Monday, June 6, 2016

Do Not Adjust Your Screen

The image you are seeing is as the artist intended, which is to say that the gigantic lens outside one of the galleries at the Nasher is fun at first, but the closer you get, the more disorienting it becomes.

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.


Ok. More about food. Sean Brock's evolving food empire started in Charleston, and this is venture #2. It's delightful, all that the earlier, aspiring top-shelf restaurant in Raleigh strived to be.

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.


I can't resist a good biscuit. I often make them at home and find it hard to find a good one in our neck of the woods. Thankfully, this trip provided numerous opportunities to enjoy a diverse range of biscuits. First, Handsome Biscuits in Norfolk provided the hipster version of the baked good, a small biscuit with egg, greens and hot sauce. Big Ed's in the market in Raleigh was old school, a small and relatively flavorless biscuit. BiscuitHead in Asheville prides itself on the size of its biscuits--cat head size to be exact. Fluffy and delicious, these were runner-ups in our best-of-biscuits competition. But Back in the Day bakery in Savannah served up the perfect biscuit, small but flavorful, perfectly textured, and delicious with a nice slice of cheddar.

Love, Exciting and New

Whenever I rent a car, I always pre-pay (10-15% discount), and I always reserve the cheapest model. I almost never get it.

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 Finds Her Nuts

Salty, salty nuts, courtesy Holy City Brewing.

More on Portions

So I tried to eat this--country ham, pimento cheese, mustard, and peanuts on a roll, plus a side of pork rinds because I hope I die before I get old--but decided to save the rinds for the plane because it's nice to make new friends. Anyway, best ham and cheese in the known universe.

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

Doin' the 'Cue

Another revelation. Two, really. The first is that Karen does BBQ--as long as there's veg, which there almost always is. On a side note, it's not unusual to find that these cooks treat vegetables with more respect than your typical greenie, who's generally more concerned with philosophy than food. And you can't eat philosophy.

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...

Charleston--the good, bad, and ugly

We spent much of the day dodging tourists in the historic market and historic district. Interspersed amongst the Forever 21, the hat shops, and southern candy stores, you can find glimpses of stunning parks and historic architecture. At the Gibbes Museum, a powerful exhibition inspired by the Charleston shootings last year showcasing contemporary art of the south included an amazing work by Sonia Clark featuring unfurled confederate flags. The good, the bad, and the ugly of the south--all on one day.

Sunset at Bowen's Island Restaurant

The land of generous portions

We haven't eaten this much in a very, very long time. Whether a massive plate of fried fish, shrimp, and crab cakes that we split and still couldn't finish, to biscuits the size of cat heads (apparently the feline head is used to describe certain biscuit shapes), to a brewery whose tastes are close to a full pint glass, the south is into volume. And volume is now into us. We are already charting our recovery plans...

Savannah art and culture

Our last day in Savannah proved to be graduation day for the Savannah College of Art and Design. Despite the throngs of gown-clad students and proud parents, we were able to check out great shows at the Telfair and the SCAD Museum. Our last night in town, we also caught a great alt-country band at the Jinx.

Karpeles Manuscript Museum

In Charleston. This is what the repetitive stress injury is named for.

I amuse myself more than you care to know.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Welcome to Savannah

Everyone we have met here is a transplant. They came for art school, to escape crime in other southern cities, or for jobs in hospitality. They stay for all of the good parts of Savannah--a pace so laid back it might be half-asleep, generous and kind people, and a healthy dose of weirdness.


Our Charlotte lodgings were in a lovely air b&b on a quiet, suburban street, far away from the tacky glitz, neon, and blaring sounds from Pat Benetar cover bands downtown. We thankfully found great soul food at Mert's Heart and Soul, including veggie collard greens. And the museums truly shined. The Mint Uptown is one of two locations in Charlotte. And the Levine Museum of the New South has developed a national reputation for its work to promote dialogue and understanding about race. We saw a brilliant exhibit focused on the rise of Latino immigrants to the South that cleverly provided visual- and object-based responses to the oft-posed questions, "why don't they just get a job," or "why don't they just get legal status." Great stuff.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Banana pudding

Complete with Nilla wafers. A revelation.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Art, we haz it!

So greatly impressed by the art scene in NC! Asheville has an entire thriving and scrappy arts district, with collaborative studios and galleries occupying whole blocks. In Charlotte, the McColl Center for Art and Innovation has transformed a church with artist residencies, gallery spaces and all sorts of art goodness!

Southern Redemption

Before we left home, we decided to focus on New American, southern style. After all, every magazine and show features a plethora of new chefs from the region rediscovering and elevating the old foodways. So once out of the tropical depression that is Virginia Beach, we dug in at Raleigh's Second Empire.

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 Biltmore

Can you come to Asheville and not visit one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country, one that draws more than a million people every year? Perhaps, but we felt compelled. So, we shelled out the $60 per person admission fee, without purchasing any of the endless add-ons--audio tour, guided tour, special behind-the-scenes tour, exclusive wine tasting experience, carriage ride, horseback riding.

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.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

North Carolina, yes

Local chocolate rind cheese, check. Accidental Baker local crackers, check. Innovative microbrewery using local strawberries and Charleston tea in their unique beers, check. We think we like you, North Carolina.

southeastern center for contemporary art