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Saturday, October 12, 2013

A Little Trip Down South

It was a very welcome phone call I got a few weeks ago.  My friend Andi Smith, who wrote a fab book of sock patterns to knit called Big Foot Knits, was teaching a knitting class in North Carolina and asked if I'd like to go with her.  A chance to get out of town a few days?  You don't have to ask me twice!

It was a Tuesday morning when we got underway from Akron, Ohio and before too long we were starting to feel a bit peckish.  We pulled off in Cambridge, Ohio thinking we were going to have Chinese food when we saw Mr. Lee's Restaurant.  It was a no brainer.  We had to stop once we saw the place.  Most of you probably don't know, but maiden name is Lees! 

And really, isn't part of the fun of a road trip discovering those little hidden gems?  Mr. Lee's was just that.  It definitely catered to an older crowd and we were just a touch concerned that small town Ohio was not going to be very accepting of us coming onto their turf, what with Andi's purple hair and my tattoo's.  But we couldn't be more wrong!   Our waitress was the sweetest woman ever and really bent over backwards in her service.  And guess what?  The food was pretty darn good!  I had a turkey club with mashed potatoes instead of fries and cole slaw.

You can argue that a turkey club is a turkey club, but when it's made right, with good ingredients, it hits the spot.  The potatoes were real, which is always a plus and the cole slaw was fresh and very tasty with a little bit of a bite to it.  We were definitely off to a good food start on this journey.

Wednesday afternoon, while Andi was teaching her class at the adorable shop Warm 'n Fuzzy in Cary, NC, I went off on my own and headed over to Southern Season in Chapel Hill.  This is one beautiful shop!   If you're local to Akron, it's like West Point Market times 10!  Which is not to say anything against West Point Market.  I love that place.  Southern Season is definitely bigger though.  I really loved wandering around and looking at everything from the homemade chocolates, the extensive wine department, the housewares and the wonderful specialty items.  If I had access to refrigeration, I probably would have bought more than I did.  But I did get a lovely bottle of Sicilian wine (recommended to me by Darrin in the wine department and so pleased with the choice!), some hazelnut bark ($25 a pound! yeah I only bought a small piece), and some dried pasta.  

I headed over to Andi's class to pick her up for our evening out only to find out that the incredibly sweet proprietor, Rebecca and her employee Jairlyn wanted to take Andi out to dinner as a thank you for spending the day in the shop.  Lucky for me they didn't mind if I tagged along.  This was going to be a dining experience new to me and to Andi, Turkish food!  Bosphorus Restaurant was as quaint as they come!  Small and inviting and wonderful aromas.  We quickly decided to just order a bunch of stuff and share everything.  

We started with the Bosphorus Meze Platter served with their delicious pide with sesame (which is the Turkish version of pita bread).

This platter consisted of Hummus, Baba Gounush, Ezme, Tabouli, Eggplant salad, Cucumber Dip, Stuffed grape leaves.  Yes, yes, yes.... a thousand times yes!!!  Everything I tried was wonderful.  The bread was soft, warm and flavorful.  The grape leaves were tender and succulent.  Oh my. Yes I gush over this first course because this was where my meal ended.   Oh to have continued but sometimes you just have to know your limits.  I was assured by everyone else how incredible the rest of the meal was and I believe them!

Cigar Bourek is feta cheese mixed with parsley, chopped onions rolled in special filo dough and fried. Served with marinara sauce. Oh wait!  I did have one of these and I would have liked to have had several more!   Oh that crispy filo with the creamy cheese.  *sigh*

And here are the rest of the selections that my dining companions assured me were just as amazing as the first two...

Mixed Grill Kabobs was three pieces of baby lamb and chicken, kofta, adana and beef liver. It was served with bulgur pilaf, pide bread and grilled veggies.  (I did sneak a little piece of chicken and was blown away by the flavor.   SO much flavor!)

Greek Salad is Romaine lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, cucumbers, stuffed grape leaves, parsley, black olives and copious amounts of feta cheese.

And finally, Feta Cheese Pide (which they also call pizza) consisted of feta cheese mix with chopped tomatoes, onions, parsley, egg and spices.  How did I resist diving into that?  How I ask!!!  How!?  A big thank you to Rebecca and Jairlyn for their hospitality and understanding.  I hope to come back to Cary so I can fully enjoy this amazing place!

The next day we were leaving North Carolina and were determined to have some Carolina BBQ before we left.   In a real moment of serendipity, my old friend Kevin sent me a friend request on Facebook after many many years out of touch that day and sent me a message wanting to catch up.  I told him definitely, but I'm in North Carolina at the moment and would be happy to catch up when I got back.  He responded with a BBQ restaurant recommendation that was pretty close to where we were and raved about how good it is.  And then later the same day, my friend Valerie recommended the same place.  Sold!   Off we went to Chapel Hill, NC in search of The Pig.

It was kind of oddly located, in a small strip mall.  I think both Andi and I expected some dilapidated old shack with smoke coming out the roof and some crusty old guys hanging around.  But it was a very clean, amazing smelling little place where you go up the counter and order and they bring it to your table when ready.  It is whole hog barbecue that uses antibiotic and hormone free pasture raised pigs for their BBQ.  Andi and I both decided on the BBQ plate (small!) which was a generous pile of house smoked pulled pork, cole slaw, pickles and hush puppies.  Seriously!   This "small" plate was only $8.00!

Does the photo do this food justice?  Probably not, but let me assure you there was nothing on this plate that disappointed.  On the table was four sauces to chose from and I went for the classic Carolina vinegar sauce.  Oh.  My.  God.  This is food of the gods.  The pork was the most tender pork I have ever had.  The sauce was perfect for it.  The smoke was just right.  It melted in my mouth.  The hush puppies were perfectly crispy and not grainy at all, which I find that sometimes hush puppies are.  The slaw was so good, with a very noticeable orange tint to it, be it from the carrots or a seasoning that was in it.   And the pickles were stunning.  Very reminiscent of my mom's homemade pickles.  Tangy and sweet, a perfect compliment to the meat.

We also ordered a side of Sprouts and Shrooms, which were roasted brussel sprouts and mushrooms, with what I believe to be the pork rub on them.  It was a nicely spiced seasoning, just perfect.  Not too spicy hot but just the right amount of heat and the roast on those spouts was to die for!  (Thanks to Kevin for recommending them!  I may not have even seen them on the menu if you hadn't!).  I'm a sprout lover anyway, but these would make a believer out of a sprout hater.  They are that good!  This is a big side, definitely enough to share (which we did).

And last but not least, we also ordered the house made pork rinds.  PORK RINDS!!!   I mean it.  Honest to goodness pork rinds.  But don't think for a minute these are your average old run of the mill, buy em in a bag pork rinds.   These are freshly made, and come to your table warm and they practically dissolve in your mouth.  But not quite.  You still get to crunch down and enjoy that texture.  Oh the porky goodness!

The Pig is not to be missed if you find yourself in the area of Chapel Hill, NC.  I promise, you won't be sorry you went and experienced it.  I'd go back just to eat there, it's that good.

How do you follow that?  You can't really so as we ventured on our way to journey home, I think just about anything was going to pale in comparison.  But we forged ahead with a plan in mind.  Drive until about 6 pm and then start looking for a place to hunker down for the night.  That place ended up being Ghent, WV.  About 30 minutes away from the destination, Andi found a Knight's Inn online and booked it for us.  And when we arrived, this is what we came upon:

Well... this is going to be interesting!   So yeah, the Knight's Inn wasn't the best.  The first room we were given had dirty sheets on the beds and a lovely view overlooking the dumpster.  But once we moved it was good enough for a night.  OK, we dealt with the skeevy surroundings and flat out refused to partake of the continental breakfast.  We just wanted to go somewhere and get a bite to eat then come back and watch Project Runway and get some sleep for the rest of the ride home the next day.  We spoke to the front desk clerk and asked about restaurants nearby.  We were hoping for a little family run diner with homemade food and as luck would have it, he knew just the the place.   It just turned out that it was the only place nearby and was 10 miles away.  So off we went, in search of Sherry's Diner.  

Again we were confronted with the idea that the locals in small town West Virginia might not be too welcoming of two crazy looking Yankees.  And while you could hear a pin drop when we walked in that door (or if you prefer, you could hear pig squeal and banjos playing), it really turned out nicely.  Our waitress was quite taken with Andi.  She loved her hair, she loved her accent (she's English), loved her purse and just loved her.  It was kind of cute.  I guess there aren't many Brit's hanging around Ghent, West Virginny.  

I ordered chicken and dumplins.  How can you not order something homey and comforting when you're in such a place.  It came with cornbread and two sides.  I got cole slaw and corn.  Andi ordered a chicken pot pie and a side of stuffing.  I'd like to say that everything was homemade and wonderful, but as it turns out, that while the menu said home cooked and the hotel clerk said everything was homemade, that was not the case.  I think the chicken and dumplins was mostly homemade,  and the cornbread was too.  But oddly, the chicken was grilled and then cut up into the dumplings, veggies and gravy, not cooked in it. 

But Andi's chicken pot pie was very clearly made by Marie Callender and her stuffing was made by Stove Top.

But props to them for the dessert.  Unfortunately I don't have a photo because we got it to go and by the time I did sit down to eat it, it didn't look as attractive as it would have if I had eaten it there.  What we got were banana fritters with chocolate sauce and vanilla ice cream.  There were about 8 fritters in each order.  They were chunks of sliced banana (about an inch thick chunk) battered and deep fried, then drizzled with chocolate sauce.  Andi's fan packed it all up for us and packed the ice cream separately so it wouldn't melt into the fritters by the time we got back to porn town.  That was very sweet of her.  And they were mighty tasty!

The next morning we hightailed it out of the seedy Knight's Inn, did not pass go, did not collect our free continental breakfast.   We were on a mission, again.  This time we would be stopping at Tamarack.  If you don't know of it, when you are driving on 77 through West Virginia, there are about 150 million signs telling you where Tamarack is.  It's a very large place where you can get anything West Virginia you can think of.   They also happen to have a food court there, which I found to be kind of a misnomer.  It was more of a cafeteria.  But a little search online and I found that Tamarack has an award winning breakfast.  Truly.  Tamarack has been named in Saveur Magazine's Top 100 American Eateries, Blue Ridge Country's Best Buttermilk Biscuit and a Regional Favorite from Southern Living.  Yep, that's where we're going!

Tamarack is huge, and quite nice.  You can really spend some time there even though it really is at a rest stop on the highway.  When we got to the food court we both knew what we wanted.  You pick up a tray and stand in line and then the woman behind the counter makes your breakfast to order.  And she is a machine!   Two eggs over easy, bacon, home fries and a biscuit (what?  Did you think I wouldn't get a biscuit that is voted the best!?   Silly!).  We both ordered the same.  And then I saw a big bowl of strawberries and blackberries on the counter and ordered a bowl of them as well.  Andi did too.

This was a hell of a delicious breakfast and adequately washed the ick factor of the Knight's Inn off of us.  The awards are definitely worthy and the biscuit was to die for!  Oh and they serve on Fiesta ware!  Very cool.

And so we continued on our journey.  Both so tired from the whirlwind of 4 days to and from North Carolina.  We were both silent as I drove, zoning out in our own thoughts or no thoughts at all.  Just driving that beautiful drive.  West Virginia is truly beautiful.  The mountains, the trees, the curves.  A really beautiful part of the country   But before we got home, we had one more stop to make.  We had to stop back in Cambridge at Lee's Restaurant again for some pie and some coffee.  And my dutch apple was delicious (Andi informs me that her Coconut Cream was also lovely).

This is apple pie perfection.  The apples were cinnamony and just the right texture.  The pastry was to die for, both the crust and the topping.  If you are in Cambridge, Ohio go to Lee's and get the pie!   

And that my friends, is my adventure down south.  Thanks for reading this far too long post.  I hope you enjoyed it! And btw, Andi... remember that barbecue? ;)


Diana said...

When we head to NC, we stop at Tamarack as well, and eat the food, but we go for the art and sometimes the music. It's a great place.

Kathy Carano said...

I was pleasantly surprised by Tamarack. It is a really great place full of the culture of WV.

Late Bloomers said...

Lovely, I enjoyed reading about your trip to NC and all the places you went to, quite a change from what we get here in Switzerland!

Anonymous said...

OMG! That all looks so yummy!!!

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed your tasty travelogue! Would give anything for that Bbq and the apple pie! Loved descriptions of places though don't think I will follow in your footsteps.

The Loerzels said...

Omg, I'm ravenous now. And a turkey club is never just a turkey club!

Joy Page Manuel said...

You had me at The Pig! LOL! Now THAT we definitely have to try! The chicharrones / pork rind looked really good too btw! It seemed like a really fun trip! :-))

Muriel Jacques said...

OMG what a trip! It is worth getting fatter for such gorgeous food!