Restaurateur: Random Thoughts on a Tuesday Morning and a Plum Sauce Recipe

For the past 23 years, I’ve written a 1,000-word column every Monday morning. Always early in the morning. I haven’t missed a week. Already. I usually let the column sit for a day, then revisit it on Tuesday morning, catching things that need to be changed, sentences that need to be swapped or eliminated, misspelled words, misplaced punctuation, and just general stuff. that I forgot – or remember – that should be included in any topic I write about that day.

This morning I am writing on a Tuesday, the day after Labor Day. I did absolutely no work on Labor Day and this may be a first. I spent time with my family and friends and had a blast. I’m having trouble concentrating this morning, so I’m going to do something I’ve wanted to do for several years and cover a wide range of topics and things that are on my mind that have happened over the past few days.

Here are some random thoughts on a Tuesday morning:

Plum jelly is the most underrated jelly. I grew up a kid in strawberry or grape jelly. My mother bought Bama and as a child I collected tiny jelly jar glasses. I still have Archies jelly cups in the kitchen cupboard at home. A few decades ago I switched to blackberry jelly and the no added sugar kind. Blackberry preserves are great on cookies, and when country ham is added to this mix, a simple quick bread becomes a southern delicacy. In this part of the country, mayhaw jelly is one of the best homemade jellies you’ll find in the kitchens of women who can eat fruits and vegetables.

Although plum jelly has made a reappearance in my life. If there had been a jar of plum jelly around when I was a kid, it would have been stuck on a shelf in the back of my grandmother’s refrigerator (“cooler” as she called it). She probably would have used it as a component for another recipe and then, like forgotten products do, it made its way to the lower regions of the fridge and was forgotten until she ran out of raisins. and strawberry.

But plum jelly should never be categorized as an unsuitable item in a fridge or cabinet. Plum jelly is good. It’s damn good. So much so that I started buying it and using it on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and buttered toast and cookies instead of the longtime favorite, blackberry.

While we’re talking about peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I sometimes catch some scolding for being a grown man who still eats pbjs on occasion. I’ll defer to the longtime grande dame of the New Orleans restaurant scene, the late Ella Brennan, who said, “You know why kids love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches ? Because peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are good.

Apple jelly might be another underrated jelly. But that’s another column for another day.

I was recently in Birmingham on business and visited a unique restaurant. I tend to be a bit jaded by restaurants, as living there, working there, and researching them for the past 40 years has left me in an occasional state of affairs. Although sometimes I come across a concept and I’m literally struck with silence. Often my guests wonder if something is wrong. There is never anything wrong. Everything is actually “right”. I just understand. The brilliance of design, the simplicity of menu and workflow, and the originality of a concept. I remember being at Au Cheval in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood for the first time and my restaurant mate thought I had a stomach ache. It was not this. No way. I was just impressed with the brilliance of the design, layout, food preparation and atmosphere. It was almost sensory overload.

It happened last week in Birmingham during my visit to Rougaroux. It’s a dive. As anyone who has read this column for years knows, I love diving. Most professional customer surveys rank service as the number one thing customers look for in a restaurant. Atmosphere comes in second, followed by food in third. I am the exact opposite of that. It’s all about food for me. I can forgive poor service if my food is properly prepared. I prefer a dive or a joint, as I’m a pretty laid back person myself and have spent 30 years of my life doing research and development in, around and for fine dining restaurants. I had enough.

This is why Rougaroux plunged me into my last restaurant stupor. I just sat there to figure it all out. There’s nothing truly monumental about the atmosphere, other than it was mostly a don’t care attitude that ended up working like a charm. There were a limited number of indoor meals and a few more outdoor meals, and that was fine. Not comfortable, but OK. The food was stellar. Seriously, 100% spot on. Stellar.

Owning a restaurant outside of New Orleans and trying to serve New Orleans food is a challenge. As anyone who’s done this knows, you always meet a New Orleans citizen who sits in your dining room and the first words that come out of their mouth are usually something like, “I’m from New Orleans. -Orléans, so you know I know the food. ..” What I can tell you is that although I love New Orleans and its cuisine – and I love this city and its cuisine so much that I am a part-time resident – but there are Lots of people in this town who don’t really know the food. If you’re reading this and are from New Orleans, I’m not talking about you.

Rougaroux knows the cuisine of New Orleans. The chef, Ryan Champion, worked under Frank Stitt at Bottega and Ella Brennan at Commander’s Palace. But he obviously didn’t make pb&js and deliver them next to Ella. He knows fine cuisine well. But there is nothing very gastronomic here. Proudly so. And I love that. What he knows is the Creole cuisine of New Orleans. The okra was perfect, very okra with lots of seafood. The kidney beans and rice were a 10 out of 10. And the Ferdie special – the classic Mothers po-boy with ham and scraps – was infinitely better than the okra. ‘original, and was at least an eight-napkin indulgence.

Future visits to Birmingham will always include a trip to Rougaroux.

So my idea of ​​covering a wide range of random topics didn’t quite work out. I covered two. What did we learn today, kids?

1. The plum jelly should be on the top shelf at the front of the refrigerator and not relegated to the back by the pickle jar which is two years old.

2. Rougaroux in Birmingham might not look like much, but it could very well be the best lunch destination in this city, if not all of Alabama.


Hailing from Hattiesburg, Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef and author. He wrote a column for a weekly syndicated newspaper for over 20 years.

plum sauce

 Yield: 1 1⁄2 cups


• 1 cup canned plums or plum jam

• 2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

• 1 tablespoon onion, minced

• 1 teaspoon of honey

• 1 teaspoon of fresh ginger, chopped

• 1⁄2 teaspoon minced garlic

• 1⁄2 teaspoon jalapeño, minced

• 1⁄2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes


1. In a small saucepan, bring all the ingredients to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, stirring often, until preserves are melted (about 5 minutes). Remove from fire.

2. Cool to room temperature before serving.

3. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 1 week.