Sign Up for Our Monthly River Cruise Newsletter
Onboard the Great American Steamboat Company’s beautifully refurbished American Queen in Natchez, Miss., I joined fellow passengers for one of the most delightful cultural experiences ever on a shore excursion: a few hours spent as a guest in Twin Oaks, the restored 1830s home of celebrity chef Regina Charboneau, cookbook author, television chef, restaurateur and culinary director for the American Queen.
Charboneau, whose unaffected, warm personality would be attraction enough, invites guests from the boat to relax on her lovely terrace, wander through her home, meet her children and eat and drink an abundance of savory and sweet dishes that range from a blackberry crème brulee trifle to luscious cookies. These come with advice on hospitality Southern-style and accompanied by Natchez “refreshments”: a formidable milk punch well supplied with bourbon, her own versions of unusual martinis and screwdrivers that appeal as much to the eye as to the palate.
But the aspect of the visit that most charmed the guests is Charboneau’s completely practical techniques for entertainment, frankly affordable food and tableware that can be presented without turning the hostess into a slave.
“They’d rather have your company,” she told attendees, who were delighted and astonished at the down to earth advice coming from a chef whose way with food inspired Julia Child to give her a round of applause.
Later, on Main Street in Natchez, we met Charboneau’s brother Peter at Biscuits & Blues, a jammed-to-the-walls temple to traditional Southern cooing. The aroma of barbecue that pours out the door lures people in off the street (“Who cares if you’re hungry; you just don’t miss this,” one patron said.).
Delicious barbecued ribs and chicken are complemented by cornbread and baked beans like grandmother used to make (if you are very Southern and very lucky). The smoker in the back is only the beginning of the story; there’s plenty of seafood and every sort of Po’Boy, garlic mashed potatoes and hot biscuits that nearly fly off the plate, plus a children’s menu. And if that’s not enough, there are fabulous bread puddings, pecan pie and a concoction that starts with a beignet and ends up with a sundae – don’t ask.
Although many of these specialties are available on board American Queen, a number of passengers joined the locals at Biscuits & Blues for an unforgettable taste of the South.
Great American Steamboat Companywww.greatamericansteamboatcompany.com
The premium excursion to Charbonneau’s home in Natchez costs $59. It fills up very rapidly, and the visit includes recipes and techniques to take home. Biscuits & Blues, at 315 Main Street, has pricing running from $5.95 for a basket of biscuits to $13.95 for a ribs/chicken combo with all the trimmings or a Southern Fried Seafood Platter at $18.95.