left it was stretched outside.

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We had the fried chicken with gravy and cheese biscuit.  I see why there is a line outside.  We were more than happy when we left.

 

My advise to anyone looking for some really good food, go to Louisville, KY and feed your belly as they say at Biscuit Belly.

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