Staycation: Down the Bayou in Belmar New Jersey

This year I’ve gone down the shore just a couple of times but when I do go it’s an all day or overnight getaway. By the way, here in Jersey we say “down the shore” or “to the shore”, it’s a Jersey thing! So a mini “staycation” to the shore to regroup is always necessary after a rough work week. I go to soak up some sun, listen to the waves crash, read a book and veg out. When I was younger, going down the shore meant it was an opportunity to indulge in greasy boardwalk foods like funnel cakes, corn dogs, Italian sausage sandwiches or zeppoles. Now however, there’s a special place I go to where I don’t miss any of those earlier favorites. When I’m in Belmar, NJ I stop by Ragin Cajun, my go-to spot for amazing spicy Cajun food! It’s my mini getaway to the Bayou when I can’t get to Louisiana for authentic Creole and Cajun food.

Ragin Cajun Restaurant

Walking into Ragin Cajun’s is like walking into someone’s home. It’s warm, inviting, decorated with only the essentials and the staff treats you like a regular no matter how often you’ve been there. If you sit indoors or sit out in the front porch, it’s one of those places you want to linger.

Ragin Cajun Sign

I first visited Ragin Cajun in the mid-nineties and every time I’ve gone back the food is just as I remembered it. It’s spicy, full of flavor and tastes like a home cooked meal. They always serve warm bread rolls with a blackened, roasted whole garlic that spread like butter. The day I visited though the owner had stepped out to get the rolls so missed them but the waitress was kind enough to give me roasted garlic to go! So sweet!

roasted garlic

Every time I go I get the scampied artichoke hearts. They’re so tender and swimming in a spiced, garlic broth that’s great for dipping. My mouth waters just thinking about them!

scampied artichoke hearts

Another favorite is the blackened ________ (fill in the blank) bites! The blackened chicken bites are usually on the menu but sometimes they offer the succulent steak bites or the blackened swordfish bites shown below. Whatever “bites” they have just get them, you won’t be disappointed. They’re spicy but not hot so if you like flavor but can’t take much heat these will be a good choice.

blackened swordfish

The flavors are bold and transport me to the amazing food I’ve had from my various trips to New Orleans. If you’re looking for heat combined with great flavors then this is the place to go. Their dishes are rated on a 1-10 heat scale where 1 is no heat and 10 being very hot! The dish I usually get is the chicken creole which is about a 7 or 8 and made with chunky tomatoes, celery, onions and green peppers. It’s spicy, juicy and pacts a good amount of heat! You’ll be sweating after this one, or maybe not, depends on what you can handle.

chicken creole over rice

chicken creole over rice

Even if you don’t like spicy hot foods there’s something on the menu for you. They have all the classics like jambalaya, shrimp etouffee, and gumbo. Try the Chicken Baton Rouge, the blackened shrimp dinner or their vegetarian dishes for milder fare. Whatever you get just know it’ll be made with the freshest ingredients. It’s where you go when you want to taste authentic dishes from the Bayou without straying too far from home! There’s even a few horse head posts as seen on the streets of New Orleans!

iron horse head post

If you visit their website now you’ll notice it’s under construction and they’ve switched to a blog but don’t let that deter you. They’re on route 35 in Belmar, NJ across from the marina, and are only open from Tuesday thru Sunday for dinner but check their site for any updates. The owner also just released her cookout so if you love the food be sure to check out the book!

Products I’m Loving Right Now: Spicy and Boozy Jams

I love sharing great product finds, especially those handmade goods that you know had lots of love poured into them. Anyone who dedicates their time and money to provide wholesome, great tasting, locally sourced small batch food products deserve our support and a huge shout out! These spicy and boozy jams deliver tender chunks of fruit that spread nicely even on the softest of breads and are laced with either booze or just the right amount of chiles to balance out the sweetness.

The Jam Stand

I came across The Jam Stand at a funky craft event put together by Bust Magazine in NYC a few months ago and have been meaning to share these for a while now. I loved every single flavor I tried from this artisan jam company based out of Brooklyn. I was intrigued at first with the names and then was blown away with the bold flavors. How could you not be drawn to names like the Drunken Monkey, Sweet Wino-nion, You’re My Boy Blue-Berry, very clever and cute. The Drunken Monkey, as you may have guessed, is made with bananas and rum, the Sweet Wino-nion jam with red onions and wine. Another one that I was immediately drawn to, of course, was the Razzy Gabby with a side of  Jalapenos! Sweet, tart and spicy.

Three Jams

After all the sampling I was hooked and wound up picking up a few jars. The spicy raspberry jam isn’t overly spicy but you definitely get a good kick that lingers for a bit. I also love that the ingredient list is short with just the essentials because that’s all we really need, no? Plain and simple fruit, sugar, spice, alcohol, lime but there’s nothing simple about the flavors. The fruit flavors are very prominent and so is the booze! Check out the whole berries in this blueberry jam! Plump, sweet and with a hint of bourbon flavor.

Jam Stand Blueberry jam

The Drunken Monkey didn’t last very long, one of my favorites next to the spicy raspberry. This will go great on scones, bread or you can warm it up and add it to ice cream for an interesting mix.  So many options with these jams, love it!

Jam Stand banana jam

The jams are available online via the Jam Stand’s online shop or contact them to find out where they’re going to be next.

My Evening at the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival

I attended the the Beer, Bourbon and BBQ Festival this past weekend in NYC and what a booze fest it was! I see why they list each in that order because there was much beer and bourbon to be had and just a few BBQ stations. Had loads of fun sampling and even though it wasn’t a spicy food event there were some spicy finds in the mix. Here are a few photos from the event…

This fest is touring the US so check their 2012 calendar and plan to get there early since sessions fill quickly. By the time I got there the food lines were snaking through the venue and the wait was  anywhere from half hour to over an hour. There will be plenty of beer and spirits pouring throughout the night with very short lines so get your food first and try not to get too distracted by that or any of the other yummy goodies like beef jerky and hot sauces! I tried Torchbearers Sauces The Rapture 2.0 sauce made with the Butch Scorpion pepper, now the hottest in the world, and let me tell you, this is one angry, explosive pepper! But I must say, the flavor was actually pretty good, once the coughing stopped. Another gem was Oregon Trail Red Hot Chili beef jerky shown below. Not sure if they’ll be there for the other scheduled festivals but others to try are the sweet habanero and teriyaki beef jerky.

I accidentally snapped that photo below left and couldn’t stop laughing when I saw what was peeking behind the random dude. Hilarious! Oh, and that’s me below trying to eat around the slab of fat I was served, sorry but  I don’t do chunks of fat! Ever since belly fat became this delicacy a few years ago everyone thinks they can serve a plate of it…just meat please, thank you.

So all in all it was good times. How can you not enjoy tasty foods, good friends and unlimited pours of beer? There were other master distillers on hand for tasting seminars as well as butchering demos but was stuck in lines most of the time…good thing there were beer booths set up along the way! Next time I’ll follow my early arrival, food first strategy.

Oh, and special Thanks to the folks over at Time Out NY for offering this awesome tickets package giveaway that I was lucky enough to win!! I never win anything! I think my luck is turning, 2012 is going to be a great year!