American Duchess Cruise: Chef’s notes on menu add to dining pleasure

ABOARD THE AMERICAN DUCHESS – When Executive Chef Jeff Warner entered the American Duchess dining room wearing his white jacket and tall white hat, he received a happy round of applause.

He certainly deserves it. The food on my cruise is scrumptious.

Not only is the food delicious but the menus are also a pleasure to read. Not just for the cuisine choices but for the little tidbits that are on every menu.

Chef Jeff Warner is in charge of our dining delights.

Jeff lists “Chef Suggestions” on each dinner menu and gives a brief description of what he has chosen. Sometimes, I just go totally with his suggestions and he has never steered me wrong.

For example, one night Jeff suggested these choices:

First Course – Seafood chowder: Manhattan-style red chowder with shrimp, crab, crawfish.

Second Course – Roasted beet and asparagus salad: Oven-roasted beets, charred asparagus, crisp lettuce, topped with Maytag and Plymouth dressing.

Third Course – Steamed Maine lobster tail – Generous cold water lobster tail served with creamy “street” corn, roasted red potatoes, warm butter and lemon.

Dessert – Crème Brulee: Creamy vanilla custard topped with a crisp caramelized sugar crust and fresh berries.

See what I mean? It was all delicious. The chef could have ordered for me every night.

Of course, dinner is also served with complimentary beer and wine.

The Grand Dining Room has floor-to-ceiling windows to watch the river flow.

Tempting choices to suit every taste

Another night, the menu featured Classic Starters like West Indie crab salad, mushroom crepe or grilled artichoke hearts. Soup and salad choices were crawfish and tomato bisque, chicken broth with tomato concasse, vegetable broth with seaweed wontons, hand-tossed Caesar salad or Duchess salad.

For Entrees, choices were grilled petit New York Strip Steak, parmesan crusted chicken, veal grillades with stone-ground grits, grilled chicken breast with the chef’s garden, pecan-crusted red snapper, chickpea and mushroom vegetarian “Meatloaf,” or stuffed Portobello mushrooms.

The menu is marked for gluten, shellfish and nut allergies, as well as vegetarian/vegan items.

One night, Chef Jeff had a note on the menu about how and when food is delivered to the American Duchess and how much is delivered.

Custom dinnerware adds to the lovely table settings.

Provisions are taken on three times during each week-long cruise, he wrote. Once is normally on the day passengers embark, then again about mid-week through the cruise for fresh fruit and vegetables and once more when passengers disembark at cruise end. Fresh seafood arrives “via overnight transport from some of our country’s finest sea ports.”

Chef Jeff also gave an idea of how much food was enjoyed on my 152-passenger cruise:

63 gallons of ice cream

350 pounds of fresh fish and seafood

210 dozen eggs

30 pounds of coffee and espresso beans

110 pounds of bacon

A lobster dinner was a popular menu offering.

More than 1,000 cookies

                                How steamboat dining changed, thank goodness

Another menu note one day from American Queen Steamboat Line Executive Chef Paul Wayland-Smith recounted “The Evolution of Steamboat Dining.”

In early years, he wrote, passengers once traveled on the main deck with livestock, chickens and other goods being transported. “And survived mainly on what they had packed with themselves. After some time, accommodations started to improve for passengers paying higher fares and the livestock became part of dinner along with what might have been available at the last port of call.

Bottle of wine delivered to my stateroom by my River Butler. Wine and beer are complimentary with dinner aboard the American Duchess.

“Being the ‘grandest’ most luxurious means of inland travel, steamboats like the JM White once had opulent dining rooms and menus that could rival the fanciest Eastern hotels and restaurants of its time.

“Today, we offer exquisite but still friendly and gracious service, menus that reflect the regions we travel and the cultures that inhabit them, a wide variety of items prepared from the finest ingredients, and familiar but updated cuisine that you will be telling your friends about.”

True words. My American Duchess dining has definitely been a highlight of my cruise and something I am happy to share with friends and readers.

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