BBQ Bonus

I was travelling to the eastern part of North Carolina for a family gathering and decided to go a bit out of my way to try a restaurant that is on just about any Best BBQ in NC or Southeast list you care to check out.

Skylight Inn BBQ is not exactly on the beaten path unless you’re from Ayden, NC but it’s worth trodding the unbeaten for.

I got there early for dinner, about 4:30, and there were a half dozen cars in the lost and people walking out with bags of to go food. The main area has seating with dining rooms off to the side and is shaped like a half hexagon or an isosceles trapezoid if you prefer. Going with the half hexagon analogy the bisecting line was the ordering counter. They keep it pretty simple with 3 tray sizes a sandwich and barbecued chicken plus just a few sides. I got a medium tray and drink for less than 10 bucks.

Well it wasn’t fancy but it was delicious and honestly it was some of the best BBQ I’ve eaten. The coleslaw was just cabbage slaw and was really too sweet in my opinion but I can see it going nicely on a BBQ sandwich with the slightly tangy sauce. The cornbread can only be described as a slab. It was dense and heavy but much better than I was expecting. In contrast to the slaw it was not nearly as sweet as a lot of cornbread you get at restaurants. Now the BBQ. As you can see it is pretty well chopped but you occasionally get chunks of solid meat. The smoked flavor is easy to taste but not overpowering and there are also crispy bits of skin mixed in like little prizes as you eat. I ate most of it without adding any of the sauce found on the table but I did try that as well. It was ok, not as thick as a lot of store bought sauces but similar enough that I don’t think it really added much to the meat.

So if you find yourself in the neighborhood or want to go wandering definitely give them a try.

A Tail of Two Crabs

After months of having an Opening Soon sign out front a new restaurant opened just down the road from me. Knowing it was a seafood place and boils were going to be a thing with them I was eagerly waiting to give it a try. In the meantime another, similar restaurant opened a few miles further away so when this one finally opened I figured I’d give them both a try and compare.

The place near me is called Yummy Crab. When they first hung the Opening Soon sign it was going to be called Crazy Crab. I don’t know if the mental health community or Big Crustacean got involved but the name got changed to Yummy Crab before it opened.

The building they were in was also previously a seafood restaurant and it has a very large seating capacity that was largely unused when I went for lunch. This suited me fine as I got good service and got in and out rapidly while having a good lunch. They have fried and boiled seafood but I came for the boil so I really didn’t pay the rest of the menu much mind. I got the lunch snow crab legs. (The original pics I took I accidentally deleted so this is from a second visit)

The boils come with different types of seafood and they have combos and add-ins. I kept it simple and got the 1/2 lb snow crab legs lunch special which came with a potato, small cob of corn and a boiled egg (this was a new thing to me). Once you pick the seafood and add-ins you pick a flavor, I went with Cajun, and a spice level, medium for a first try.

It was delivered to the table in a big plastic bag, along with a bucket, bib, claw crackers (I had to ask for these on the first trip), and gloves. I’m a big fan of the gloves. The cajun spice was obviously the powdered version and in spite of the copious amounts you can see it really wasn’t that cajuny. Medium was fairly weak on the spiciness front. On the upside everything was well cooked, the crab came out of the shells nice and easy and it was a great lunch that didn’t leave me stuffed. I rated them 4 stars because I had to ask for the claw crackers and sweetener for my tea plus boils like this should have sausage not egg. Obviously since the picture is from a second trip I liked it enough to go back.

The place that opened first that I visited second is named Fiery Crab Juicy Seafood. When I first saw the name I thought, “you couldn’t work moist in there too?”. Fortunately the web site and menus all just have Fiery Crab on them. I don’t know what this place was before it was Fiery Crab but it also has a large seating area that was marginally more occupied that Yummy’s. Again I was good with that because the service started good and I did get my food in a timely fashion.

To make the comparison equal I got the same thing at this place.

Here you can see the plastic enclosure it’s served in. The accouterments accompanying the meal were essentially the same but the gloves were slightly different and they didn’t provide any wet wipes. I got their Cajun flavor with was called Fiery Cajun with medium spice. You may be able to tell from the pictures that they use the liquid boil mix instead of the powder and their overall spice level at medium was significantly higher than the other places. Another difference was it came with two potatoes and a couple of pieces of kielbasa sausage in lieu of the egg. The crab didn’t come out of the legs quite as cleanly but did have a good taste. I gave these folks 5 stars because I didn’t have to ask for anything and sausage was a default ingredient.

Comparing the two I think the actual crab was superior both times at Yummy but Fiery has the edge on overall flavor and they have sausage. Either one gets a thumbs up from me.

Food for the Soul

Southern US

A couple of Saturdays ago I was doing a dry run trip from my house to the Spectrum Center arena to get the timing down and see how close to the arena the light rail got. Turns out it’s really close.

Since I use my head for something other than a hat rack sometimes I also timed it so I’d be down there around lunch time so I could try a little something different. I did a little scouting via Google on the trip down but decided I’d just walk around and see what I found and I wound up at Mert’s Heart & Soul.

I’d seen this on Yelp and if you’re a Food Network fan you may have heard of Mert’s since it was on Diner’s, Drive Ins and Dives or something like that. I was more than happy to come up on it as I wanted to try them out at some point anyway.

The first thing I notice is how dim it is in there compared to the bright sunny day and the pictures reflect the dimness. The second thing that was evident was somebody in authority loves plays and musicals as there are framed, autographed posters all the flat surfaces. The third thing was the menu and I decided quickly to go for the app sampler.

I wanted to try the soul roll but didn’t want to get the app and then an entree so the sampler worked out just fine. It came with the soul roll, a salmon patty, chicken wings and cornbread.

The cornbread came out first and let me just say it was an excellent start. As you can see from the photo it was a mini loaf that was fresh out of the oven hot and served with butter that was already soft and ready to spread. It was a sweet cornbread. So much so I save half of it for dessert because it was so cakeish.

The soul roll is like it sounds, an egg roll with soul. It has black eyed peas, collard greens, rice & some bits of chicken wrapped in a egg roll wrapper and drizzled with a spicy honey. I could have lived without the honey but that’s probably the diabetes talking. The salmon patty was another pleasant surprise. The salmon to other stuff ratio was outstanding and it was not that canned stuff with the bits of bone and skin but a good quality salmon as well. There were onions and green peppers scattered sparsely throughout and the remoulade sauce was very nice. I wound up dipping everything in it at least once.

The sampler had two full chicken wings so it was more like 4 of what most people call wings. They were just skin on, lightly floured and spiced just like I’d have gotten in my granny’s kitchen. Not flashy but filling and quite the delivery vehicle for the sauce. And of course I finished it up the meal with my, somehow still warm, cornbread dessert. Whew that was good comfort food to make the ride back to South Blvd an my car a pleasant one.

I’ll definitely go to Mert’s again.

WOB Wow

Prior to going to a concert in Augusta, GA some friends and I decided to give the World of Beer a try. I mean what could be more perfect for a blog about international foods right? I mean world, it’s right there in the title.

So after deciding to start with the $10 Local flight to hold us over while we were perusing the menus (food & draft beer) and waiting for our friends to arrive I never got into any of the other beers of the world. What happened was that I found one I really liked among the “local” brews and got one more of those with my meal. So let’s talk about the flight of beer I was working with.

When you order the Local flight you’re leaving it to the bartender to pick the brews and when the server delivered our flights I got the one with the dark beers and I could see what looked to be at least one fruity beer and one what I was betting was a sour on my friend Renee’s flight which I didn’t think she was going to love. I was right.

I’m not going to spend a lot of space talking about all the beers but I did want to talk about two. The first was the Reformation Cadence, the first on the left in the photo. It was a really smooth Belgian Dubbel that had a nice complex flavor. Renee liked it too so I traded it for two of hers she didn’t care for. The other was the far right very dark one. The Beerista from Terrapin Beer Company was great. A high alcohol content, barrel aged coffee stout. The minute you get it near your face you smell the coffee followed by a whiff of bourbon. As I drank the taste of the coffee was followed again by the bourbon both packed in a creamy stout that just made this a favorite. I got a full snifter of this 11.2% beer. Good stuff. Now for the food.

I was advised by my niece (thanks Paige) to try the pretzel and beer cheese so we ordered two of them plus some pesto hummus to nibble on while we waited for our friends (one who we forgot has gluten issues, sorry Swain).

Aside from being huge they were warm and soft and damn good by themselves. They came with a course ground mustard that was strong enough it opened up my sinuses. We also popped for the beer cheese because I’m a good uncle and heed recommendations. OMG that was the best damn beer cheese I’ve ever had. At one point I realized I was double dipping (you pick up savage habits living alone). When I apologized for this social faux pas I was told “We’re a little past that now.” I could only infer I came in second in the “who’ll be double dipping first” race. It was on after that. I may have even triple dipped. We only ate one of the massive pretzels since there was food coming as well.

Because of the appetizers I reined in my gourmand tendencies and just got the chicken sliders. They had promise, the bun was soft, the aioli was good, the pickle was pickley but the chicken was overcooked. I got three and they seemed to be progressively move overcooked from the first to the third. They had a good flavor but unfortunately they were almost like jerky when I got to the last one.

So the World of Beer was a mixed experience but on balance I give them a thumbs up. The beer was good, even the gluten free beer my buddy Mike got was actually drinkable and we found beer our scotch drinker Kim didn’t hate. The pretzel was great but the beer cheese was amazing and the star of the visit in my opinion. On another night the sliders would probably be solid. Throw in good friends and it is definitely worth revisiting.

Surf City 2019

I was running a little early for check in and decided to stop for lunch when I got near Surf City. I was keeping an eye out for something that looked local rather than fast food or a franchise. I saw the Village Cafe in Hampstead, NC and decided to give it a try.

There weren’t many cars in the lot but it was a little after the prime lunch hour so I wasn’t that concerned. When I walked in it took a few moments for anyone to see me waiting and when they did I got a lady who walked over and smiled and asked “Can I help you?” “I thought I might get some lunch,” was my response and that got a surprised “Oh, OK.” I don’t know what she thought I was doing there and I’ll admit I wasn’t sporting my dress shorts and beach polo shirt but I don’t think I was channeling my inner hobo either. She offered a seat at the empty bar first and then reluctantly offered to seat me with the other patrons if I really wanted. I flirted with asking to sit right next to one of the two other occupied tables just to freak her out but I preferred the bar anyway.

After sorting this out and spending a minute with the menu I ordered the chicken Gouda sandwich with house made chips.

The sandwich was not bad. The avocado was an interesting touch but the chicken breast was really small, chips were probably made the day before and the bun was meh. Definitely not a great start to a culinary week.

Sunday morning I decided to venture forth for breakfast and set out walking towards the business area. I passed up a place I visited last year and was lured in by the aroma of the Xanadu Market bakery.

The shop is split into two sections customers can wander around in. As you enter there are a few tables and the bakery case, coffee urns and cashier in the first section. A large opening lets you into another section where you can see the bakers busily going at it and the products on cooling racks plus some being packaged.

Unlike most bakeries I’ve visited these had a lot of items already wrapped in plastic wrap and labeled so grab and go was certainly quick. From the case I got a cranberry orange muffin and just because I love them a blueberry scone. The cranberry orange muffin was good, a little moist and enough of both flavors to enjoy but let the batter taste still make it through. The scone was not as pleasant. The flavor was ok but it was too dry and crumbly and the consistency was not quite sconey (I’m sure that’s a word) enough. I also got some croissants to take back for the family and discovered they were the real deal. I got plain, chocolate, spinach, and red pepper & cheese. I had half of a spinach and half a red pepper & cheese and they were both great. They were buttery, sweet and savory with a fantastic texture. Definitely better than the scone.

The next new experience was lunch at Surf Dog with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew. Another place in walking distance so we got a little exercise strolling down to the shopping plaza where Surf Dog is located. They atmosphere is beachy. They have a decent number of tables and a good size bar / counter to eat at. The menu isn’t complicated but they certainly embrace the dog theme with the names of the hot dogs. I settled on a Boxer & a Mutt with homemade chips.

I liked the presentation of the dogs with the interesting bun that was like a cross between Texas toast and a top sliced bun. It did a good job of holding the grilled all beef dogs and the toppings. The Boxer was topped with pimento cheese, bacon, onion and jalapenos while the Mutt sported their secret sauce and sauerkraut. The pimento cheese was warm but not messy like I’ve had when it’s been a topping on burgers I’ve had in the past. The secret sauce wasn’t special but the kraut was tasty. Both were delicious. In summary the dogs were tasty and toppings were plentiful without being too messy. The chips were thick, fried enough to be crunchy, and based on the nice color in oil changed reasonably often. My sister gave the fried chicken sandwich a thumbs up. Surf Dog definitely worth a do-over unlike the next contestant.

We had just about the whole crew rounded up and carpooling to Coastal Wing & Spirits Co. We had high hopes for this place and they were across the street from a brewery so it felt like it should be a twofer; good food and local craft beer. It was barely a onefer. We were seated relatively quickly by the one person working the floor when we walked in. She pulled some tables together so we could sit in a big group so the initial impression was good, from the service point anyway.. The first bump came when the other server came to get our drink orders. They didn’t have any of the beer from the place, literally across the street, and the one beer I tried to order they were out of. At noon. On a weekday. Spoiler, it wasn’t going to be the last disappointment.

We got our food order in after determining they were out of something else, I can’t recall what. I ordered Uncle Carter’s Chicken Bog.

So the description on the menu was Long Grain Rice, Pulled Chicken, Smoked Sausage, Spices, Roll. That’s lifted right from the menu. The rice was long grain and the sausage might have been smoked at some time, there were some grey bits. The chicken was pulled alright, from a can. It still had the rounded contours from the can on some hunks. The main flavor was salt with stray hints of other spices. I never saw a roll so that might have been a warning to roll on out of there but I wasn’t smart enough to decode it. On the other hand the fries were competently done and the tea didn’t suck. And to be fair the waitstaff was very nice and friendly trying to work with what they did have. In case you haven’t guessed I’d not recommend this spot.

The last place I want to mention is Topsail Steamer and the food we got there. We take turns cooking supper for the whole group and my folks know how to make good grub. Each year I do a low country boil which other folks know by different names but it is essentially shrimp, sausage, corn & potatoes all boiled together with seafood seasoning. In the past I purchased the ingredients and we always had local shrimp. The issue in the past has been big cooking pots at a rental spot. Last year I saw Topsail Steamer (it’s next to the doughnut shop) and had been mulling that option for a year. In addition to the combo I wanted they have several others varying or adding the seafood plus you can add additional amounts of this or that ingredient. The big deal is they put all of this in a light single use (but you can find other uses for them) pot and they use local shrimp and have options for the seafood spice as well. Simple steaming instruction and a few containers of butter and cocktail sauce not to mention the brown paper for the table. It’s not as cheap as buying all the ingredients yourself and putting it together but I loved walking in, paying for it then coming back and picking it all up at the time I wanted. The end result was fantastic. This is the first of 3 piles to hit the table.

Photo courtesy of Keith Beasley

The quality of all the ingredients was good. The shrimp were a nice size, we had two kinds of sausage and they both had good flavors and the corn was sweet and the potatoes did their potato job and filled you up. They will be my go to next year on my night to cook.

This year I didn’t try as many new spots and my luck wasn’t as good as last year but as the saying goes, “just wait ’til next year.”

Beach Beer

I decided to add a new activity to our family beach vacation this year. On the way to get some cider for the trip I thought it might be fun to have a beer tasting and introduce people to beer they might not otherwise try and have some fun with their reactions. My thought was to keep it local by only including NC & SC beers and have 4 pretty different styles.

We used small cups as our tasters so it only took two bottles / cans for everyone to have a decent taste with little waste in case someone didn’t care for one of the selections.

The first one we tried was RJ Rockers Peachy King. Let me say now I’m using internet images because some brain surgeon forgot to take snaps of the containers.

RJ Rockers is out of Spartanburg, SC and the Peachy King is a wheat ale brewed with, you guessed it, peaches. It’s also 9% alcohol which got peoples attention even with the little shot cups. I didn’t do a word cloud but some comments were; creamy, bitter, peachy, pecan?, yuck and a straight up shiver of dislike. We had one person enthusiastic about it and several others like it while a third did not and a couple were in the OK camp. Personally I liked it.

Our next contestant was the Lenny Boy Ground Up Coffee Stout.

Lenny Boy is a Charlotte brewer and the name of the beer pretty well lays out what it’s all about. It is a 5.3% beer. The consensus was the coffee taste was there but it was mild. It was not as bitter as the Peachy King but we had several people who weren’t coffee fans so that didn’t help them much. No one was enthusiastic about this one, although a third liked it. It did get a nod for best aftertaste from one of the panel. As much as I like stouts I have to say I didn’t love this one.

Our third beer was from Sycamore Brewing, their Strawberry Lemonade Gose.

Sycamore is from Charlotte and I’ve been there a couple of time on a Friday when they had food trucks so I was already feeling positive towards the beer. If you aren’t familiar a gose is a sour beer that usually has a salty taste as well. This one is tarted up even more by being brewed with lemons and they say there are strawberries involved as well but it was a real struggle to find any. Initial impressions were; sour, lemon, lemonade flavor, acidic, and no. It is a summer beer that should be ice cold when you’re drinking it. About a third liked it, most were jumped on the OK bandwagon and one just didn’t like it at all.

Our final entry was the White Zombie white ale from Catawba Brewing.

Catawba is headquartered in Morganton, NC and I’ve visited the Charlotte location which has a very nice taproom. The White Zombie is a Belgian style wheat beer of 5.1% alcohol and a hint of citrus courtesy of the orange peel added to the brew. Interestingly this had the most initial likes but didn’t finish as the top beer in our final review. Early comments included; pissy (yes that’s what I typed), light, least bitter, watered down, a hint of orange. My feelings were it was meh.

When all was said and done Peachy King was the overall number 1, White Zombie took second, Strawberry Lemonade avoided last place by being third and the poor old Ground Up Coffee Stout was easily in 4th place.

Thanks to all the guinea pigs, I mean tasters; Lynn, Mr B, Dee, Alex, Haley, Chris, Paige, Garrett, and Lauren who joined us in spirit and can for real next year.

We all enjoyed the activity and plan to do it again on next years trip with the twist that everyone who wants to participate will bring a beer to ante up. Very much looking forward to it. Only 51 weeks to go.

Nice Doggy

You’re probably saying to yourself “I hope he’s eating hot dogs and not hound dogs,” and I can understand why you might not be certain.

Well let me assure you no dogs were done in to further this blog. Puppies however were consumed. Hush puppies that is.

I’m traveling to a family reunion and lunch time rolled around just as I was getting into Kinston, NC where there’s a BBQ place called King’s and it reminded me they have an item worth blogging about.

First a bit about King’s. It’s been around longer than I have so you know it’s old and it has a loyal clientele built on years of serving good Eastern NC style pork BBQ and since that’s where my people are from that has always been “real” BBQ to me. The outside looks like a step up from a warehouse so pretty isn’t going to pull you in. Over the years they’ve expanded and the inside is nice but still definitely a BBQ joint. They have a buffet dining area and one for a la carte dining which also has an oyster bar. I was seated in the latter and soon had my dish of choice in front of me.

This, my friends, is a Pig in a Puppy. Just about the ultimate barbecue sandwich. It is a generous helping of pork topped with coleslaw (optional) served in a giant hush puppy instead of a roll or bread. I don’t know who had the idea but it was genius.

Amazingly with a puppy that big they manage to cook it just right so it’s not doughy inside or really overcooked outside. It is a little crumbly but that’s why they bring you a fork too. I said it was about ultimate, if I’d had some of the Pucker Butt Voodoo something or other hot sauce I have at hot to lightly sprinkle on it that would have pushed it over the edge.

In case the sandwich didn’t melt your heart they give you a basket of puppies too.

How cute are they? They were good but a little sweeter than I prefer. If they dropped the added sugar and maybe added some onion powder it would be better in my opinion.

If you find yourself in Eastern North Carolina around meal time and Kinston anywhere near your route give King’s a try.

Side note, this is the first blog entry I’ve done entirely on the phone so fat fingers are going to be my excuse for any errors, factual or otherwise.








TGIFTF

June’s Food Truck Friday

It was my time of the month, that third Friday when the food wagons circle around the fountain and feed the crowds. This month was one of the best attended I’ve been to so crowds indeed.

My regular parking lot was closed and I had to find a spot further away. That gave me the chance to put in some additional walking time which worked out well in the end. As protocol dictates I grabbed my beer on the way in, a nice cream ale from local favorite Legal Remedy Brewing.

I had my eye on three trucks and after writing off the heavy Italian menu of one and another not convincing me the fancy chicken slider was going to be worth what they were charging I strolled down to the Herban Legend truck and there menu board had more than one item I would have been happy with.

I was just about to order the Filipino Friday Pork Sisig but swerved at the last minute and chose the Caribbean quesadilla hoping it wouldn’t be as heavy on a 90 degree evening.

This was just about right quantity wise and it was delicious. In case you didn’t read the board it was Jamaican Jerk beef (ground), mango salsa, cheddar and jack cheeses topped with an island remoulade sauce and grilled in a tortilla, as you do with quesadillas. As much as I enjoyed it I have to say the Jamaican Jerk spices were less like a jerk and more like a tug. On the other end of the scale the mango chunks were huge. Just what was called for.

So one thing that annoyed me was all the skinny people walking around showing off by not sweating in spite of all the heat. Fortunately I was sharing a table with a good sized bald guy and his kids and he was eating spicy food and having my back as a fellow sweater. Solidarity.

After eating I strolled a bit and listened to the band, whose name I don’t recall but they were good. I did crack up at this older couple who was checking out the menu on the expensive truck and the lady says,”The cheeseburger is $12.00!” in an tone of total incredulity. Her husband turns to her with a disbelieving look on his face and says, “But it’s coming off a truck!” While I don’t disagree the price was high I’m guessing they aren’t big into the food truck scene if they were that scandalized by the pricing.

Well after being smart and eating lightish plus walking around instead of sitting like a lump I thought I deserved desert and found myself standing at the window of The Art of Baking truck. The desert I went for is probably something my southern ancestors would consider blasphemous but it was called The Golden One and was banana pudding (ok so far) with sliced strawberries (what?) and golden Oreos (well now you’ve gone too far) in addition to the traditional Nilla wafers.

I wasn’t visited by ghosts of disappointed relatives so I guess it was alright. I know one thing it was delicious. The strawberries tasted fresh like they’d been added just before I ordered and the Oreos were used sparingly so they were like a little treat added to the banana pudding experience. I ate it sitting in front of the fountain waiting for the shifting wind to send a little mist my way.

I had one more beverage ticket in hand and nowhere else to be so I got a Funky Buddha Coconut Porter. I mean come on who doesn’t love a good porter and coconut is great so how could this not be a winner.

It was a winner too but not without consequences. The porter was smooth and with moderate bitterness. The coconut aroma is the first thing that hits you as you go in for a sip. Then the flavor hits after the initial porter taste rolls past your tongue. The thing is porters aren’t really light even if they add tropical flavors and on top of the desert I felt like I was filled up like a big bellied Buddha. I’m surprised no one rubbed it for luck. This is where that longer walk back to the car came in handy.

Food Truck Friday never disappoints.

Arlington/DC edition

OK this is multi-day blog so it’s longer than the average entry.

A couple of weekends ago a number of family members went to Arlington, VA to have my Father’s urn placed in Arlington National Cemetery with the accompanying military honors. The service was on Monday so my sisters, their husbands and my two youngest nephews met up the Friday before and started our dining experiences at Ireland’s Four Courts pub just a couple of blocks from our hotel. My sisters both went with the Chicken Boxty and my brothers-in-law both got the Shepherds Pie. Both dishes got high marks. My choice was the traditional Irish Breakfast.

If this is a normal breakfast I don’t understand how all of Ireland isn’t a bunch round people just rolling off the island based on the quantity of food. There were eggs, sausage (kind of bland), beans, fried potatoes, roasted tomatoes, toast, black and white pudding and hiding in the picture are two rashers of bacon. I’ll tell you right now this did not all get consumed but damage was done. The white pudding was the only new item for me and for taste was just a bit milder version of the black pudding. I guess the blood does make a difference. Since I had low expectations of the sausage links I was not disappointed and overall I enjoyed the breakfast for dinner alongside a Magner’s Irish Cider, which was just OK.

Our next group meal was in DC at a place just off the Mall, b DC Penn Quarter. Their sub-title is burgers. beer. bourbon. I can vouch for 2 out of 3. We’d been to one of the Smithsonian museums and had built up a thirst and appetite. Many burgers were ordered and water consumed in large quantities. My choice of burger was the 3 Shrooms.

Now I’ll admit the picture doesn’t look appetizing but let me tell you it was fantastic. The burger was a 7 oz patty of in-house ground beef with sauteed mushrooms, a mushroom spread, truffle mayo and lots of melted Swiss cheese on a soft bun. If you’re a shroom fan I don’t need to say much more and if you’re not I’d be wasting my breath so I’ll just leave you with the fact that I left an absolutely clean plate. To partner with the burger I selected a local beer, Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager. It was a light easy drinking beer that went well with the very flavorful burger. Oh and there were crispy tots involved too.

The evening meal was Italian with local friends not seen in person for 40 or so years. We knew them from Geneva, Switzerland and the wonderful years we lived there. This was automatically going to elevate the meal. The place picked for us by our VA friends was Pazzo Pomodoro. Now the expectation got ratcheted up quickly as on the way in a gentleman I was holding the door open for to exit stopped to tell me this was the best Italian food in the area and I’d love it. Since I had no local frame of reference for Italian food I’d have to take his word for the first part but the second I’d decide for myself. I elected to try one of the Chef’s signature dishes.

The Involtini di Vitello was veal stuffed with prosciutto, fontina cheese, and wild mushrooms in a marsala sauce with vegetables on the side. I just realized the mushroom theme of the day. The veal was tender and the stuffing was savory and delicious. I had some local beer that I didn’t bother to keep track of because I was honestly more interested in catching up and enjoying the company of friends. I don’t know if this is the best Italian food in Vienna, VA but the dish I had was well worth the going for.

The next day we decided to get our cheese on and headed to The Swiss Bakery in Springfield, VA. This is a great little place that is a bakery with a side of Swiss market and oh yeah a restaurant. The cheese several of us got was raclette over potatoes. I went to the drink case to pick a beer but saw the Sinalco and had to get that instead. It is a citrus soda that was the first Swiss drink we had at my dad’s bosses house the night we arrived in Geneva so I had to get that. It was just like I remembered.

As mentioned I got the raclette cheese over potatoes which also came with bread, dried beef slices, pickled onions and baby dills. I also got a side bratwurst.

If you’ve never had raclette before I’ll say up front it smells like feet, after a long walk, but it is good. The pungent cheese and the plainness of the potatoes go well together. The salty dried beef and tangy pickled vegetables are perfect pals to have with this. The bread clears your palate so you can load it up with flavors all over again. The brat was good but really I could have done without it and been just fine. Since this was also a market we may have purchased some Swiss chocolate and there’s a possibility some pastries were procured.

The next day the international theme of meals continued when we walked the short distance from our hotel to MeJana Lebanese restaurant. It was just a little too warm for outside dining so we got a booth by the window so we could still have a good view of the street. We started with some hummus and warm flat bread and then right into various kebabs. I got the mixed grill.

The mixed grill had one chicken, one lamb and one kafta kebab plus rice and some vegetable matter on the side. The kafta was the most flavorful but a bit chewy. The chicken was probably the best overall as it was spiced just right and very tender. It was a ton of food and under other circumstances I might have carried some leftovers home but instead I plowed through. Thank goodness for the walk back to the hotel.

My final day in DC found me at the National Archives and the Smithsonian castle working up a lunch appetite. Checking out Yelp for stuff in walking distance I did a double take on the USDA Cafeteria and the high ratings it had so I needed to check this out for myself. After going through security and getting a visitor’s sticker I followed the stream of people to the cafeteria.

Wow this was one bad-a$$ cafeteria. It had a salad bar and hot bar that you pay by the pound plus deserts including cold and frozen options. Around the perimeter of the cafeteria are specialty stations like Korean BBQ, Italian, Deli, Mexican, and at least one more I’m forgetting but the choices were quite varied and the food all looked fresh and delicious. I decided to go for the Korean bowl, specifically the regular bowl. The small would have been sufficient.

The way this worked is you picked your carb, I got brown rice, then 4-6 vegetables, your meat or tofu then sauce. For vegetables I got some kimchi, something else spicy and pickled, some broccoli and sprouts. I got the beef and house sauce that was tangy and spicy. It was very good but I only got about 2/3 of it eaten before I had to tap out. The beef was good and the sauce was just spicy enough to make me sweat just a bit.

That pretty much wrapped up the culinary experience for my northen Virginia / Washington DC trip. I do want to say thank my family and friends who shared various meals with me; Lynn, Keith, Dee, Chris, Alex, Haley, Lauren, Jesse, Jay, (we missed you Paige), Ellie, Jackie, Shelley, Stephanie, Kallianna, Kyle & Julie. The meals were all enhanced by your presence.

New Jersey Nosh

US – Northeast

As on most Saturday mornings I was preparing to go grab breakfast at one of my usual haunts when I remembered a new spot I’d seen on my way to the Doctor earlier in the week. It was in a spot that has been at least two other restaurants that I’d visited so I thought let’s see what #3 might have going for it.

I checked them out online and when I saw this on the menu I knew I had to check them out.

I figured if they had crayons on the salad I needed to see if they were cooking with E-Z Bake ovens and using a Lite Brite for the menu board. (Spoiler Alert – they didn’t and aren’t).

When I got to Momma’s Place I was the only patron in the restaurant. I was greeted and seated quickly and set up with coffee and a menu. When I got the menu the guy waiting on me let me know the whole menu was open so order anything I wanted. As tempting as a crayone salad might have been or more seriously an empanada for breakfast I decided to stick with “regular” breakfast fare.

In this case a bagel with eggs, pork roll & provolone cheese.

Now getting to that required navigating a lot of options. The stock breakfast sandwich is two eggs (fried, scrambled or omelet style) on a roll or bagel (plain, everything or cinnamon raisin). You can add meat (bacon, Italian sausage, pork roll or ham) or cheese (American, Swiss, provolone, cheddar, pepper jack, muenster, or Monterrey jack) for little extra.

Never having had pork roll and after some discussion about how pork roll was like the unofficial official breakfast meat of New Jersey & New York I had to try it out. It’s also called Taylor ham in some quarters for reasons you can find out on Wikipedia after Googling it.

Looking at the photo you may have had the same reaction I did, “that’s just fried bologna man.” It was in fact fried but it was definitely more hammy tasting that bologna. It was fried to the point where it was a little bit crispy and paired well with the rest of the sandwich.

The staff of this place was really great, friendly and more than willing to converse with the customers and answer any questions. I’ll definitely go back and try some of their other offerings, although I’m still not that keen to try the crayons.