"Good Morning America Weekend" asked viewers to nominate their favorite local restaurants for our Best Bites Challenge. We're looking for the place in your town that has it all -- great food, atmosphere and people, as well as one special dish that makes the restaurant unique.
From the hundreds of responses received, we narrowed the Best Bites finalists down to four restaurants -- Aunt Jenny's Catfish Restaurant in Ocean Springs, Miss.; Yesterday Café in Rutledge, Ga.; 12 Bones Smokehouse in Asheville, N.C.; and Hot Dougs in Chicago, Ill.
The viewers have spoken and 12 Bones Smokehouse was named the GMA Weekend Best Bites champ. Read about all four restaurants and their signature dishes below.
Best Bite Nominee: Aunt Jenny's Catfish Restaurant
Ocean Springs, Miss.
Co-owners: Ronnie Hamilton and Carl Lizana
Web site: www.coastseafood.com/jennys
From the submission: Enjoy Aunt Jenny's pond-raised catfish, shrimp and chicken (all you can eat), served family style, while dining in a 1852 historic home, under 500-year-old oaks at the mouth of the Bay of Biloxi. In the '50s Aunt Jenny's was a favorite place of Elvis Presley to eat when he visited the Gulf Hills Dude Ranch on the coast.
On Aug. 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina flooded the restaurant and blew the kitchen roof off, but within a week and a half it was back opened to the public.
It is on the site of Old Indian Health Springs. Years ago before the white man came, Ocean Springs was called E-ca-ma-cha-ha, which means the Holy Ground. From all surrounding areas, the Indians came to drink of the water of the Great Spirit.
Signature dish: Fried Catfish
Twenty-five pounds of plain yellow cornmeal
Five pounds of self-rising white flour
Two pounds of yellow corn flour
½ cup of garlic powder
One box of salt
½ cup of cayenne pepper
Mix all of the above ingredients thoroughly. Repeat this mixture of ingredients three times. Take drained catfish fillets and add to a tub of meal. Add 2 to 3 scoops of dry fishmeal and bread. Add directly to peanut oil and deep-fry at 350 degrees. Cook until golden brown.
Best Bite Nominee: Yesterday Café
Owner: Kris Bray
Web site: www.smallbutspecial.com/eat/yesterdays
From the submission: Described as a trip down memory lane, Rutledge is truly small town America. With just 700 folks, we're located 50 miles east of (and a world away from) Atlanta. Rutledge is a railroad town, named for the turnaround near Miss Polly Rutledge's log cabin. It is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Yesterday's Café is located in a renovated 1800s drug store building. True reflections of the town, the café walls are lined with hundreds of framed vintage photographs of the town and its people.
The café's food has a uniquely local flavor with many Southern favorites on the menu. The cafe is famous for its buttermilk pie, a uniquely local and delicious dessert, created by its first chef, Lanita Franklin. The pie comes from an old African-American family recipe, passed down through generations of Lanita's family. When Lanita left the café to pursue her own catering business, she kindly left the buttermilk pie recipe to become the café's signature dessert.
Signature dish: Buttermilk Pie
1 3/4 cups of sugar
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbsp vanilla
3 eggs beaten
1/3 cup melted butter
3/4 cup buttermilk
The key to correctly making our buttermilk pie is mixing each ingredient separately. Combine the sugar and flour and whisk until flour is completely mixed into the sugar. Then add the vanilla and whisk until evenly mixed in with sugar and flour.
Beat the eggs well before adding to dry ingredients and again, whisk well. Next whisk in the melted butter and then add the buttermilk. Whisk the mixture well. We actually like to whip the final mixture with the whisk before pouring into an unbaked 9" pie shell.
We bake our pies in a commercial convection oven for 45 minutes. The convection oven is key in rising the custard consistency. Shake the pie a little to make sure it is not undercooked. It should barely shake in the middle. The crust should be golden to light brown and a little flakey on top.
Make sure when you cut your pie that you do not have a separation with a cakey layer near the top. The pie should have a custard consistency throughout. Good luck and happy baking!
Best Bite Nominee: 12 Bones Smokehouse
Owners: Thomas Montgomery and Sabra Kelly (husband and wife)
Web site: www.12bones.com
From the submission: By far the best spot for BBQ ribs and chicken in the South is 12 Bones Smokehouse. Yeah, it's not the prettiest from the outside but look past that and your tastebuds will thank you with each bite. They serve their meals on metal "prison" plates that heap over with freshly prepared veggies and cornbread. Fresh green beans, corn pudding, squash casserole, mushroom salad, the list goes on.
They make their sauces from scratch daily as well. From a brown sugar dry rub to blueberry chipotle sauce, man, what a taste. On any given day there is a choice from four types of ribs. As the line forms, it curves around the side of the building with anxious people waiting to get in. Local beer on tap only, too.
Signature dish: Blueberry Chipotle BBQ Ribs
Cooked traditional style
2.5 lbs. blueberries (Dole or similar quality product)
8 7oz. cans chipotle peppers
2 cups honey
2 qts. tomato bbq sauce (any brand)
1Tblsp. ginger powder
Puree chipotles and blueberries. Combine all ingredients and slather on ribs.
Best Bite Nominee: Hot Dougs
Owner: Doug Sohn
Web site: www.hotdougs.com
From the submission: I can't think of a restaurant that exemplifies Chicago better than Hot Doug's. In a town famous for its hot dogs, Hot Doug's has dragged the concept of the neighborhood hot dog place kicking and screaming into the 21st century and beyond.
Aside from a terrific version of the Chicago-style hot dog and great fries, Doug has created a panoply of specialty dogs. His goji-berry pheasant sausage with Caribbean mayonnaise and cheese-stuffed sweet peppers recently made Chicago magazine's list of the 124 best dishes in Chicago. I've eaten dogs there made of everything from alligator and rattlesnake to rabbit and duck. My particular favorite is the Teuben, a tubular version of the Reuben sandwich consisting of a corned beef sausage on a bun with Russian dressing, sauerkraut and grated Swiss cheese.
Decorated with a combination of Elvisiana and goofy sausage art, Hot Doug's is happy. Doug himself presides over the meaty merriment, taking orders and setting the mood from the get-go with his smile and good humor. His clientele ranges from workers from the factory across the street to executives and local celebrities seeking to expand their hot dog horizons in about the only place that's really possible. The one thing that holds them all together is that each and everyone of them is having a good time while they're there.
Signature dish: Chicago-Style Hot Dog with Everything
1 natural casing, all-beef frankfurter
1 poppy seed hot dog bun, steamed
Sweet green relish (preferably neon green in color)
4 pieces half-moon sliced Roma tomato
1 dill pickle spear
Sport peppers (optional)
Grill hot dog until hot and nicely charred. Place in steamed bun. Top with mustard, relish, onions, tomato, pickle, celery salt and, if desired, sport peppers.