Monday, March 10, 2008

Meal #74 Creole/ Deep South

North America. A continent we had much feared, images of KFCs and McDonalds clamouring in our minds. Imagine our delighted surprise then, when we discovered that more than one restaurant was advertising creole/ deep south American meals. Mouths a’watering, boots and hats were donned by our crew of culinary cowboys; Sai, Naomi, Nick, Rami, Helen, Caroline, Paul, Deb, Kat, Michael, Gene, Ross and Dom. Sadly, though, we forgot to pack the camera in the saddle bags, so this is an old fashioned story told in words, not pictures.

Highway 61

Hume Highway

The d├ęcor of Highway 61 is petrol fueled; motorbikes take pride of place, both in pictures and actual machines. Highway signs and number plates fill in the gaps on the walls, and a live musician strums out rockabilly influenced tunes.

The menu looks promising, divided between a wide array of burgers and a tantalizing selection of deep south stews. With such a big group, we try to cover as many dishes as we can. The burger menu is quickly worked through: the sporty burger comes with fried onion and salad; the ultra burger raises the stakes with the addition of bacon, egg and cheese; the lamb fillet burger bathes in a tomato relish, while the sweet chilli chicken burger has a light glaze of sauce; the vege burger is stacked with spinach, basil capsicum and cheese. Despite the large variety, the burgers were commonly considered to be quite basic, and fine for the price, but nothing special.

The soups were a surprise, featuring names we considered to be thicker stews. The Shrimp and Okra gumbo was tasty, although not as hearty as we would have anticipated, and the Jambalaya, with chicken, shrimp, bacon and rice, was dishearteningly over-peppered. The pumpkin soup was thick and rich, with an interesting aftertaste of maple syrup.

The side dishes proved too intriguing to resist, but didn’t live up to their appeal: chilli fries arrived topped with a surprisingly small serving of chilli con carne; the buffalo wings tasted like KFC, but without the variety of herbs and spices.

The poorness of seasoning was a continuing theme, with the chicken creole served in a basic tomato sauce hailed ‘piquant creole salsa’; it could have come out of a mild salsa jar for the flavour it added, although the chicken was well cooked and tender. With the pound of pork ribs off the menu, Gene tried the swordfish, but was unimpressed and left hungry.

More successful was the huge serving of pork chops in maple syrup glaze, which had Ross quietly and happily munching for quite some time. The chilli con carne featured a delicious sauce, well flavoured and rich, but was fairly light on the carne considering the price.

Also disappointing was the drinks menu. Very little in the way of American beers (although we didn’t really want to drink those anyway), and we’d hoped for a malt or and ice cream soda or two. We later discovered these were available, but for some reason not advertised. One or two diners nursed a Jack to heighten the American authenticity.

Saving grace was discovered in the deserts. The Louisiana Mudcake was dense and delicious, served warm and gooey with cream. The apple crumble disappeared quickly, a perfect balance of fruit and pastry.

Overall, Highway 61 is fun for the atmosphere, but if you’re hoping to be blown away by creole cuisine, you won’t find it here. Come for a drink, some groovy music and some fabulous deserts, but don’t expect too much of the meals. It’s a long way from the deep south.

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