Tuesday, May 29, 2018

In the Kitchen with Chef Chris Ansted

Has it been almost two years since I published my interview with Chef Kevin Templet? Wow! Time does have a habit of just flying by when you aren't paying attention. And even when you are, it seems. What, you missed reading that one? No worries, just click here and you can read it. Go ahead, you won't miss anything, I'll wait.

What did you think? He's a pretty cool guy, huh? Well, guess what! Now you get to read about a local chef who's made a big splash in our area. I'm referring of course to Chef Chris Ansted. Chef Chris owns and operates Southern BOI Cafe in League City. He has over 30 years experience in the restaurant business, and his food definitely reflects that. I've had the pleasure of eating there a few times and every time, every.single.time, the food has been nothing less than fantastic with service to match. 

Chef Chris was kind enough to spare some time for me to sit down and get to know him better. Following is my conversation with Chef Chris, much like I did with Chef Kevin. I took copious notes during our conversation and tried to write verbatim what he said, but it is not intended to be an official "transcript." If you ever want to know just how passionate someone is about a given subject, just take a look at their eyes when they are speaking about it. Several times during our conversation Chef Chris would get animated with his answers and had that classic "twinkle" in his eyes as he described perfecting a dish or experiencing some new culinary delight.

Chef Chris Ansted

I met Chef Chris in the early afternoon, between the lunch and dinner rush. We had a fun and informative conversation, and he made it feel like I was visiting an old friend. Like I did with Chef Kevin I then returned later that evening for another stellar dinner. I tagged Chef Chris as "CA," and kept my usual "PN" for me. 

PN: Chef Chris, thank you for taking the time to visit with me. Judging from all the positive comments I've seen on Facebook, you've been doing quite well.

CA: It's my pleasure, Patrick. I'm glad I had a chance to do this with you.

PN: I know that you aren't "BOI," but are you from around here, or someplace else?

Author's note: Locally, "BOI" refers to "born on the island," Galveston Island, to be exact.

CA: I'm a Yankee. I was born in Illinois but was raised in Carmel, Indiana. I moved down here to Texas because my (then) wife was from here. So, while officially the BOI in Southern BOI does stand for "born on the island," I like to say that BOI should stand for "born in Illinois."

PN: Were you a picky eater as a child?

CA: (laughs) Very much so, and I still am. I'm probably one of the pickiest chefs around. As popular as my homemade pickle chips are, I can't stand pickles!

PN: No way! One of your signature items and you don't even like it. Wow!

CA: Yes, it's true. I also don't care for mustard, mayo or most other condiments. I'm not a fan of the vinegar taste, I guess. I will try new things, though, because I've been surprised when I've liked a dish that I didn't think I would.

PN: Such as?

CA: I had this bowl of chicken liver pate served to me, and I didn't know what it was before I took my first bite. It was so delicious I ate the whole thing and asked for more. When they brought it to me, I asked what it was. When they said "chicken liver pate," I was surprised but ate most of that second bowl as well.

PN: I'm not as adventurous as you. If I don't know what something is, I won't eat it. So, since you don't like pickles, how do you ensure quality when your fried pickles go out?

CA: Oh, I have the other chefs taste them. Nothing goes out of the kitchen without someone tasting the food. Just because I don't like a certain food doesn't mean I won't serve it. My customers like foods I don't and they are the reason I'm here.

PN: That's a great philosophy to have. When did you decide you wanted to be a chef?

CA: (points to a photo on the wall) I've always wanted to be a chef, ever since I can remember. I started cooking with my mom and grandmother when I was 8. I've always enjoyed cooking and can't imagine doing anything else. 

Author's note: The photo Chef Chris was pointing to is of him as a teen, with a "Chef Chris" apron on.

Current and young Chef Chris
photo courtesy of Chris Ansted

PN: Did you attend a culinary school, or is all of your knowledge through on the job training and experience?

CA: Most of it is through experience and on the job training. I did attend a culinary program at Ivy Tech but didn't complete the entire course. My first job was at Hardee's when I was 14, and at 18 I started at Georgia's Place Steakhouse. By 20, I was running the kitchen. 

PN: Wow, that's some drive you had!

CA: And still do. When you love what you do, it's easy to have drive and a strong work ethic. It helps get you through those long hours.

PN: Who was your most influential mentor?

CA: Oh, no question, my mom and grandma. As I said, I started cooking when I was 8. My mom taught me a lot about cooking and baking. Both of them gave me a good base to build on. I always remember how good my aunt's fajitas were, too.

PN: Good fajitas in Indiana? The Texan in me has a hard time believing that.

CA: (laughs) Yeah, I know, I hear it all the time from your fellow Texans. It's true, though, they were really good.

PN: I'm sure they were. You know I had to say that, though, or risk losing my Texan card. Did you have a culinary mentor once you reached the professional level?

CA: Barry from Georgia's Steakhouse. He taught me a lot about working in a professional kitchen. Not just the cooking, but everything that goes into working in that environment.

PN: If I may fast forward a little, I don't know if you recall the first time I met you. It was in Texas City at a food truck park. You had the Pounders food truck, and Cindy and I had a fantastic dinner. 

CA: You know, I'm usually very good with faces, but I really don't remember that. I figured we met through the Bay Area foodies group. 

Author's note: Chef Chris is referring to a Facebook group called Bay Area Houston Food Lovers which both of us belong to. Just click the blue link to read more about it.

PN: Yeah, we were scouting food trucks for an event for another club I belong to. But come on, you saw thousands of people when you had that truck. I'd be surprised if you did remember. So, how did you come up with the name Pounders for your food truck?

CA: I just asked a bunch of friends for their input. Once I heard Pounders it stuck. Think of the image of pounding down some good burgers and that's it.

Pounders food truck
photo courtesy of Chris Ansted

PN: You owned Pounders, right? 

CA: Yes, I did, along with a partner. It was fun while it lasted, but I had to make a business decision to sell it. It was a tough decision, but one that had to be made.

PN: And that's how you came to be associated with Southern BOI?

CA: Yeah, indirectly. I was hired by the (then) owners of Southern BOI to be their chef. I was happy doing this and when the opportunity arose to buy Southern BOI I was able to take advantage of it. 

PN: And many of us, myself included, are glad you did! What's a typical day like for you?

CA: I usually get there around 6:30 in the morning, and don't leave until 11 at night most days. We make everything fresh, so there's always lots of prep to be done. 

PN: I'm a huge music fan, and always have something playing when I write, or when working in my normal day job. Do you allow music in your kitchen? 

CA: Yes I do! I listen to a lot of Foo Fighters and a wide selection of country music.

Author's note: I've written two different blogs so far about my love of music which you can find here or here.

PN: What about other activities? As the owner, do you schedule staff, order supplies, that kind of thing?

CA: I have a fantastic general manager, Chessie Peveto, who handles all of the front of house stuff. She does the scheduling and everything that has to do with the day to day running of the restaurant. That frees me up for all of the back of house operations, cooking and menu planning.

PN: Do you cook at home, or prefer to let others cook and take a break from the kitchen?

CA: I'm not home much when it's normal eating times, so I rarely cook. We usually eat out when I'm not at the restaurant. It's more of a convenience to eat out than try to cook at home.

PN: I've read that some celebrity chefs, notably Gordon Ramsay, think that smoking ruins a chef's palate. What are your thoughts on the subject?

CA: I smoke, and I think my palate is just fine. I can still distinguish subtle flavors so I don't see an issue with smoking and cooking. 

PN: Of all the chefs I've asked, it seems like it's about a 50/50 split on the matter. I mentioned celebrity chefs, which naturally brings me to this. What do you think of the Food Network? How has it changed the culinary scene for restaurants and chefs?

CA: I think the Food Network is one of the best things to ever grace television! It's a fantastic resource for both the professional chef and home cook. I love the Food Network and watch it every chance I get. People are so much more educated today, I think, due to the Food Network. They can better appreciate what we do in the restaurant business.

PN: It's definitely one of my favorite networks, too. I especially like some of the competition shows. Do you ever watch shows like Chopped, Guy's Grocery Games or Iron Chef? Would you ever want to compete on any of those shows?

CA: For sure! They are my favorite to watch. I'd love to compete on any of those shows. I like competing and would enjoy the challenge of going against other professionals. Did you know we did something similar to Beat Bobby Flay last week? We picked bread pudding and invited anyone who was interested to bring their best bread pudding and match it against mine.

PN: I remember seeing that on the foodies group, but at the time didn't have a chance to fully explore it. How did it end up?

CA: I actually won that competition. There were several good entries but I came out on top. We plan on doing more of these in the future, like best salsa, best burgers, and so on.

PN: Sounds like fun! Who in the culinary world do you most admire?

CA: Tyler Florence, for one, because of his approach to cooking. I also appreciate what Chef Chuck Hughes does. I really enjoy Sean Brock's style of cooking, too. I got a chance to work with Robert Irvine when he was doing Restaurant Impossible with a local restaurant. He is a genuinely caring person and really tries to help struggling restaurants.

Robert Irvine and Chef Chris
photo courtesy of Chris Ansted

PN: That must've been really cool! I always liked his show Dinner Impossible, then later Restaurant Impossible

CA: So who's your favorite celebrity chef?

PN: I enjoy watching Alton Brown and his scientific approach to cooking, especially on Good Eats, and the quirky way he did that show.

CA: Did you know they're bringing Good Eats back? I'm really looking forward to it.

PN: Me, too! Now I'm going to have that theme song stuck in my head all day. Alton has a very unique view of gadgets. I'm a total "gadget person," and have drawers full of kitchen gadgets. I might even use them once in a while. Do you have a favorite gadget, other than your knives?

CA: I'm not really a gadget person, except for my mandolin. Since all of our chips are homemade, a mandolin makes the prep so much easier.

PN: I have a home-grade mandolin and use it when I need consistent cuts. Otherwise, it's kind of a pain to clean up. What about herbs and spices? What's your "go-to" herb or spice?

CA: Thyme! I love thyme, and use it a lot. I season the waffles I use for the chicken and waffles dish with thyme. I use a lot of garlic, too, because it's so versatile. 

PN: I use lots of garlic, too. My favorite herb is cilantro, with basil being a close second. 

CA: With you being from Texas, I'm not surprised cilantro is your favorite.

PN: It's definitely a staple in our house. I can use it in Mexican, Thai or Chinese cuisine. We make many international dishes to keep things fresh.

Borrowing from Anthony Bourdain, what would you pick as your last meal?

CA: Oh, wow! You know, Anthony Bourdain is another chef I admire. I like his "no b.s." approach and the way he tells it like it is. For my last meal? I'd start with the Nachos Supreme from El Centinela (a local restaurant), followed by a good ribeye with asparagus and crab meat. For dessert, I'd have tiramisu. 

PN: That sounds like a tasty and decadent meal. I remember reading somewhere that a chef toyed with the idea of opening a restaurant themed around last meals of condemned prisoners. Apparently, it never got off the ground. It sounds kind of morbid to me, but to each his own, I guess. 

What do you like to do on your time off? Do you have any hobbies?

CA: (laughs) Sleep! Seriously, I get so little sleep during the week that it's a luxury for me. I play golf when I can and will smoke some meats if I have plenty of time to do it right.

PN: You are the second person to answer with "sleep." I interviewed a professional comedian, Mutzie, and he said the same thing about his time off. I must admit that I enjoy a good nap, too. 

What do you love most about what you do?

CA: I love teaching new people I hire. I've trained many cooks and chefs over my career and it's a very satisfying thing to watch them develop their skills.

PN: I've been blessed to have several mentors who've always pushed me beyond my comfort level to develop me. What do you like least about your job?

CA: Doing dishes. I detest doing dishes and always have. I tell my new employees that that's one thing I don't do, ever. Having said that, though, I'm a stickler for cleanliness in general and follow my cooks around the kitchen, ensuring everything stays clean.

PN: What's the most important thing you'd like "outsiders" to know about the restaurant business?

CA: Most all of us have hours upon hours of hard work before the doors even open. We spend long days in the kitchen preparing everything to give our guests the best meals we can. We really want to give them the perfect meal, and should something fall short, we want the opportunity to make it right. Did something not meet your expectations? Please let us know right then and we'll do our best to correct it. 

PN: Based on all the love you've been getting lately on Facebook, it's obvious just how much you "walk the walk." 

CA: (shrugs) I'm glad Southern BOI is making people happy. That means a lot to me, and not just because it's good for the business. I truly enjoy cooking good food and seeing people enjoy it.

PN: What advice would you give to the home cook?

CA: Take your time! Don't try to hurry just to be fast. Something not turn out just right? Don't get discouraged. Learn from your mistake and each time that dish will get better.

PN: Great advice, for sure. Finally, suppose you won a multi-million dollar lottery. Would you still keep doing what you are doing or retire and enjoy your leisure?

CA: I would absolutely keep cooking! It's too much of a passion of mine to just quit. Obviously, I'd significantly cut back on my own hours and hire more people, but I just can't see myself not cooking.

PN: Chef Chris, thank you so much for your time and candor. It's been most enlightening, and I'm looking forward to coming back tonight for dinner. 

CA: It's been fun, Patrick, and I'm happy to visit with you. I'll see you in a few hours.

It felt longer than just a few hours between our conversation and when I returned to Southern BOI for dinner. I ate very little during the day so I'd be hungry for dinner. Cindy had plans with some of the other ladies from our scuba club, so I treated my mom to dinner instead. We've eaten here a few times, so I'll describe the dishes we had from each outing. While there are several other menu items available, I'll confine my descriptions to only what I actually tasted. Fair enough?

First, though, are some general photos I took of the actual restaurant. It's definitely "cozy," or "intimate" in terms of actual square footage in the dining area. Even with a smallish physical space, though, it doesn't feel crowded. 

Exterior of Southern BOI

The large windows in front allow plenty of light, making the room feel bigger and open. Decorations on the wall give the dining room a homey feel that emphasizes casual, relaxed dining.

Weekly lunch specials

I really need to make it a point to try lunch here. We've always had dinner, but reading so many Facebook raves about the meatloaf has made me want to give lunch a try. Like I really needed an excuse...

Roux the world, indeed!

Wicked chickens?

What was that? Yes, I'm hungry, too. Let's find a table and take a look at the menu, shall we?

Current Southern BOI menu:

Normally, my wife is the one who will agonize, for hours it seems, over each menu item, carefully weighing the pros and cons of every selection. As the night drags on, she'll narrow her choices to two or three.....dozen. Eventually, she'll decide on her meal, "But let me order last, just in case I change my mind." Of course, dear.

In this case, I have consistently struggled to choose, as everything is so good. I blame that on the special tasting event Chef Chris held just before he officially opened as the new owner. Cindy and I were fortunate enough to be invited to this and we got to taste a little of everything, so I know just how good it is. That gives us an excuse to keep going back though.


Of the four current starters, we've had two. It was a real struggle to pick one we hadn't tried yet, but I have yet to regret any choices from here. The descriptive caption comes directly from the menu.

Pimento Cheese
House made with crackers

This is NOT the pimento cheese I grew up with! Rich, velvety smooth and loaded with flavor, this creamy sensation heaped onto a Ritz cracker would be the perfect appetizer at a party or watching a movie at home if it was available in bulk. Hint, hint, Chef!

Deviled Eggs
Cajun-style good ol' deviled eggs

I guess Chef Chris must have some of those "wicked chickens" in a coop out back. I've always loved deviled eggs, and these have claimed the top spot in my list of all-time favorite deviled eggs. Sorry, mom, but Chef Chris just took that title from you. For the record, though, mom does agree with me on this.

The next time we go to Southern BOI I'm totally trying the boudin eggrolls. Maybe we can also split the fried pickles. I don't want to load up on just apps, though, as the desserts here are phenomenal. You'll see what I mean in a bit.


Even though burgers have their own section on the menu, I included them here among the entrees because that's how we had them. I love to eat, but having a burger as an appetizer is a bit excessive, at least for me. My mom had one of their delicious burgers the first time we ate there. According to her, it was most flavorful and cooked perfectly. She likes her meat well done (gasssp!) and even so she reported how juicy it still was.

Allie's Cheeseburger
6 oz. fresh ground burger with lettuce, tomato, pickle, onion
served with housemade chips

I've had a life-long love affair with fried chicken. It is one of my absolute favorite things to eat, although being fried, I limit myself to only occasional servings of it. Why can't it be like kale or broccoli?

On our first visit to Southern BOI, naturally I ordered the chicken fried chicken. If given a choice, my preferred cut of fried chicken is the thigh. I'd be happy with thighs only. That wasn't going to stop me from ordering this entree, though.

Chicken Fried Chicken
Fresh fried chicken breast served with mashed potatoes, green beans, jalapeno gravy

Rarely are fried chicken breasts done right, at least in my very humble opinion. Yep, just one more reason I refer to myself as a "finicky foodie." In my experience, chicken breast anything usually tends to be a bit dry. This is especially true when it comes to fried chicken. My first slice into the chicken and I was in heaven! These must be the "non-wicked" chicken in the back coop. It was tender, packed with flavor and JUICY! What could make this entree any better, anything? As a matter of fact, there was. I cut one of the green beans with my fork and felt the "snap." Oh, yes! The green beans were the perfect al dente, not those soggy, limp things that mar so many other plates.

On this same foray, Cindy ordered the shrimp and grits. I've never been a shellfish person, and don't see myself becoming one any time soon. It's a combination of smell and texture that kills it for me. Shrimp, lobster, clams or crabs all get a polite "no, thank you" from me.

Shrimp & Grits
Stone-ground grits with smoked gouda, peppers, onions, bacon

Cindy rapidly demolished her plate, proclaiming how wonderful everything was, and how the shrimp were cooked perfectly. "No rubbery or chewy shrimp like I usually get," she said. I can see this being a regular dish for her when we come here.

On our latest trip, and this will come as no surprise, I ordered the chicken and waffles. To paraphrase Vinny Gambini, "there's a freakin' surprise." While I was deliberating over the menu, Chef Chris walked by and I asked him for his recommendation. Once he suggested the chicken and waffles, that was it. I asked for a side of grits with my plate, as I really wanted to taste them. I didn't taste them last time because they were on a plate "contaminated" with shrimp.

Chicken & Waffles
Chicken fried chicken with two savory waffles and a spiced maple syrup

My first impression of this dish can be summed up in just two words: oh, my! Thank you, George, you said it perfectly. The chicken was as tasty and juicy as before, and the waffles were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. The spiced maple syrup added the perfect amount of sweetness to it. As for the grits? See the "oh my" above. Creamy, rich and smoky, this cup of goodness sent me to my culinary happy place. 

Want a bite?


When Cindy and I eat out, we'll usually order either an appetizer or dessert to accompany our entree. We just can't eat that much at any one time and not feel overstuffed afterward. This doesn't apply to our cruise dining because we'll eat only a portion of an appetizer and dessert. Let's just throw this rule right out the window when it comes to Souther BOI's desserts, at least with one of them. 

Pecan Monkey Bread
Fresh baked bread topped with pecans, maple syrup, brown sugar

I've been fortunate to eat in restaurants all over the world, from the UK, to Singapore to many states here in the USA. This dessert ranks as one of the top restaurant desserts I've ever had. Ever! Rich, sweet, tons of caramel flavor and decadent. My last meal would absolutely have this as the dessert. Period. If you ever go to Southern BOI and try nothing else, please try this. You won't be disappointed.

So here we are, my faithful readers. I'll take care of the check and we can have a nice after dinner stroll. If I just plop down onto the couch immediately after such an extravagant meal, I'll be asleep in ten minutes. Been there, done that.

I hope my conversation with Chef Chris and the accompanying photos and descriptions have given you a good, albeit virtual taste of this hidden gem of a restaurant. If you go, I'm sure Chef Chris will stop by your table sometime during your meal to say hello and ask how everything tasted.


As with other such "reviews," this is strictly my own opinion. I am not associated with Southern BOI Cafe in any way. I received no discounts or compensation of any sort for this blog. I paid full menu price for all of our meals there thus far and will continue to do so.

The only compensation I receive for my blog is your feedback, good or bad. Have you eaten at Southern BOI yet? What did you think? I'd love to read your comments in the comments section below. Have you ever had a dessert at another restaurant that became your favorite? Let's hear all about it.

Stay tuned, y'all, I have lots more in the pipeline. Coming up in the next few blogs, I'll write about some of my other favorite board games, some more "living history" museums and explore other parts of the culinary world. 

My previous blog can be found here.

Until next time.....

carpe cerevisi

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Encounters with The Blue Ghost

During my first encounter with The Blue Ghost, and even with the second encounter, the thought never crossed my mind that these encounters would spur a new blog series. Now right off the bat, I'll let you know I'm not referring to a "Class 5 Full-Roaming Vapor" of Ghostbusters fame, nor even referring to some ethereal, blue-shaded mist. Spooky apparitions may appear later, though, no pun intended. Some of my readers will already know I'm referring to the USS Lexington (CV-16). She is a retired Essex-class aircraft carrier, now serving as a museum, after serving her country in World War II.

USS Lexington

This is the first in a series of blogs I'll call "Living History." Why am I calling it that? Unlike the generic term "history," my "Living History" blogs are about actual things you can touch and interact with. Most of these are retired military vessels and museums that offer more than just "look but don't touch." I will intersperse these Living History blogs among others that I write since I have so many other topics to write about. I truly hope my Living History blogs will be of interest to you, my readers, and even influence you to visit some of these things and places if you haven't already done so. These blogs will be photo heavy, and like the links, clicking on a photo will open a new window with a larger format version.

A brief note about this particular ship. She's actually the second aircraft carrier to be named "Lexington." The first one, designated CV-2, was lost in the Battle of Coral Sea in May 1942. She was recently discovered in about 9,000 feet of water off of Australia. As with all my blogs, clicking on any blue link will open a new window. I encourage you to follow these links, as they provide more in-depth information that's beyond the scope of my blog.

Originally named the USS Cabot, she was renamed after news of the sinking of the first Lexington was received. She was just finishing completion in the shipyard and hadn't been commissioned yet. The Lexington earned her nickname "The Blue Ghost" after being reported sunk on at least four different occasions. After each reported sinking the Japanese would then find themselves facing the Lexington again. This prompted Tokyo Rose to start calling her the Blue Ghost.

The Blue Ghost in WWII
image from Wikipedia

She participated in a few major battles in the Pacific, such as the Battle of the Philippine Sea and the Battle of Leyte Gulf. An interesting fact about the Battle of Leyte Gulf is the role of destroyer escorts and their effect on the outcome of the overall battle. You'll get a chance to meet a destroyer escort in a future Living History blog.

After WWII, she didn't see any more combat, but still served in the Pacific. She underwent major modifications in the shipyard to modernize her. In 1969, she was designated as a training carrier, and spent the majority of her time in the Gulf of Mexico, serving as a qualification platform for new naval aviators. 

T-2C Buckeye training aircraft on the Lex
By Jim Bryant, USN - U.S. DefenseImagery photo VIRIN: DN-ST-89-08969, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25969819

In 1991, having served a long and noble career, the Lexington was struck from the US register and donated to the city of Corpus Christi as a museum. She even rates a movie credit. Parts of the movie Pearl Harbor were filmed on the Lexington, as she stood in for the USS Hornet. 

Let's take a closer look at this piece of living history, shall we?  Before we even board the ship, you can see several displays just waiting to be admired. 

A-4 Skyhawk, Blue Angel #1

Access to the Lexington is via this large, permanent walkway. You can walk up this path or take a shuttle if you choose to wait for one. Cindy and I elected to walk so we could take our time looking at the ship and take many photos. 

Let's go!

Both days we visited the Lex, the weather was almost perfect if not just a touch warm. With a nice breeze blowing off the bay, though, and blue skies, we enjoyed the walk.

40 mm Bofors gun mounts

As you approach the actual entry point, which is on the hangar deck, you start to get a real sense of just how large this ship is. By modern standards, it's tiny when compared to our newest supercarriers.

Welcome aboard!

Just before actually entering the ship, where the walkway meets the hangar deck, you'll see a sign describing the significance of a Japanese Rising Sun flag that's painted on the superstructure, or island, of the ship. Please take a moment to read the sign by clicking on the photo. I'll wait.

Rising Sun flag

The next photo is the "island" of the carrier, and the flag showing where the Kamikaze plane hit. This was real life, y'all, and real people died here. Sobering, yes, but historically important. Reading about something like this in a history book is one thing. Actually being on or near the spot, touching the steel, is quite another.

Impact point

We enter the hangar deck and pay our entrance fee. Current fees and hours of operation can be found on the official website here. Make sure to ask for a map of the Lexington showing all the displays. The museum is laid out in several sections, color-coded to match specific areas. The hangar deck is one color on the map, the flight deck another color, and so on.

The hangar deck contains the biggest portion of displays, as well as a small cafeteria (the "Mess Deck Cafe") and the 3-D Mega Theatre. Multiple simulators enhance an already rich experience. We'll take a stroll around the hangar deck and find some cool displays.

With a mix of modern and vintage aircraft displays, the Lex offers something for everyone to enjoy. Our first stop on the hangar deck is to take a good look at a workhorse airplane in WWII, the Dauntless dive bomber. It had a crew of 2: pilot and radio operator/gunner. 

SBD-3 dive bomber

Closeup of the crew

This aircraft played a pivotal role in the Battle of Midway in June 1942. One of the iconic photos of this battle happens to be of this very type of aircraft. 

SBD-3 aircraft during Battle of Midway
Official U.S. Navy photo 80-G-17054 from the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command; originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2062084

Close to the static display of the actual bomber is a simulator of the gunner's position. This makes a great photo op, one of many on the ship. Hop in, grab the machine gun handles and try to imagine what it was like in actual combat.

Shoot 'em!

I don't think I embarrassed Cindy too much when I added sound effects to my pose. Well, other than an eye roll she seemed to be a good sport about it. I would still rather ride in a real SBD instead of sitting in a simulator. Actually, for a mere $995, this could happen at the Lone Star Flight Museum at Ellington Field near Houston. There are other aircraft types you can experience a real flight in for various prices. Bucket list item? Heck yeah!

There are a few cockpit mockups as well, ready for a visitor to have a seat and get a taste of what it felt like to sit in a fighter's cockpit. Cindy was more interested in the cockpit mockups than the gunner's position. What, you don't like flying backward, Cindy?

F-4 Phantom cockpit simulator

If anyone reading this blog happens to be an ex-Phantom jockey, is that old saying really true about the Phantom? "Given a big enough engine, even a brick will fly." Hey, it's just something I've heard pretty much all my life.

Another, more modern mockup is the F-18 Hornet's cockpit, naturally painted in the Blue Angels colors. I remember as a child watching "the Blues" fly when they still had the A-4 Skyhawk. A good friend of mine had our future all planned out, even while we were in elementary school. We'd join the Navy, and eventually find our way onto the Blue Angels team. I would fly Blue Angel #5, Lead Solo, and Dan would fly Blue Angel #6, Opposing Solo. Yeah, right. Life just listened to us make our plans then said: "Hold my beer."

Blue Angel #5?

Let's turn and burn!

Just off the hangar deck is a row of 40 mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun mounts, just like the photo near the beginning of this blog. What makes this particular area interesting is that one mount can be operated by the guests. One person sits on the left, and the other sits on the right. One person can elevate and depress the cannons while the other can traverse the mounts left and right. 

There was one particular display that caught Cindy's attention, and she insisted that both of us pose for a photo. I wonder what message she's trying to send me.

I didn't do it.

Where's my lawyer??

Between all the simulators and displays just on the hangar deck, not to mention the IMAX movie, you could spend almost a whole day here and not even see the other parts of the ship. Let's move on, though, and go up to the flight deck. Unfortunately, I didn't think to capture any shots of the living quarters on the Lexington, or views of the flight deck from the bridge. No worries. I did capture several photos of life below decks on a couple of other ships that will be part of this Living History series.

If you have even a shred of interest in aviation, the flight deck will put you into sensory overload. OK, maybe not everyone, but there are plenty of aircraft to see and admire on the flight deck. Follow me up to "the roof" and let's explore what's on display. 

Stepping onto the flight deck the first thing you'll probably notice is just how big it is, even for a "small" carrier. You'll more contemporary aircraft on the flight deck, while the vintage aircraft are below on the hangar deck. 

Forward part of the flight deck

Lexington's island

Looking over the side of the ship, from the flight deck, you'll see the 40 mm gun mounts I mentioned earlier. Can you just imagine how loud it would've been when all of these weapons were firing?

Bofors 40 mm anti-aircraft gun mounts

Of course we'll walk over to the aircraft. In fact, now's a good time to do so. What do we want to see first? 

F-14 Tomcat

F/A-18 Hornet

TF-4A Phantom

A-4 Skyhawk

A-7 Corsair

A-6 Intruder cockpit

Multiple-ejector racks on the A-6

Closeup of the bomb rack

AH-1S Cobra

T-28B Trojan

T-2C Buckeye

Whew! Lots of cool airplanes to look at and see up close. I deliberately finished these photos with trainers, as that's how the Lexington finished her career: as a training ship. 

I mentioned at the beginning of this blog that ghosts may come up again. Yes, the Lexington apparently has its own share of resident ghosts. You can read more in detail here if you are interested in that aspect. 

What I described throughout this blog was what Cindy and I did, which was a self-guided tour. The Lexington also offers guided tours, taking you to places not normally accessible to the public on self-guided tours. I definitely want to go back and experience some of these guided tours. Check out these tours here. Trust me, you'll want to follow that link and see what else the Lexington has to offer. 

I hope you enjoyed this virtual tour with me. I have several more of these to do that I'll mix in with my other blogs. 

Have you toured the USS Lexington, especially taken one of the guided tours? What did you think? I'd be thrilled to read your comments below. 

Until next time....

carpe cerevisi