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Salisbury Restaurant's Cornbread Draws Many Fans

SALISBURY, Md. (AP) -- Some call it cornbread, some spoon bread and others corn pone, and it's being served up at Taylor's Chicken and Ribs restaurant.

Tina Padilla has spent years perfecting what she calls corn pone, even if it is introduced as cornbread on the menu.

No matter what you call it, Padilla's recipe has many fans --country singer Kenny Chesney has it sent to him at concert venues, and former Gov. Robert Ehrlich is a regular customer.

"We started out with a basic type of cornbread recipe and Tina, who is from Wenona and Oriole, consulted a Smith Island recipe and has `tweaked' everything to come up with her own version of cornbread -- but it's more like a corn pone," said restaurant owner Jeanette Taylor.

"It really took us a while to get this just right," said Padilla, who has been with Taylor's for 15 years and is now manager
of the restaurant at 720 E. College Avenue. "I wanted to do it wet, to make a sweeter cornbread. I couldn't figure out how to do it. I didn't turn to a recipe book for a moister cornbread. I wanted to create something on my own."

Within that realm of creativity, Padilla experimented with different amounts of ingredients while seeking perfection.

"This was a challenge to me. ... Sometimes we were having it separate on us, ending up with a real wet top and a real dry
bottom. We couldn't figure out why. Cornbread is temperamental. It took me a good year or so playing with the recipe to get it right," Padilla said. "We call it cornbread on the menu, but I think it's a corn pone. But some people say no, it's just wet corn bread. But it's corn pone, I think."

Some customers have come in asking for "Arkansas wedding cake," a Midwestern term for cornbread.

Home-cooked food is increasingly difficult to find on a restaurant menu, and Padilla and Taylor want the food they make to reflect the Shore's culinary "comfort food" history. Homecooking and tradition, like using Taylor's husband's grandmother's recipes in the business, is a key to success.

Tradition is something Taylor knows well; after all, she was the 1980 Miss National Outdoor Show queen. The late winter annual event in Dorchester County is world famous for the muskrat skinning contest, which is hosted by the show.

"This place is pure Eastern Shore," said longtime patron and Salisbury attorney Russell "Russ" Dashiell, "and the cornbread, wow."

"People come in and say `God, it's just like eating (old-time) Southern cornbread,"' Taylor said. "Some people want us to slice it and put pork or chicken barbecue between the slices, and served with slaw, it's delicious," Taylor said.

Sold by the slice, the half-pan or the whole 9-by-12-inch pan --including the pan -- the cornbread has a loyal following.

Fannie Miles, now in her 80s and raised on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, said there was a time when cornbread and spoon bread was usually served with meals.

"Corn pone is an old, old style of corn bread, but people got away from that and went more for a moister `wet cornbread' or spoon bread," Miles said. "Because cornbread is made drier or wetter for each person's taste, it's hard to describe at what point it's a pone or spoon bread. I think cornbread and spoon bread is a real Southern dish. I think the deeper South you go, the more that cornbread changes into spoon bread. It just seemed that spoon bread was preferred by people with a higher cultural background."

Cornbread, corn pone and spoon bread were once meal staples, a menu item held in the same esteem as Maryland beaten biscuits. As word spreads that an old-time, Eastern Shore, made-from-scratch delicacy is being made at the restaurant, sales continue to climb.

While there are dozens of recipes readily available for cornbread, corn pone or spoon bread, you won't be using the one
featured at the restaurant.

"Nope," Padilla said "we don't share the recipe."

"I will tell you we use a lot of cream, a lot of eggs and a lot of butter," Taylor said. "People call all the time, `Do you mind
giving me the recipe?' and I tell them we don't give it out."

"We use some secret stuff, too," Padilla said.

"We don't cook it like people think, in a cast iron frying pan," Taylor said.

Yet one element that makes it stand out has nothing to do with ingredients.

"We also deep fry it for just a minute or so once it's been baked," Taylor said. "It almost caramelizes it at the corners."

That bit of frying gives the small slices a delicate, crisp accent. While the concept is not new, it works especially well with
Padilla's cornbread.

Fried a bit or not, the restaurant's cornbread version is a hit.

During the days before Christmas, they sell almost 200 pans of cornbread a day.

"It tastes just like my mother's cornbread," said Jane Ellen Mangason, who came in just to pick up several slices. "I've always called it wet cornbread, and this is delicious. You can also use it for dessert and it freezes well."

To make it a dessert, Padilla recommends adding a bit of butter and honey.

Information from: The Daily Times of Salisbury, Md.,

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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