Rock the Grill

BBQ Cook-off

The week found me heading back downtown in Rock Hill for the Rock the Grill event.  Now that fall is here and the temperatures are less hellish the second festival / outdoor event season has arrived as well.  This one had all the makings for a great afternoon; classic car show, live music, kids area, wood carving display, a theoretical moonshine tasting, food trucks and the star of the show a KCBS cooking competition with public tasting.  I mean seriously that’s a great day.

I went early for a couple of reasons.  First I was afraid this might be popular enough the tasting tickets would run out and also there was a football game on at 3:30 I had to be home for.  They had this in the same area where the Food Truck Fridays are but they closed off a few more streets so I got to come in along one of the car show areas and there were some nice ones.

I knew the public tasting was $10 but I wasn’t sure how it was going to work until I got there.  Turns out they give you 10 tickets and two tokens and I also later learned the BBQ butt samples were 1 ticket each and the ribs were 2 tickets and the tokens were for you to vote for your two favorites.  Now you could certainly purchase more bundles at $10 a shot but I figured this would do me and I was right.  Now that I had the important part down I headed for what you may have noticed I called a theoretical moonshine tasting.  The tasting was supposed to be held at the historic White Home.

I got there and didn’t see any activity which I’ll grant I hadn’t expected a lot since it was 11:00 am.  Now I know some of you may be saying “Moonshine before noon, is he a lush?”  No, my thought was to give that a try early so by the time I needed to leave and drive home all traces of the moonshine would be gone.  So I head into the house that is a museum to focused on a prominent family in the area.  I was greeted by a really nice lady who apologized that the moonshiners hadn’t shown up yet even though she didn’t have anything to do with the event.  Since I was there I decided to pop for the $5 and tour the house which is a really great old house with displays and infographics in each room.  After killing about an hour there and still no sign of the shine I headed over to the beer tent since it was noon and getting warmer.

I wouldn’t otherwise mention the beer tent visit because I just got a Windy Hill Gala Peach cider and I’ve mentioned them before but while I was there I did get a good laugh.  As I’m getting my cider a guy comes around the tent with a container of pickles (they had a specialty dill pickle dealer on site) offering to share.  One lady at the beer tent waved them away with a shiver but another said “Oh, I love dill pickles I’ll take one”.  She grabbed one and was just crunching down on it as the guy says “Yeah, they’re the spicy horseradish ones”.  Her face was priceless. Four out of five people there had a little chuckle as she gamely finished the pickle slice.  I still had an hour or so to kill before the tasting started and that sounded like some time to spend enjoying the live music.

Based on the two acts I heard; the Maggie Valley Band, and The Drovers Old Time Medicine Show, they could have called it Country the Grill although neither would classify themselves as country I’m sure.  In fact according to their respective websites they are dark Appalachian & moonshine fueled bluegrass.  Anyway they were talented even if there weren’t a dozen people watching either one while I was there.  The bubble guy was busy though.

At last the time had come and the tasting was starting.  As I mentioned earlier you were sold tickets and tokens and each contestant was given a number and a table where their entries were served but you had no idea which belonged to a particular team.  There were 27 entries although I don’t think they all got their meat delivered on time as there were some empty spots.  As a taster you went up to one of the tables that struck your fancy and exchanged one ticket for a sample of butt and / or 2 tickets for ribs.  The teams were required to cook chicken and brisket as well but that was not part of the public tasting.  I guess those were judged by the KCBS (Kansas City Barbecue Society for anyone wondering) judges.  As it happens I am a butt guy and got just one token rib.  In any case there were plenty of ribs and butts and not a vegetable in sight.

It was interesting as the table volunteers varied in how full they fill the sample cup.  I’ll admit when I first saw the little sample I was thinking “That’s all?” but when you pile 8 of them and a rib on a plate I got my money’s worth.  For the most part the little cups provided two or three bites of each, enough to give you a good idea of the flavor and the texture.  One contestant though did chop theirs a bit coarse and you can see the one at the top of the plate has a huge hunk of meat in the cup.

Also depending on the volunteer you might get to pick the rib you wanted or they’d just reach in and grab one at random.  For my one rib I happened to get a young lady who let you pick so I got a nice meaty one.  None of the meat was heavily sauced but most did have some type of sauce or rub.  Those ranged from sweet to savory and some had a mild spiciness.  My two favorites were one that had no sauce but a great smokey flavor that permeated the meat throughout and not just on the surface and another that was a bit like a Carolina vinegar but not quite as tangy and with some other flavor I couldn’t quite identify but it was very good.  Those two got my votes but I was happy with all the entries.

Now lest you think this was a carnivore only event at least two of the food trucks had vegan options as well as normal food.

In closing I also want to mention this is held to benefit Miracle Park Rock Hill which is really cool and worth a click on the link.

Overall I’d say this was a successful culinary outing and I can’t wait to see what next year brings.

Say Cheese!

Pimento Cheese Festival

This weekend I happened to be near my sister who lives in Cary, NC and the town of Cary was hosting the Pimento Cheese Festival with lots of food trucks, local brews & music so how could I not go.  My sister joined me and we spent a warm spring afternoon perusing the offerings and sweating a little bit.

They had two or three blocks of a street cordoned off with food & beverage trucks and tents lining one side and seating interspersed as well as a couple of “beer gardens” that were clusters of tables near the alcohol sources.  Our plan coming in was to walk the length and see what was available and then pick a favorite.  Each of the food vendors was supposed to have at least one selection for the event that included pimento cheese.  Not a surprising requirement.

Almost immediately we upon arrival we heard some rumbling about the trucks being out of the pimento cheese options and we saw that confirmed with more than one erased / scratched out / covered up menu entry as we strolled the truck line.  There were a number of good sounding choices and while we didn’t choose either of these I snapped pics because one was a cool little Airstream looking trailer that was a bakery / cafe vendor and the other because, well BACON!  If the line for that truck hadn’t been so long it would have been a lock.

When we got to the end we decided a beverage would make line standing and waiting more palatable.  Our choice was really local being a Cary business, Fortnight Brewing and I like supporting local businesses even when it’s not my locality.  They’d sold out of their amber ale and I was in no mood for yet another IPA.  The one with kambucha sounded just too weird so the Off With Her Red, raspberry sour ale got the nod.

It was a good choice for the warm day being light, berry flavored and smooth in spite of the sour moniker.  We got to see the band warming up and met several dogs and their humans as we waited in line.

After securing the beverages we walked back to the truck of choice which was Baguettaboutit.  A truck that served locally sourced sausages in fresh baked baguettes.   The pimento cheese plan to a hit right from the outset as they came out and covered up two selections just as we got in line and of course one was the requisite PC option.  We decided to stay anyway in part because it reminded us of the hot dogs we got at school in Switzerland that were served in a baguette.  Nostalgia can be a powerful motivator.

One thing I thought was a nice touch and different from all the other trucks I’ve visited over the last few years is that instead of getting your name and yelling it out when your selection was ready they handed out playing cards with some advertising, a card number and suit and that’s what they called out when your food was ready.  I thought it was clever.

I got the U Betcha, which was a bratwurst with coarse ground beer garden mustard shoved in that baguette and Lynn got the It’s Greek Tu Me which was a chicken spinach sausage with tzatziki sauce.  Interestingly both sausages had some unadvertised spiciness as well which was fine with me but my sister didn’t enjoy it quite as much and didn’t finish her sausage.  So I can tell you definitively that both were good since there were not going to be any abandoned sausages on my watch.  Oh and the baguettes were absolutely great.

So while all I saw of actual pimento cheese was one guy guarding a sandwich like it was his “precious” and a pimento cheese roll from the Filipino truck on the ground that someone either dropped or abandoned, overall it was a nice meal.  Like several recent meals, made better by the company of family.  I don’t know if this is a regular annual event but if it is I’d recommend it for a drive for a delicious diversion.

 

Strawberry Festival Food

SC Strawberry Festival 2018

You’d think on Cinco de Mayo any American food blogger would be heading for Mexican but nope for me it’s Strawberry Festival time.  The day was overcast so while it wasn’t the beautiful Carolina blue sky of last year the temperature was very pleasant for a day of walking around and enjoying  the exhibits, music, wrestling, food and classic car show.

After checking out the options and deciding which lines looked ridiculous and which looked scary short I decided to try Red Oak Barbeque and specifically their BBQ bowl.

  

The BBQ bowl was basically a BBQ plate just layered in a container.  There were baked beans forming the base layer topped with mac & cheese then a layer of smoked pulled pork which was covered with a little coleslaw all topped with a flourish of BBQ sauce.  The best two things about this were the pork and the convenient container.  The baked beans were nondescript and the mac & cheese was on par with packaged mac & cheese from the grocery store.  The coleslaw was ok but a again nothing to spend many words on.  The pork was obviously where the time was spent and it had a good smoked flavor and was nice and tender.  In hindsight a sandwich would have been the way to go.  On the upside I got to hear a good band, Carolina Rhythm Band who had a set that varied from beach music to Blondie.  I’m not sure what’s going on with the two ladies by the tent in the picture but it looked awkward.

Not to be deterred by the just OK experience with the BBQ bowl I headed off to find something with strawberries from the many options available.

Had the day been sunnier I’d have almost assuredly had some strawberry ice cream but instead I was lured over to the Sweet Dough tent by their options of strawberries & cream, strawberry doughnut and strawberry fritters and the fact they were a local business.  They all looked good and I was leaning toward the fritter when the choice was cemented by one of the folks manning the tent telling me they were still warm from being delivered from the store.  I happily forked over my money and proceeded to step away when it turned out the little wax paper bag turned out to be more of a sleeve with two open ends and while I was opening one end the fritter was exiting the other.  When I turned around with a “What the heck” look on my face the guy just handed me another.  I was so shook-up by the pastry incident I forgot to snap a shot of the fritter so you’ll just have to imagine a golden brown fritter that had strawberries folded into the dough and glazed just lightly enough to give a shiny sweet coat to the fried doughy goodness.

I also couldn’t pass up these just because it sounded so different.

I did try one and the strawberry taste starts out stronger than the dill and the sweetness doesn’t go away but the dill side tries to assert dominance as you finish the pickle.  It never does but it tries.

Lastly I just wanted to share a couple of the cars from the car show that had quite a number of really nice cars.  For the older folks the Gran Torino is the Starsky & Hutch car.

SEA Food

South East Asia

This weekend the South East Asian Coalition held their Street Food Festival and I couldn’t pass that up.

The festival was on Central Ave in the Plaza Midwood section of Charlotte.  They were using a parking lot for the festival and there weren’t really any provisions made for other parking so it was mainly street parking often in areas that weren’t really designed for it.  I found a spot I felt wouldn’t likely get me ticketed or towed and parked.

As I said they were using the parking lot and had three food trucks and several tents set up to serve food and a dozen or so other tents with crafts, organizations and drinks.  I have to say I was expecting more from a street food festival.  Two of the food trucks I was familiar with and have eaten at one already and the other was serving up only bubble tea.  The three tents that were to serve food were still setting up and didn’t start serving until after 12:00 and then it was nothing I couldn’t get at most Asian restaurants around town.  I overcame my disappointment and decided to go ahead and try the Yummi Banh Mi food truck.  Specifically I got their Vietnamese rice bowl with lemongrass pork and the free range egg add on.

For the record I took several pictures of the truck and in every single one someone walked in front of the logo.  Once I waited until the coast looked clear and just as I was pushing the button a kid ran through the frame so here’s the best of the lot.  More importantly though the rice bowl was very tasty and very generous.  It consisted of steamed jasmine rice with cilantro, pickled carrots, daikon reslish, cucumber, jalapenos, the fried over medium egg and the lemongrass pork served with a vinegary dressing.  The lemongrass pork was sliced thin and cooked tender with a hint of the lemongrass flavor and some other mild spices.  I added a pack of soy sauce and that really made the whole thing just great and it alleviated some of the initial let down.

To drink I decided to try bubble tea since I’d never had it in spite of seeing it in quite a few Asian restaurants over my lifetime.

The Boba Café truck was only serving bubble tea but they had quite a few flavors to choose from.  My choice was mango because I just love mangos.  The drink looks small if you use the normal concept of a straw to inform your perspective but this straw was huge in diameter.  It was like one of those plastic pixie stix straws we’d get as a kid when we were flush with cash and needed a sugar rush that would last all day.  It had to be big because the boba are apparently tapioca balls about the size of a sweet pea that they put in the bottom of the drink.  If you’ve never had them they’re kind of soft and chewy without much flavor except being a little sweet.  The tea in this case was a little bit of green tea and the flavorings they used were powders that went in along with ice to form a blended ice concoction they dumped on top of the tapioca balls.  It had a good mango flavor and the tapioca made chewing your drink a thing so it was cool.

On my way out I saw a sign for Viet Coffee over one of the tents and thought I could go for a swig of coffee after that rice bowl.  So it turns out a nice, smiling older Vietnamese lady was sitting there making iced coffees, mixing them one at a time.  She had her strong brewed coffee, she’d add a little sugar, a couple of teaspoons of Eagle brand condensed milk, whisk them up add a little water and ice before giving it another good stir and you were good to go.

It was nice and strong and a nice way to wrap up the visit to the street food festival.  So after my initial disappointment I was able to finish with three positive experiences and that has to be a win for the afternoon.  Next weekend I have Food Truck Friday and Octoberfest Saturday so that should be good for a couple of posts.

 

 

A Taste of CLT

Charlotte

The Taste of Charlotte Festival  is a 3 day, 6 block long celebration of area eateries in uptown Charlotte.  In addition to the food tents there are vendors, entertainers on four stages and attractions for the kids.  I couldn’t let an opportunity like this slip through my fingers so I ventured forth to the trusty light rail and rode it to a stop just two blocks from the festival.

A couple of procedural notes for anyone planning to attend in the future.  The food, beverage and attraction vendors accept only festival coin of the realm.  There were several coin purchasing stations along the 6 blocks of Tryon that made up the festival venue.  They sold Large cups (15 coins) and Small cups (7 coins) for $20 & $10 respectively.  That was if you paid cash, if you paid by card I understand from some grumbling there was a $1.50 add on per cup so cash was the way to go.  As the mathletes among you have already calculated that works out to $1.33-$1.43 per coin.  The food items ranged from 2-4 coins with the majority being 3 coins or $4.00.  Beer & wine were 5 coins each and I didn’t pay any attention to sodas and water but they were likely in the 2-3 range.

I’d scoped out the list and figured I’d grab a couple of beers (10 coins) and at least 3 samples (9 coins) so a large and a small cup were right in the ballpark.  With my plan and cash in hand I walked to the coin location nearest one end, got my coins and began the stroll down Tryon in search of interesting food.

I didn’t have to go far before hitting Brazz Carvery & Steakhouse’s tent.  They had stuff wrapped in bacon so yeah I ponied up 3 coins for 2 pcs.  They had three options; filet wrapped in bacon, chicken wrapped in bacon or scallop wrapped in bacon.  They were grilling them on skewers in the tent so you got to see and smell them as you stood in line to order.  Most people were getting two of the same thing but I figured why not ask for two different ones and it confused the kid for a second but I got one piece of the filet and one scallop.  They came served with a sweet chimichuri sauce.

They were as good as they look.  Tender hunk of beef and a scallop cooked just right wrapped in bacon it was a nice way to start the festival.  I only made it a few steps before hitting American Burger Co’s tent and the lure of their jalepeno pimento cheese slider had me parting with 3 more coins. I grabbed the miniature burger and stepped into the shadier sidewalk to enjoy the treat.

It wasn’t very spicy but it did taste good and the slider was medium and still a little juicy.  My Leinenkugel summer shandy washed it down nicely.  Having parted with half my coins 10 minutes into the festival I figured I’d better pace myself and be more discriminating.  I passed up some good looking food and spent a few minutes checking out one of the bands at the center stage as they cranked out some good classic tunes.

After the musical interlude I spied the McCormick & Schmick tent and they had a blue crab dip for two coins that sounded like something I needed to pair with my newly purchased Pacifico IPA.  It turned out to be a good match.

Served with pita points the dip was good but less crabby than I expected.  Good but not great.  Four coins and a block to go.  Mert’s Heart & Soul pulled me in to try their Southern fried fish bites over rice at the perfect price of four coins.

This was the most substantial of the 4 items I tried with 3 chunks of salmon with a light deep fried coating.  There was a little seasoning plus the drizzle of the mustard based sauce with a hint of spice and sweet.  This sat on a bed of rice I’m not even sure with what it was seasoned but it was a little tangy and a lot tasty.  It turned out to be a nice wrap up to the festival.  I was at the last block  and the light rail terminus was just a couple of streets over.  I felt like my $30 was well spent this afternoon and my only regret was I hadn’t discovered this a few years earlier.