Monday, June 6, 2016
Ha. Got you there. Our final posts usually have some kind of reflective veneer, but DC down through Savannah doesn't need one. The people exude the famous southern hospitality. The buildings are charming. The humidity is oppressive. And the food is delicious until it tries to be more than it is. A good thing to keep in mind. "Don't put on airs," and all that.
Savannah was our favorite, with Asheville and Charleston not far behind (though the former needs ten more years in the barrel). But you know, down here everything happens. In due course.
The difference is the vegetables. As protein has dominated the American plate for 70 years, it's easy to see what's been overlooked once it's holding center.
Apps were easy. Karen went with local roasted plums stuffed with ricotta and herbs and a few other things. I ordered the chicken skin (first picture), which I'm aware is not a vegetable, because that's good stuff, and wasn't prepared for a bowl that can only be described as "eat only the best parts of the best fried chicken ever, with some buttermilk ranch." And now I need to make an appointment with a cardiologist.
Mains were remarkable. I rarely order fish (not that I don't like it; dining out is how I forage my mammals), but the catfish beckoned. And the fish was the afterthought, even if it was perfect. The real show was with the squash, onion, fennel, pepper, and dill melange, which I hope to be buried in. Karen's grouper with wheyed potatoes and spring onions honored the same philosophy, but she kept eating mine.
Also, order the cornbread. It is best described as "ham-perfumed."
So this is where I see American food going, and it's a lot like all immigrant, peasant, and slave roots: do a lot with a little; source locally; put the emphasis on veg; and use heritage, sustainable, happy animals. That probably sounds hackneyed at this point, but the focus on the meat, which was a beautiful thing until it became the awful, tasteless, formless, corporate abomination that it is, started the whole vegetarian revolt in the first place.
Maybe Sean et al can work against that.
PS: Karen had a pecan waffle at Waffle House this morning. Heavy on the syrup. Unusual, but promising.
What I do get is usually amusing, in this case the Palmetto Princess, a Dodge Caravan so expansive it almost makes me wish I had children just so I could say things like, "I swear to Zool, if you kids don't shut up, by Grabthar's hammer I will turn this starship around and return to space dock." And that's just one reason why we don't have kids.
Still, the captain's chair is rather accommodating, all the doors are automatic, and the cruise demonstrates a devotion to good UI. Best of all, no one expects the guy in the white minivan to drive in the style of our European friends.
So come aboard. We're expecting you. Soon we'll be making another run.
Karen had a niçoise sandwich and swears the tuna was the best ever. And peas and peanuts salad. And fish sauce and vinegar crisps. We're thinking a lot about all the interesting detox salads we'll make when we get home.
A further note on that brewery from a few posts ago. Fifteen bucks buys you a "tour," six six-ounce pours, and your choice of pint glass, six-pack, or growler refill. But this is the funny part: in Georgia, breweries can't sell beer unless it's part of the "educational experience." The place was already full at two, when they officially open, and many people appeared to have been enjoying their educational experience for quite some time. And those six-ounce tastings, which are more like ten, are bought with tickets that, once one is suitably educated, are passed to the person next to you in a reverse Ponzi scheme of inebriation. Apparently it is quite the Saturday attraction as by 2:45 it was a 110 degree mosh pit. Good times.
Sunday, June 5, 2016
Second, everyone knows the main BBQ architecture: NC (east and west), KC, Texas. But there's another axis to the matrix, and we tried all three.
The first is beard-be-cue. These are the new hipster joints run and staffed by ironic trucker hat-wearing, double-sleeved, neck-bearded individuals who found their calling after four years in a Boston legal firm. Ours was 12 Bones in Asheville. Ribs were a bit dry, the pulled pork was passable, but the chopped brisket was unreal. Same for the beans and corn pudding (Karen ate all mine). Order your tin plate and microbrew at the counter and find a table.
The next category is bro-be-cue. This can be found at the sit-down, strip mall-next-to-Whole Foods Midwood establishment in Columbia. The pulled is surprisingly good, as are the beans. The hush puppies aren't hush puppies. Karen enjoyed the hickory salmon.
The third category is bible-cue (pictured). Duke's in Ridgeland has it all, including one of the cook's grandmothers who rents a table by the door all day, drinking sweet tea and taking advantage of the AC. It's legit, bordering on community-based healthcare, as otherwise she wouldn't survive the heat. Anyway, the menu is a $10 all-you-can-eat buffet. It looks like what you'd find at the annual church fundraiser, and all of it is distressingly good. Like, it shouldn't be this addictive. Great pork. Perfect fried chicken. Hush puppies the way the good lord intended. Even the broccoli salad was delicious. And the decor is, shall we say...evangelical.
Is one better? Can't say. Each has a strength, but none of it was bad. But those southern baptist hush puppies...
Saturday, June 4, 2016
Friday, June 3, 2016
Thursday, June 2, 2016
We were not thrilled. Actually, it got worse the more we thought about it.
The building is lovely enough, a converted grand old house, and the decor is tasteful and the service exemplary, but it wasn't very full, and the people who were there had all the vibrancy of couples celebrating their agreement to finally divorce. But I digress. It's the food we're after, after all.
The menu was...complicated. There were two of them, one for the restaurant and one for the tavern. We were eating in the tavern, but they said we could order from either. If that's their policy, why not have one big menu? Both featured apps and entrées, because you can never have too much of a good thing. Or everything.
This is where it broke down, and broke down hard. The crab spring rolls themselves were pleasant enough, but they perched upon an inadvisable mixture of puréed maque choux and peanut sauce with out-of-the-jar consistency, and got lost under an over cooked medley of corn, mushrooms, leeks, and assorted wilted greens. The twist on the kale salad was that it featured granola, beets, and eight more things. The pork belly was cooked fine, but came in phyllo (like they just discovered it), with more maque choux and wilted greens. The trout was buried under even more maque choux (really?) as well as most of the produce aisle, so it's unclear whether the trout was on the plate or up the river.
We did not stay for dessert. But we did reevaluate or plans. Step One: find a brewery the next day. Step Two: egg on the bartenders and patrons as they debate the best food in Asheville. It worked.
So last night we went to The Admiral. It looks like a dive bar from the outside. It looks like one from the inside, too, but it smells great. Karen had the tri-colored cauliflower in romesco, octopus and artichokes, and blackened wahoo with nettle risotto. I had deep fried chicken skins and the best tartare the world has ever known (pictured). Perfectly prepared tuna of the meadow, sous-vide chicken and quail eggs, adobo mayo, pickled onions, and Granny Smith. This was so right we stayed for dessert--churros and pot de créme, not together--before catching a local band play Stevie Wonder covers and passing out at the Super 8.
And we were only getting started on the good food...
The house is lovely and so are the grounds. More architecturally unified than Hearst Castle, but still possessing all the mystique of the closest thing Americans get to royalty. These are our castles.
One of my colleagues, who happens to be an architectural preservationist geek, told me you could spend a whole day at the site, reveling in the home and garden. We did it in a few hours, anxious to get our money's worth in the free wine tasting at the end. This required us to politely maneuver around hundreds of dazed fellow tourist entranced in their audio wands, selfie sticks and mobile devices.