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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.


January 24, 2011

Last Sunday my son and daughter invited a group of their friends to spend the night. Our home was filled with the sounds of nine 13-year old girls and four nine-year old boys at play.

My wife made potato soup and the kids had a blast. Early the next morning, I wrote a warmhearted column about all of the running, laughing, and giggling— the beautiful noise of kids at play.

Just after I sent the column to my editors— around 10 a.m.— I received a call from the house. “The girls want to have lunch at Hooters,” my wife said, as all of the previous night’s warm-heartedness evaporated.

“Why not one of our restaurants,” I said.

“They want to go to Hooters.”

Anything for the kids, I thought to myself.

I am not sure where taking 14 kids to a Hooters restaurant puts me on the responsible-parenting scale, but I would imagine it’s in the lower half of the single digits. And before you begin to criticize my math skills, we did add one more child for the Hooters excursion— a 13-year old boy (go figure).

I had never been to a Hooters. Well, that’s a lie. I did go once in the mid 1990s, but I was doing restaurant research, and I only read the articles, err ate the wings.

So, my wife, our friend Jessica, and two carloads of kids celebrated Martin Luther King Day in Hooters.

There was no beautiful noise in Hooters, just loud country music. All of the giggling teenage girls sat at one table. I kept the swivel-necked, wide-eyed nine-year old boys with me.

The waitress was a very nice young lady. She was friendly and efficient. Though I was mainly impressed by her thriftiness. She is obviously a very frugal person, as she was wearing clothes that she must have purchased in the sixth grade. One should applaud such prudence, though husbands should keep their eyes straight ahead while ordering, or just bury their head in the menu.

About midway through the appetizer course, my son noticed a collection of Hula Hoops in the corner by the front door. “Look, dad. Hula Hoops!”

This struck me as odd. I wondered why a restaurant that earned it’s reputation by hiring buxom women, and putting them in scantily clad uniforms would have children’s toys on the dining room floor. All questions were answered when my Hula Hooping son and his friends were joined by four waitresses and their Hula Hoops. At least I am told the waitresses were Hula Hooping, my head was buried in the menu.

The boys ate wings, the girls giggled, and I stared at the ceiling.

My little hamlet of Hattiesburg, Mississippi had made it 125 years without a Hooters. Just nine short years ago we didn’t even have a sushi restaurant. Today we have eight. Can we now expect a run of Hooters-style establishments?

One day I think I’ll open a restaurant and hire only small-chested women. I’ll call it Peepers. Instead of an owl, I’ll use a sparrow in the logo. Equal time, you ask. No. I’d just like to eat some chicken wings without having to keep my head buried in the menu.

Shrimp Harrison

2 lbs. 21-25 Shrimp, peeled and deveined
1 tsp Kosher Salt
1 tsp Old Bay Seasoning
1/2 tsp Black Pepper, freshly ground
3 TBSP Olive Oil
2 cups Mushrooms, sliced
1 1/2 tsp Garlic, minced
1/2 cup White Wine
1 Tbl White Vinegar
1/4 cup Chicken Broth
1 cup Caramelized Onions
3/4 cup Unsalted Butter, cut into small cubes
2 Tbl Parsley. Freshly chopped

1 Recipe Really Rich Grits

Season the shrimp with the salt, Old Bay Seasoning and black pepper.

Place the olive oil in a large, heavy duty sauté pan over high heat. Heat the oil until it just begins to smoke. Carefully place the shrimp in the smoking hot pan. Allow the shrimp to cook without moving them for 2-3 minutes. Add the mushrooms and garlic and cook for 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, remove the shrimp and hold them in a warm place.

Add the white wine and vinegar and reduce until there is almost no liquid remaining. Add in the chicken broth and cook until only one Tablespoon remains. Add the butter cubes and stir constantly until butter has dissolved, being careful not to cook it too long (if you cook it too long at this stage, the butter will separate).

Add the caramelized onions and warm shrimp back into the pan and stir so that the sauce coats the shrimp. Remove from heat and stir in parsley.

Place 3/4 cup of cooked grits into each serving dish, top the grits with the shrimp and serve immediately.

Yield: 8-10 servings

Caramelized Onions*

2 Tbl Unsalted Butter
3 cups Yellow Onion, thinly slice
1 tsp Kosher Salt

Melt butter over medium-low heat in a large sauté pan. Add onions and salt to the melted butter. Cook onions for 15-20 minutes, stirring them often to prevent burning. The onions should continue cooking until a rich brown color is obtained.

Really Rich Grits

1 quart heavy whipping cream
1 cup grits
2 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup unsalted butter cut into cubes
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 275 degrees

Stir together the cream, grits, salt pepper and bay leaf.
Place the mixture in an oven proof baking dish and cover. Bake for2 1/3-3 hours, stirring every 30 minutes.

Once the grits are soft and creamy, stir in the butter cubes and parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.

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