Dining has been one of the highlights during our time here on the American Queen. Some of my favorite dishes so far have been shrimp and grits, braised short ribs, poached eggs on andouille hash, and of course, pecan pie a la mode.
And for the few of you who may know that I am a stickler for maintaining my weight on a cruise, after 12 days on board, I am happy report that I have actually lost a pound, thanks to the reasonably sized portions served and my trotting off to use the gym 30 minutes each day.
I am not alone in my appreciation for the quality of the cuisine. Time and again on this voyage of magnificent fall splendor, I’ve spoken with other guests who have praised the dining. A lot of the credit for the cuisine on board goes to Regina Charboneau. She’s the culinary director and chef de cuisine for the American Queen Steamboat Company.
Regina has written for magazines, appeared on television and operated her own restaurants. She is a chef extraordinaire in my book, and she brings to the table food that is not only delicious but also fitting for a voyage on North America’s mightiest river.
Born in Natchez, Mississippi, a place that her family has called home for seven generations, Regina loves the Mississippi River. “The influence of the river and using the best ingredients that are local and regional makes sense for the American Queen,” she said when we interviewed her on board last week.
She told us that the foods and natural ingredients along the river provide a lot of inspiration for her dishes. “When you’re feeding 400 people, you want the dishes to come out well and be presented well, and luckily there are a lot of braised meats and good soups from the river that really translate well from the kitchen to the dining room,” she says. “The river gives me so many natural ingredients to work with.”
Regina attended cooking school in Paris, France, and ran her own restaurant in San Francisco. Her style could be characterized as Southern cooking with a French influence. “I take dishes that were traditionally fried, like catfish, and pan sear it,” she says. “I think it’s fun to take dishes that were traditionally heavy and lighten them up.”
Each evening, diners will find a selection of appetizers, soup, salad and four entrees, including a vegetarian option. For the less daring, the menu also includes a selection of “always available” steaks, chicken and more. One evening, I enjoyed the 4-ounce filet with baked potato from the always available menu.
Breakfast and lunch feature buffets and menus in the attractive two-deck J.M White Dining room. A free of charge alternative dining venue, the Front Porch of America also serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. At the Front Porch of America, I appreciated finding complimentary Starbucks coffee and Tazo teas, soft drinks and juices and something to snack on 24/7, including home-baked cookies and fresh fruits, hot dogs, chips, popcorn and more.
Now, time to head to the gym for 30 minutes. I hear that pecan pie is on the menu again, a la mode. Better make that 45 minutes in the gym. Bon Appetit!