American Queen Dining
Company executives have been saying it all along: American Queen's food is what people will be talking about when they get off the boat. To that end, they brought in famed Southern chef Regina Charboneau to serve as the vessel's cuisine director, and her stamp is all over the place.
The sumptuous J.W. White Dining Room on Deck 1 serves as ground zero for all meals. It's essentially divided into three parts: two long, sunny atriums with tall windows, chandeliers and eight-foot palms are divided by a less impressive, darker seating area with a low ceiling. (The Twain Gallery is on the deck directly above, and it has windows that provide a glimpse of diners noshing in the two high-ceilinged spaces.) Linens are crisp and spotless, flatware heavy and ornate. Seating ranges from two-tops by the windows to square tables seating four and round tables that seat six and eight.
Dinner seatings are at 5:30 and 7:45 p.m. and include a multicourse menu of Charboneau recipes, including lobster stuffed with crabmeat, mock turtle soup and lamb chops with tomato-mint marmalade. Comfort food is on offer, including meatloaf, brisket of beef and fried chicken. Dinner includes free (and free-flowing) wine and beer; soft drinks are free throughout the boat. Seating is open at breakfast and lunch.
Desserts are standout attractions and include the Natchez beignet filled with vanilla ice cream and warm praline sauce, fig bread pudding with caramelized sugar sauce and a classic chocolate layer cake with creme anglaise.
A buffet lunch is served in the dining room from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Expect a carving station, vegetables and Southern staples like etouffee, but ask for the a la carte menu: Charboneau concoctions are available each day, including a smoked catfish BLT, quail and mushroom salad, a salmon salad with bacon molasses vinaigrette and a fried oyster salad. The chef has created a number of dishes that reflect the boat's destinations; for instance, baked ham with Coca-Cola sauce is an homage to Vicksburg, Mississippi -- where Coca-Cola was first bottled. Top it all off with a selection of cheesecake, cakes and pies.
Likewise, ask for the short-but-amazing menu at breakfast, which is served from 7 to 9 a.m. While the buffet offerings (including creamy grits, steel-cut oatmeal, a fresh waffle station and myriad fruit options) are top-notch, you'll hate yourself if you don't try Charboneau's beignets and Andouille (sausage) hash. For our money, her Bananas Foster Stuffed French Toast is one of the best desserts we've ever had for breakfast.
The Sunday Jazz Brunch (11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.), which is also in the dining room, has quickly become an American Queen favorite, with the ship's band playing throughout the meal. The standout fare is the roast pig, a 75-pounder on our cruise, that'll be looking up at you when you approach the room, but if that's not to your liking, check out the shrimp and grits, smoked fish or the catfish and jalapeno sauce. Tip: This is the only time you'll get to sample Charboneau's famous butter biscuits, so take advantage of it.
For a more relaxed meal, head to the cheery inside portion of Deck 3's Front Porch of America (see Public Spaces for more information on the outside). There are serve-yourself eats available at breakfast (beignets, croissants and oatmeal), lunch (brisket po boys, salads, grilled hot dogs, burgers and chicken) and dinner (smoked meat plates with side dishes, salads and bread); a bar cart is available for libations at an additional cost. Seating is also available at tables outside under cover with a great view of the river ahead. Between meals, you can take advantage of the Front Porch's soft ice cream, popcorn, coffee machine and soda fountain. Home-baked cookies are up for grabs.
When the weather is warm, dinner is served at the alfresco River Grill, located on Deck 5 around the Calliope Bar. Depending on the evening, a chef serves prime ribs, succulent pork, meatloaf and grilled rib-eye and New York strip steaks to order. A small buffet provides side dishes, salads and dessert, such as freshly baked pecan pie. Round metal tables that seat two to four provide diners with a panoramic view over the paddle wheel and out to the riverbanks.
Finally, a selection of finger sandwiches, cakes and cookies can be had each day from 4 to 4:30 p.m. during tea in the Main Deck Lounge, just outside the J.W. White Dining Room.
The all-American wait staff provides friendly, helpful service in all the dining and bar venues. They range in age from 20s to 60s, and many hail from the South.