Monday, April 28, 2008

Jim 'n Nicks Bar-B-Q: You Can Smell Our Butts for Miles

Tell the truth. Is Jim 'n Nicks slogan now in your top five of barbecue restaurant slogans? I would bet number one, hands down.

After eating at Jim 'n Nick's, the food and service will most certainly be on the top of your list. We stopped in the Prattville, Alabama store on our way south from Tuscaloosa, AL to our home in Gainesville, FL. Bear in mind, we had enjoyed the finest ribs in the world the day before from my favorite barbecue joint, Archibald's, in Tuscaloosa. I had been to the fountain of sauce, smoke, and flavor. There was no way but down after Archibald's, but Jim 'n Nicks passed my barbecue joint tests with flying colors.
When I saw the sign for Jim 'n Nick's, I crossed over two lanes and pulled off onto the exit by the skin of my teeth. Why? because they are members and a sponsor of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an organization that seeks to foster and celebrate the best of Southern cuisine. The tastes of that organization are impeccable. When SFA is associated with food, I pay close attention.
We were not disappointed. We chose to sit outside with the best of piped-in contemporary Southern blues bathing us along with the rich aroma of barbecue slowly cooking out back. Normally, I prefer lower levels of recorded music, but their taste in music was excellent. Their taste in food is better.
Our waitress, Brittaney, arrived at the table. If one ever owns a restaurant, Brittaney is the standard that every restaurant proprietor dreams of having represent his/her food to customers. She was expert in every aspect of the restaurant from knowing the numbers of locations, methods of preparing dishes, tastes of each dish, and the magic methods for preparing their "Q." She is from Opp, AL and knows her products perfectly. I would follow Brittaney into a wall of barbecue smoke.
Jim 'n Nicks serves pulled pork, ribs, and brisket of the highest order. Also, they have steaks (fresh cut daily in the kitchen), chicken, and smoked turkey that looked marvelous. I could not get past the combo plate and ordered one with brisket and pulled pork. Both tasted succulent, tender to the touch, with a crunchy crust on the edges. i knew after the first bite, I was in the presence of experts.
At Jim 'n Nick's they smoke their ribs, beef, and pork for twelve hours (does their staff get any sleep?) and the diligence is evidenced in the fruits of their labors. The sides were just as good and we tried the creamed spinach, the greens (marianated in hot sauce), and their potato salad. All were sides to die for.
As our meal came to an end, our praises came to resemble the Hallelujah Chorus, and our questions became unending. We were trying not to make total fools of ourselves by dancing in place.
The fine service that Brittney was rendering was culminated by the appearance of the chef himself at our table. Jason Wright is a young man from Charleston, SC who clearly knows the business and Southern food inside and out. He was a staunch advocate for the SFA, procuring fresh goods from local farmers, and taking every step possible to take Jim 'n Nicks food to the highest level possible. Jason was an articulate expert of the stove and it should be no wonder that this restaurant makes about $100,000 a week.
Jim 'n Nicks has succeeded by cutting no corners, using the freshest ingredients, and sparing no efforts in finding, keeping, and training their staff in the mission of the restaurant and its food.
I am not sure which is better, the food or the staff. They, of course, go hand in hand.
If the owners of this 20 restaurant chain are listening, you are well served and your product has maintained its quality as your restaurant has grown from the home location in Birmingham to a small chain with more restaurants on the drawing board.
It ain't Archibald's, but (excuse my French) Jim 'n Nicks is damn good.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008


My good friend since elementary school in Alabama, Jim Coleman, died last week. Jim was a stellar guitarist, devout Christian, and fabulous musician My thoughts and prayers are with his mother, sister, brother, daughter, and family.

I learned the next day that my old band-mate, Bobby Webber, died in Virginia Beach. Bobby was the most gifted musician I have ever known and made magic with the keyboards and his writing. Admittedly, a wild and crazy man, Bobby lived for the joys of rock and roll. He gave more joy than he received.

I am grateful and fortunate to have had them both as close friends and musical commiserators.


Jim Conner

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Take Your Pick of Local Farmers' Markets

I tend to forget which Farmers' Market is open on which day. You may want to keep this available as a guide for shopping for local produce. Listing is from the link on this blog site to a list put together by the Alachua County Health Department.

Alachua County Farmer’s Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmersWhen: Year round Saturday 8:30am to 1pm; reopen seasonally April 11 Thursday 8:30 to noon. Where: HWY 441 & NW 34th Street. More Information: (352) 371-8236
Butler Plaza Satellite Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Reopen April 2nd, November through July; Tuesday 2pm to dusk.Where: Next to Goody’s & Pet Smart (3700 SW Archer Road). More Information: (352) 371-8236
Haile Plantation Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: October 15 through July 31, Saturday 8:30 to Noon.Where: 5300 SE 91st Terrace (Village Center). More Information: (352) 331-1804
High Springs Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Thursday 4 to 7pm, Winter hours Thursday 2pm to duskWhere: Downtown on Railroad Ave, between Main Street and SW First Street & 110 NW 1st Ave in downtown historic High Springs (behind City Hall). More Information: (386) 454-3954
Mell’s Produce
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Tuesday to Saturday 10am-7pm. Where: 3 miles north of Archer on HWY 241, 8710 SW 170th Street, Archer. More Information:
Shortland Traveling Farmer’s Market Co-op
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Monday to Friday 10am-4pm. Where: The shortstop, 2610 NE 39th Avenue, Gainesville.
Union Street Farmers’ Market
What: Fresh produce from local farmers. When: Year round Wednesday 4-7 pm. Where: 20 SE 2nd Place (Sun Center). More Information: (386) 462-3192

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


OK, I can hear a few of my friends from here: Jimmy is losing his out of a can.......from a snooty made-from-scratch-is-the-only-way kind of home cook?

Be brave and believe it. Rotel is a god-send in the kitchen. Stock up and keep it on hand.

I came to be a fan of Rotel by a circuitous route.

While in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for a funeral of Jim Kinkead, the father of an old friend and friend in his own right, I encountered a platoon of Methodist church ladies who had descended on the Kinkead family home after the funeral to help Flo, Jim's wife, in a time of sorrow and need.

Funeral food in the South is a culinary culture all to itself. Food comes out of nowhere in abundance and of the highest quality, taste, and, calories. Nurturance is the order of the hour and teams of ladies take over to take the burden of hosting friends visiting to comfort the bereaved and themselves. I saw the best of the South that day.

The church ladies swiftly invaded en masse and set up camp in the home kitchen with distinct perimeter boundaries immediately established and defended. One lady (who I am sure was born with a battle axe in her hands) was posted by the doorway of the kitchen to repel any intruders who could not produce proper credentials for entry. Checkpoint Charlie would have been easier to pass through.

I made the mistake of buying a six-pack of beer and putting it in the fridg, but that is a story for another time. Suffice it to say, I knew I was deep in the Bible Belt.

The food was heavenly and one friend of Flo's, Carol, stood out from the rest as a supreme local cook. Her views about the fine points of Southern cooking were well thought-out and practiced. She knew exactly what she was talking about when discussing various recipes and had firm and well-practiced opinions on how to concoct many of the dishes that appeared.

As the day ended, she was kind to offer to give me a copy of the cookbook that her Methodist church had put together. The next day, when she presented me with the cook book (with correcting annotations), I felt like I had been handed my own personal copy of the Dead Sea Scrolls. Those recipes have been protected ever since.

Besides providing the formulas for concocting the crown jewels of Tuscaloosa cuisine, I noticed a small sampling of recipes with an ingredient only shown as "one can of Rotel." At first, I dismissed it and had no earthly idea what it was. I realized that these cooks do not serve anything that does not sing on the plate and I decided to investigate Rotel.

When we returned to Florida, I went to my Publix and found a few cans of different varieties of Rotel products, some hotter than others. Lo and behold, the can contents were a tasty, vibrant salsa-like concoctions that rivaled fresh ones that I had revered from St. Augustine. I found that after adulterating the contents a bit, I ended up with salsa that rivaled many made from freshly chopped ingredients.

Since then, I continue to expand my explorations on ways to use Rotel. One simple use is to dump a can into rice as it is cooking, stir and simmer. Nothing fancy, but it sure tastes good.

I suggest you give this recipe for my Rotel dip a try. The first time I made it, a friend's teen age son took a few tastes of the dip, grabbed the bowl and retired to another room to eat the whole thing. He cleaned the plate. That just may be the ultimate compliment for a home cook.

For information on Rotel and more recipes try this site:



1 can of Rotel, Original or one of the hotter varieties depending on your tastes, drained
Diced tomatoes, ½ large can, drained
Crystal Hot Sauce, two full squirts
2 tablespoons, garlic powder
salt and pepper to taste
Jalapeno pepper, 3 slices. Remove seeds to soften heat if you are sensitive
½ cup cilantro (preferred) or Italian parsley. Add basil or chives; chopped. Experiment to determine which herbs or combinations suit your tastes.
Juice of ½ lemon or 1/3 tangerine
2 squirts soy sauce


· Combine all ingredients
· Place in food processors and pulse several times without turning into a slush. Keep it chunky.
· Chill for a few hours and serve.


Large bowl
Food processor

Monday, April 07, 2008


Italian angels can cook, and they work at Voltaco’s in Ocean City, NJ, a seasonal Italian sub shop on West Avenue six blocks off the ocean and the boardwalk. In spite of being off the beaten path in this popular family beach resort, Voltaco’s is jammed with locals and tourists alike. They come for the fabulous food first and the angels second.

Aromas of freshly baked breads, pungent chopped herbs, and onions fill the small shop during lunch hour. A Voltaco's sub is wrapped in butcher’s paper, doused with Italian dressing and passed to eagerly awaiting customers. Each one is a blessing from heaven.

Owners Vicky and Joe Tacarrino are open during the summer months and make enough from their seasonal business to close up during the winter months. Next summer, if you are anywhere east of the Mississippi during the summer, go to Ocean City NJ and savor their wares. They are open for supper as well and sell freshly prepared and home made dishes ready to take home after a long day at the shore.

This salad is something we tried by accident when my wife decided not to have a sub. I tasted it and loved it every bit as much as their subs. We left determined to make our own version at home and our recipe follows. Here is our take on their salad.

Viva Voltaco’s.


One bag of spring mix greens
2 pared and sliced fresh pears
a handful of walnuts
crumbled blue cheese
Voltaco balsamic dressing (balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, honey, mustard)
Balsamic vinegar. 3/8’s of a cup
1 teaspoon, lemon juice
salt, a pinch
black pepper, a pinch
Creole seasoning, a pinch
Honey, 2 tablespoons
Naples Valley Hot Mustard (or your favorite hot honey mustard)

To make the dressing:

In a food processor: To the balsamic vinegar add the lemon juice, salt, black pepper, Creole seasoning, honey, and Naples Valley Hot Mustard. Pulse several times. Through the tube of the processor, drizzle 1 cup of extra virgin olive oil while continuously running the processor until all oil is emulsified with the dressing.
Chill for an hour.

To assemble the salad:

Rinse the greens and either spin-dry them or wrap them in paper towels to soak up all of the water. The water will dilute the rich flavors. Place in a large salad bowl.
Add dressing and toss to coat the leaves.
Peel the pears, core, and slice. Arrange attractively on top of the greens.
Take a four finger pinch of walnut halves or broken walnuts and sprinkle over the salad in a circular motion.
Do the same with the blue cheese.
Serve from the serving bowl into smaller bowls with two serving spoons or forks making sure to top each serving with representative quantities of the pears, walnuts, and cheese.