Like mother, like daughter. For Mary Ann Nelson and her daughter Regina Florey, this old saying is especially apt when it comes to cooking. Mary Ann is the much-loved local legend behind the ultra popular Mary Ann’s Deli in downtown Fairhope. After the matriarch sold the business and retired with her husband, John, in 2005, Regina followed in the family footsteps. She opened her own equally admired eatery, Regina’s Kitchen, in Midtown Mobile with her husband, JEF, in August 2010.
Regina cut her culinary teeth at her parents’ restaurant working after school. “I started working with my mother when I was 12 and got paid in pickle spears until I was 16, ” Regina shares with a laugh. She says it was a valuable learning experience. “I was able to see how much effort it takes to run a business and have a place where I could have free rein to work on my cooking skills.”
“Regina was always an eager, creative worker and absolutely loved it, but I had no idea she would end up opening her own restaurant one day, ” Mary Ann says. Now, the next generation is involved as well. The Floreys’ two young daughters, Mary Ann, 18, and Cecilia, 15, can frequently be found lending a helping hand on Saturdays. “The girls have been working with me since the day we opened, and both can prepare every item on the menu. It just comes naturally, ” Regina says.
“All of the women in our family — my mother, grandmother, great-grandmother — have all been fabulous cooks, ” Mary Ann continues. “My mother’s family emigrated from Sicily to New York in 1918, and we have photographs of them all seated and eating together. Cooking with your mother and eating as a family are just part of our heritage.”
So, when the current three generations aren’t at work cooking (grandmother Mary Ann teaches culinary classes out of her home), they enjoy preparing meals together at home. Sunday dinner, served in the early afternoon, is always a favorite family affair. Here, the women share some of their treasured recipes.
Mix up a pretty yet potent Sunday afternoon sip for the adults. Regina likes to shake up several and serve them from a pitcher.
2 ounces whiskey
2/3 ounce fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon simple syrup
maraschino cherries, for garnish
orange slices, for garnish
1. Combine whiskey, lemon juice and simple syrup in a cocktail shaker. Shake vigorously. Pour over ice and garnish with 1 – 2 maraschino cherries and an orange slice. Makes 1 cocktail.
A classic, cold, delicious starter and a guaranteed crowd-pleaser, this dish is a favorite menu special at Regina’s Kitchen.
2 pounds medium-sized shrimp, boiled and peeled
1 1/2 cups mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Creole mustard
3 tablespoons hot sauce (Mary Ann and Regina prefer Crystal.)
4 tablespoons capers, drained
1/2 purple onion, minced
large handful flat leaf parsley, chopped
3 ribs celery, finely chopped
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
Creole seasoning, to taste (Mary Ann and Regina use Tony Chachere’s.)
1. Toss all ingredients together until well combined. Refrigerate for about 3 hours before serving. Serves about 6.
Crab Cakes with Louis Sauce
These crab cakes are a delectable splurge for serving at home. Top with a generous dollop of creamy Louis sauce and serve them as an appetizer or as part of the main course.
1 pound jumbo lump crabmeat
4 slices white bread
3 tablespoons mayonnaise
3 teaspoons mustard
2 eggs, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
about 1/2 cup flour
2 tablespoons water
about 1/2 cup cracker meal
Creole seasoning to taste (Mary Ann and Regina prefer Tony Chachere’s.)
Louis sauce (see below)
1. Put crabmeat in a mixing bowl. Place bread slices on top.
2. In a separate bowl, combine the mayonnaise, mustard, 1 egg, Worcestershire, salt and pepper, stirring to mix well. Pour this over the bread and crab and let soak for several minutes. Mix together with hands to combine. Form into “patty cakes.”
3. Put a little pile of flour on one plate. Whisk together the remaining egg with water to make an egg wash. Mix cracker meal and a sprinkle or so of Creole seasoning on another plate. Lightly dredge each cake in flour, then in egg wash, then in seasoned cracker meal.
4. Heat 1/4 inch of vegetable oil in a pan over high heat (you want hot oil). Add crab cakes to pan and sauté for 4 – 5 minutes or until golden brown. Flip cakes over and cook an additional 4 – 5 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, topped with Louis sauce. Makes 6 – 8.
1/2 cup heavy cream
1 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup chili sauce
2 tablespoons grated onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
dash of cayenne pepper
1. Whip heavy cream. Gently fold in remaining ingredients.
2. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Makes about 2 cups.
Lamb Chops with Rosemary and Garlic
Lamb is often associated with springtime supping, and these marinated, grilled chops are a lavish, full-flavored entree option.
1 1/2 cups olive oil
4 cloves fresh minced garlic
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf parsley
1/2 cup chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon coarse salt
fresh cracked black pepper, to taste
12 lamb chops
1. In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil, garlic, parsley, rosemary, salt and black pepper to make marinade. Place lamb chops in a large zip-top bag. Pour marinade over lamb chops. Seal bag and toss to coat completely.
2. Refrigerate and marinate chops for at least 3 hours.
3. Preheat grill. Discard marinade and grill chops for approximately 5 minutes on each side. Remove from heat and allow to rest a few minutes before serving. Serves 6.
Asparagus with Lemon Butter
Asparagus is another fresh, springtime treat that pairs beautifully with lamb. This is a simple, yet splendid preparation.
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed
1/4 cup butter (Regina prefers Plugrá.)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
zest of 1 lemon
1. Steam asparagus in an asparagus steamer; or, in a 3-quart saucepan with a rack, heat about 1/2 inch of water to boiling. Add asparagus, cover and steam for 5 – 10 minutes until tender.
2. In a small saucepan, melt butter and stir in lemon juice, salt and pepper.
3. Pour over asparagus. Sprinkle asparagus with desired amount of lemon zest. Serves 4 – 6.
Bright, colorful and savory, sherried tomatoes are a sure-to-please side dish suitable for breakfast, brunch, lunch or dinner.
6 small ripe tomatoes
1/4 cup sherry
1 teaspoon dill weed
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely grated cheddar cheese
sprigs of fresh dill, for garnish, if desired
1. Preheat oven broiler.
2. Cut each tomato in half. Arrange tomato halves on a baking sheet, cut side up.
3. Pierce each tomato half with fork a few times. Sprinkle with sherry, a pinch of dill and black pepper. Broil for 2 – 3 minutes. Meanwhile, mix together the mayonnaise and cheese.
4. Remove tomatoes from oven, top each tomato half with mayonnaise cheese mixture. Garnish with dill, if desired.
5. Broil for an additional 2 – 3 minutes or until hot, bubbly and slightly browned. Serves 6.
Lemon Angel Halos
As the name implies, these sweet treats make a light, airy, heavenly finale.
1 angel food cake (homemade or store-bought)
Lemon Filling (see below)
whipped cream (homemade or store-bought)
1 pint strawberries
1. Cut cake into rounds or squares.
2. Spread half of the cake rounds or squares with Lemon Filling and top with another layer of cake.
3. Ice each stack with whipped cream and top with sliced strawberry and sprigs of fresh mint. Makes about 6 – 8.
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
2 lemons, juiced and rinds zested
1. Place eggs and egg yolks in top of a double boiler. Beat to combine. Add remaining ingredients. Cook over simmering water, stirring with a wooden spoon until mixture is thickened to the consistency of mayonnaise, approximately 10 minutes.
2. Store in a covered jar in the refrigerator until ready to use. Lemon Filling will keep for up to 2 weeks. makes 1 1/2 – 2 cups.
text by Sallye Irvine • photos by Elizabeth Gelineau