Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Peppers Americans Refuse To Grow

Barnacle Bill’s
14 Castillo Dr.
St. Augustine, FL

I’ve never been one of those anti-immigrant conservatives.

Call me naive, but I’ve always kind of liked the idea of America as “a melting pot” -- at least before we started paying people NOT to work.

Of course we have “Jobs Americans Refuse To Do” when Obama pays Americans $10 an hour to sit at home.

As far as I’m concerned, if you want to come over here and join the ever dwindling proportion of the population of Americans who work for a living, produce things and pay taxes, I’m all for it. The more the merrier.

Maybe that’s because a few generations back, I’d have been considered an immigrant too. Come to think of it, the same could be said of just about all of us.

But when my great-great-great-grandfather 757 got off the boat from Ireland 150 years ago, he wasn’t coming here for welfare or free education or free ER visits.

Nope. Great-great-great-grandpa 757 came here to work.

That’s why I like the story of the Minorcans of St. Augustine. And the tasty “datil” peppers they brought with them.

The Minorcans came to Florida in the 1760s to work too.

Except, to get here, they made the mistake of trusting a typical bastard Brit by the name of Andrew Turnbill.

The Minorcans signed contracts with Turnbill to be indentured servants at his indigo plantation in New Smyrna. But once their indenture was up, Turnbill refused to grant them their release and kept them as slaves, killing almost 1,000 Minorcans in the process.

But as that great philosopher Kris Kristofferson once said, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.”

And freedom is exactly what the Minorcans found a few years later after escaping 70 miles up the coast to St. Augustine.

The natives of St. Augustine – America’s oldest city – welcomed the immigrants with open arms because they were skilled hard workers.

That, and the fact that the Minorcans brought with them a really tasty spicy pepper from their Mediterranean home that livened up the locals’ boring old English cuisine.

You know what they say about the quickest way to a man’s heart?

Well, the Minorcan’s datil pepper has been warming the stomachs of native St. Augustinians for over two centuries now.

And Barnacle Bill’s is as good a place as any in this old historic tourist town to get acquainted with the pepper.

You can get just about everything on the menu spiced up with a touch of datil pepper if you so desire.

In fact, the restaurant’s owner, Chris Way, has even started up a side business selling his “Dat’l Do-It” hot sauces.

I chose to kick off my meal with Barnacle Bill’s datil pepper spiced Minorcan clam chowder. Kin to a tomato-based Manhattan clam chowder, the Minorcan version is chock full of clams and bites back just a bit thanks to its famous local pepper.

But the real reason locals fight the tourists to come to Barnacle Bill’s is the fried shrimp.

These are big beautiful local shrimp fresh out of the Atlantic, breaded and fried to crisp, juicy succulence. I got mine sprinkled with datil pepper powder which gave my fried shrimp just a little extra peppery flavor.

Best of all, the shrimp come with a delicious pink datil pepper dipping sauce, which turns out to be the ideal tangy condiment for the fried shrimp – not that they really need one.

I found it to be a real dilemma.

The shrimp were almost perfect on their own. But the dipping sauce was downright addictive.

So I alternated. One shrimp dipped. One unadorned. One dipped.

Over and over. Until, sadly, they were all gone.

But, don’t worry. It’s not like I left hungry. On the side came a cool, creamy macaroni salad studded with celery and peppers.

And two large perfectly fried hush puppies.

And a whole mess of crisp, fried squash.

Yeah, fried squash. In the South, everything gets fried – especially vegetables. As a general rule, if you are at a really good fried seafood place, you really can’t go wrong with getting your veggies fried too.

While Barnacle Bill’s has a full bar, people come here to eat, not drink, for the most part.

It’s a casual, family friendly place where both Pirate Museum T-shirt-wearing tourists and locals coming straight from church feel right at home on a laid-back Sunday afternoon.

Come to think of it, Barnacle Bill’s is kind of like a melting pot. A melting pot with really good eats.

Rating: Seriously Thought About Buying Shirt.
Barnacle Bill's Seafood House on Urbanspoon

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