Alabama Charlie 2015-08-26 01:52:29
Ernie Hall, AKA Just The Cook has a lot of passions in life as the forward reveals,yet today he is reveling in his role as Just the Cook. I had the privilege of meeting Ernie while sitting on boat dock over at the scenic Marina Village & Yacht Club at LaGrange Bayou. Ernie was drinking a bottle of Schlitz and oddly studying a boat that appeared to be in need of repairs. As it turned out this was Hall’s runabout and these particular mechanical gremlins proved fortuitous for BlackTie. You see, this man looked familiar, very familiar. The broken down boat bought time, allowing me to search my brain in order to figure out just who this man was, then it hit me. I recalled him from appearances on the Food Channel. This man with a boat problem and a Schlitz is Just the Cook. Always open to meeting new and interesting people, I approach him and he shares that his restaurant is docked nearby at the St. Andrews Marina. As it turns out, Hall’s restaurant is a simple house forward reveals, yet today he is boat accompanied by a few sets of collapsable tables, patio chairs, white tablecloths and the such.Although securely moored, one might come across Hall’s Just the Cook out and about near Shell Island or possibly on the sandy white beaches in Panama City, all depending on schedules and weather conditions of course. Meeting a culinary celebrity meant only one thing — the sooner I can be sampling his savory creations, the better. Soon there after, all of the proper arrangements were made. Next I was indulging on one of Hall’s eatable arrangements. My selection consisted of a boneless pork loin, baked and resting in a grape reduction sauce, topped with a parmesan crisp and served with a side of deep fried zucchini sticks.However, the most unique part of the evening was the free beer! At first Hall could not secure a liquor license, so like any good Marine he improvised and simply gave away beer and wine with each meal — problem solved.Just the Cook manages to drive the point home by having a sign that states. “Coke $1, water $1 and beer is free.” Too good to be true you ask? No joking, there is a cooler just sitting there — full of beer — ready for the taking. You will need to buy a meal though, no worries, the food is even better than the free beer! Ernie’s a real stickler as he cannot escape the detail oriented Marine within him. His menu is indicative of his attention to detail and there is no deviation to his top food selections, but alongside the staples in his menu are his creative specials. These visionary food innovations are unparalleled in my culinary experiences. I had the an appetizer that consisted of risot to with bacon, brie, grapes, and a deliciously tangy (secret recipe) homemade sauce. The plating was impeccable and the taste was absolutely spectacular! Way too good for just one visit, I had to experience Just the Cook again. It was during this second visit that I ordered the Dan-D Donut Burger (named after Dan-D- Donuts and Deli, the place where Hall purchases his doughnuts) as my main dish. Hall’s burger is a moderate five ounces because if it was any larger, it would simply over power the bun. Though he initially tried to use a single glazed doughnut that was sliced in half to serve as the bun, he found that wasn’t substantial enough to hold the patty as well as the toppings.Thus, he upped the ante and utilizes two glazed doughnuts to make one bun. Does one choose to count calories or enjoy their meal? In an interesting discovery, Hall learned to age his doughnuts a day or two in the fridge, yes — like fine wine and cheese — Just the Cook ages donuts. This method proves necessary as a fresh doughnut will simply fall apart as young donuts just lack the proper firmness to hold one of Hall’s burgers.Ernie takes these mature donuts and removes a sliver off the top and proceeded to grill them facedown. Hall’s real masterpiece comes between the donuts via a rosemary infused burger, a spring mix, Canadian bacon, Swiss and bleu cheeses and roasted red peppers. Obviously, the popular collaboration ends up massively tall, which requires the use of a skewer.Yet, tall and precarious, Hall insists that everything on his Dan-D Donut Burger has to be there as each ingredient serves a purpose. The delicious meals that Hall prepared for BlackTie was some of the best food I have personally ever tasted! Why should that surprise us, we just had a meal served by one the “Top Sixteen Cooks in America” as selected by the Food Network. There is no questioning the importance of the food itself when judging a meal, but if you strive to LIVE LIFE WELL and join the BlackTie culture, then you must appreciate any meal cooked on a house boat by a U.S. Marine. The fact that you can do this all while soaking up the sunny Florida coast is just a bonus from the Just the Cook.
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