Meals on any cruise are always something to talk about, and certainly the meals, snacks, hors d’ouevres and wines on America Cruise Lines’ America are no exception, and could well be described as a cut above many other cruise lines.
Even before you get to taste the food, there are some wonderful surprising touches from the galley on the America. Included in your package of information in your stateroom when you first board, there’s a comprehensive list itemizing the butcheries, farms, dairies and fresh and saltwater where all the products on the menu come from.
Literally, it is from farm to table on the Mississippi, and the Cruise Line is committed to its close relationship with local purveyors as insurance that only the freshest products come from the farm to the ship’s galley. For instance, much of the meat comes from Comeaux Butchers in New Orleans and the Truro Iowa slaughterhouse; the black and red drum fish, swordfish and shellfish come from the Gulf of Mexico, the oysters from Christmas Camp Island in Louisiana and the Gulf Coast, the rice from Delta Blues in Mississippi, the poultry from Springer Mountain Farms in Columbus, Georgia, the cheeses from Conzles, Louisiana, and fresh fruits and veggies from farms in Mississippi and Tennessee. It makes you want to visit the Creole Creamery in New Orleans after you’ve sampled some chocolate pecan pie or Bananas Foster, for sure. All three menus every day offer a broad variety of meats, cheeses, starch, vegetables and spectacular carbohydrates, but if that isn’t enough for anyone, the chef is happy to sit with you and work out dietary needs or special requests. The executive chef who plans all the menus for America’s cruises gives a terrific talk on his galley and menus, and even offers to give you any recipes you want!
Nor does their largesse end with the food menu alone. Beer and wine are offered at every lunch and dinner, as well as an open bar at the hour long cocktail hour every night, so it really is easy to eat, drink and be merry without costing a single extra penny. With a few of us talking about a particular California wine at dinner one evening, we learned that particular wine was not in the boat’s wine cellar. However, the very next evening it appeared on our table! Seems one of the dining room staff was tasked with going into town the next day to ensure we had it for our dinner that evening.
With only 165 passengers on the ship, everyone can eat at the same time in the same dining room with your choice of sitting wherever and with whom you want at any time. I opted to bop among different tables for breakfast and lunch…save for the one breakfast I had served on my stateroom balcony just for the fun and luxury of it….and I chose to enjoy dinners each evening with two of the most friendly, outgoing and fun loving couples that ever met a Garden Stater on the Mississippi. The males in the couples, Mo and Byron, were both retired physicians, Mo a cardiologist and Byron an anesthesiologist, and their ladies, Cecilia and Ann (who also takes incredible photographs!) witty, fun, intelligent, curious and just plain downright nice. With Mo and Cecilia from Alabama and Byron and Ann from Spokane, Washington, we enjoyed sharing a lot of similarities and differences about our respective parts of the country.
But back to the food! Breakfasts could always be as simple as the fresh fruits, biscuits, muffins, breads, juices, and hot beverages as you’d like, or as complex and delicious as quiche, breakfast sandwiches, pancakes, waffles, eggs any style including Benedict or Hussard (that’s Benedict with mushrooms, spinach, ham and a red wine Hollandaise).
Lunches were as sumptuous as dinners, with a choice of several different appetizers, entrees and desserts. Soups were as exotic as oyster chowder with Abita beer, or Cajun Shrimp Stew or as creamy and light as sweet potato bisque or French Onion. Salads ranged from field greens with Asiago cheese to roasted peach salad, roasted beets and orange salad, spinach or Southern cornbread salad. Creole dishes….the boat sailed from New Orleans, remember, include braised pork Po’Boy, Andouille or catfish Gumbo, or crawfish strudel with Creole white sauce.
The meat dishes were even more varied, including coffee rubbed duck with a fruit chutney, country fried steak with biscuits, Creole chicken with red beans and rice, steaks, turkey, pork belly for those who dare, and rack of lamb or Lamb Osso Bucco.
But it’s the seafood that captivated me, served delightfully fresh and in a variety of ways, whether it was barbecued gulf shrimp, lump crab cakes, seared Mahi Mahi, pecan crusted flounder, red or black fish or barbecued salmon or stuffed lobster tail.
Folks on cruise ships blame the fresh air for their seemingly endless appetites, and the galley knows it. That’s why there were warm cookies served every mid-morning, and an array of hot and cold appetizers served every evening during the cocktail hour in the Magnolia Lounge, including alligator meat, sausages, cheeses, fruits, canapés, pastry filled delicacies and crabs legs. And if there was something you wanted that wasn’t there, a friendly member of the dining room staff would hunt it down for you!
By the way, that Delta Blues Rice Pudding is the finest use for rice I’ve ever tasted! Of course, it’s not the kind of dessert for which you want to count carbs or calories. The recipe for eight servings calls for 2 cups sugar, plus 4 cups of milk, plus 4 cups of half and half as a start. In case you need a little extra something, it comes served with an Orange Caramel sauce made with orange juice and peel and more of that sugar.