Month of Mexican, Tres

The MoM continued with a trip to El Jimador in Clemson, SC. Being a Sunday I wanted to get ahead of the after church crowd, if there was one and went early. There were a few people there when I arrived so I figured that spoke well for it. I was seated immediately and my first impression was, “this place is kind of dark”. And it was dim but furniture was all heavy, dark wood as well so that probably added to the feeling. However once I got a minute to look around I was kind of digging it. The walls were decorated like brick covered with stucco and Mexican scenes. The wood, including the backs of the chairs were also decorated in the same way. Kind of like embossed and painted, maybe the picture will show it better than I can describe it.

Anyway it was kind of neat. I got the expected chips and salsa. Both tasted fresh and they were not stingy with them. I don’t know if the salsa was made on site but they at the very least they did chop up some fresh cilantro and throw in so that got them some points. After perusing the menu I decided to go with the Authentic Mole Pablano dish.

Pretty simple looking dish but I figured if I’m looking for something authentic, it was right there in the name. The salad was basic, lettuce and tomatoes with a drizzle of sour cream. The Mexican rice was also fairly standard with a stray vegetable here and there. I thinking I counted less than 10 individual pieces of non-rice elements. In spite of that the rice went well with the main element. This was mole pablano sauce with shredded chicken. Initial impressions were that was a bit sweet with a mild peppery kick. I spent the rest of the enjoyable meal trying to tease out what made up the complex flavors of this sauce. There were times I thought I could taste some cocoa, maybe cinnamon, coriander and something fruity but my palate isn’t refined enough to pick out all the elements. All I can say for sure is it was good and I ate too much.

Will definitely try these folks again. Maybe for lunch one day since it’s only a couple of miles from the office.

A Month of Mexican, Dos

I really wanted to type Equis after that dos. Too many commercials.

So for week 2 I modified my original plan which was to try a place recommended by a co-worker. Sadly that place was in Clemson, on a home game Saturday. No, just no. For a town of it’s size there aren’t all that many Mexican places in Seneca but I found California’s Mexican Grill.

It is located in a little shopping strip that is well past its prime but it’s also on two main roads making it convenient and easy to get to. I arrived fairly early for dinner or really late for lunch because I’d only eaten a snack while watching the Georgia game. I was the lone customer and I think I woke the guy up who waited on me. He waved me to a booth and grabbed a menu, cutlery, chips and dip.

I was surprised it was bean dip instead of the traditional salsa but it told me they weren’t afraid to be different. It was a tad bland but a little salt buffed it up enough to be enjoyable. While I was moderately chipping and dipping I honed in on the Platillos Mexicanos.

I figured if you were going to call it Mexican plates then maybe something authenticish might be an option. I read them all and settled on the first one, Platillo de Chile Verde. Pork in green sauce with rice, beans and a sort of salad thing with some tortillas thrown in for good measure. Yes please.

That pork isn’t particularly attractive but man was it good. The tomatillos, peppers and spices made a really piquant sauce and the pork was fork tender. The sides were all straight out of the Mexican restaurant handbook but I didn’t care because that pork was really nice. In fact as I was talking to the waiter he said when he brought mine it looked so good he went and got some for himself and thanked me for ordering it.

They had the standard fare but there were enough other options that felt more authentically Mexican and enough you could find that would be on the healthier side I’d say California’s Mexican Grill is worth keeping in mind when I have a taste for Mexican.

A Month of Mexican, Part Uno

In the years I’ve been doing the blog I haven’t done too many entries on Mexican or Chinese. Mainly because they are both so easy to find and mostly Americanized. I can’t blame them since they are in business to make money so they sell what people eat. I’m trying to make changes in my eating habits and decided to make the multitude of Mexican menus work for me.

The quest here is to find a healthier, hopefully at least semi-authentic meal to replace my previous criteria. That criteria, sadly for my waistline, was a calculation of just which special or combo gave me the greatest ratio of meat and cheese to other ingredients. My new criteria is the inverse without going vegetarian because I do love me some meat and cheese.

My first visit was to Alazan Mexican Grill in Seneca on N. Radio Station Rd. I’d had some tacos from their food truck at work one Tuesday and really enjoyed them so I felt good about this choice. When I got to the restaurant there was exactly one other vehicle in the parking lot. It was in front of the pizza place next door. The Open sign was flashing though so in I went.

Unsurprisingly I was seated quickly. Actually I was told to pick my own spot in a particular section and I picked one out quickly so I’m counting it that way. They have a good menu part of which looks exactly like every other Mexican restaurant in the US. Part of it included Chef Specialties that showed some non-standard items. I opted to try the Pollo Alazan. I mean it had the name of the restaurant in it so they had to have some pride in it.

My Pollo Alazan was a chicken breast pounded down to about 1/4″ thickness and grilled with mushrooms and topped with just enough queso to be saucy not sodden. That worked out pretty well too because the vegetables needed a little something to punch them up. The veggies were supposed to be broccoli, cauliflower and carrots. The first 2 were plentiful but there was only 1 tiny little slice of carrot hiding under the pile. The meal was simple but tasty and quite filling. Aside from the queso and rice there wasn’t much to make it feel like a Mexican entrée though. I managed to walk away without unwrapping the tortillas or finishing the rice.

Overall I’d say this was a better choice than past selections but I think I can do better next week.

Walhalla Weekend

Ok it was only lunch but Walhalla Lunch really lacks any punch.

After a looong grey wet week Saturday turned out to be sunny and warm. The nearby town of Walhalla was having The Story of Walhalla with German food, music and crafts. That sounded like just the perfect way to spend an hour or so before the Georgia vs Auburn football game.

It’s was nice drive. At one point the line of trees beside the road framed a blue green shot of the foothills that made the day a little better for seeing it.

The event was on the aptly named Short Street. There were a few vendors, the sponsor’s booth, an area for live music and tables to park while you enjoyed a brat plate.

Let me tell you that was a mighty fine bratwurst. The sausage itself was lean with a little herbs and spices giving it a nice taste to begin with but they cooked them on a smoker with hickory wood, not charcoal or gas. That smoky flavor along with the Dijon mustard made a delicious lunch. The sauerkraut was kind of disappointing in it’s plainness but the German potato salad redeemed the sides. Oh and the brat roll was fresh but firm. Definitely glad I got motivated enough to make the trip.

There are also 3 museums on the street or close enough not to matter. I only went to Patriot’s Hall.

It is the Oconee Veterans Museum. Free to enjoy with several donation boxes in case you are so moved to support them. It’s not what I’d call a very well organized museum and most of the exhibits downstairs are WW II with a smattering of other stuff strewn throughout the 3 rooms downstairs. There are 4 more rooms upstairs that looked more thematically organized. I didn’t get to go through all of them because of time but I’ll go back. The other two museums are the Museum of the Cherokee in South Carolina and the Oconee History Museum. I plan to visit them as well another weekend.

I also had one of the St John’s Lutheran church ladies in the bake sale tent try to help me find a wife. It wasn’t my wife but she was trying to be helpful. I just got a small slice of cinnamon apple cake for $1.00 instead and headed home to watch the game.

Who Knew Backroads Had Backroads

Well it’s been quite a while since I added anything to the blogosphere. The passport was getting dusty and my writing skills rusty. Turns out my breakfast adventure Saturday was different enough I decided to share even though there was nothing international about it. There were otherworldly elements early on. Let me explain.

I was trolling the Google looking for an interesting spot at which to break my fast and came across Waldrop’s Restaurant. It was kind of out of the way but near the lake plus it opened before 8:00 (as any self respecting place serving breakfast should). It was a dark and foggy morning when I set out, the trees to the east just getting an orange halo from the rising sun. The drive was kind of nice until I made the right turn immediately after crossing over the interstate. It got darker and the roads were definitely what you’d classify as backroads. I kept driving and turning, getting further back into the back of beyond, wondering how in the heck there was a restaurant this far in. I crossed a little finger of the lake (here’s a pic from the way out). Just imagine it in the pre-dawn with fog hugging the water.

Waldrop’s was basically just beyond the trees in the photo but it took a bit of driving to get there. Finally saw a sign beside a place that looked like an old gas station / grocery store / probably something else. My GPS wanted me to keep driving but the sign clearly said, Waldrop’s Restaurant and below that Motel, Bait, & Boat Storage. Bait was taped over in black tape but I’ve seen a picture of the sign before they stopped selling worms and crickets.

With only one car in the parking lot it looked deserted. Then I saw there were two ladies sitting out front on what I think was a metal glider. Just sitting, not talking, not smoking, drinking coffee, or scrolling on a phone. When I pulled up, in unison they turned and stared at me with blank faces. That was a little creepy, however when I got out and started towards the door they wished me a good morning so the Stephen King vibe dropped.

Inside it looked like any other small town diner with red checkered plastic table cloths covering the tables, a counter, and a couple eating. There were 3 people hovering over the flat top just behind the counter. None of the 3 turned around or in any way acknowledged me. After waiting a few seconds I decided to seat myself and at that point one of them looked my way. A young lady who responded to my smile and nod by staring at me like I was some alien life form that had sprung up from nowhere to make her life difficult. She took food to the couple and walked by me twice and said not a word. Finally the guy cooking stopped what he was doing to get me some coffee and a menu.

At this point I’m rethinking the whole thing but I stuck it out and surly young lady whined and begged for the car keys to go to the store and finally got them and departed. The mood was immediately elevated. The porch ladies came in and under the bright light they morphed into regular folks who chatted with customers and refilled coffee cups as well as prepping for the lunch and dinner crowd.

My breakfast, when I got it, was really quite decent. I got a western omelet with grits and toast. The omelet was loaded with filling as seen below.

It was also loaded with oil that the filling had been sautéed in but I tilted the plate so it puddled into one corner of the Styrofoam plate’s big section. Once degreased the omelet was very tasty. While I was there a couple of regulars came in and again the whole mood of the place was different and much more pleasant with banter, chit-chat and whatnot .

I don’t think I’ll be going back to Waldrop’s but in spite of the weird start to the visit I can understand why it would be a place the locals congregate to enjoy a good meal.

Little Asia in Tiger Town

Since I am spending time in a hotel with the new job I am dining out frequently. One day I found Tokyo Sushi Grill and dropped in for lunch. Next door was another Asian restaurant, which is kind of unusual, but I figured I’d give them a shot later. The two turned out to be a study in contrasts.

Tokyo was a lot less populated than its namesake but I was ok with that. The interior was polished, neat and orderly. There were several servers and two guys working at the sushi stations plus people coming in and out of the kitchen. I was offered a seat at the sushi bar and thought it was a sign to order the lunch sushi special. They have a pick 2 from a variety of rolls, sushi & sashimi. So I got an Alaska roll and tuna sushi.

It came with a choice of salad or soup and I got the salad with house ginger dressing. My entrée was served up before I even put a dent in my salad and I discovered I was getting tempura vegetables as well. The tuna tasted fresh and the Alaska roll had crab, salmon & avocado. Lots of good food delivered quickly and at a decent price. It was a nice experience.

The next evening I decided to head back and try the spot next door. The very faded sign declared it was “Yolk Asian Bistro” the menu says Lao Hu Cheng Asian Bistro. According to their Google comment Lao Hu Cheng roughly translates from Mandarin to Tiger City or Tiger Town, which is pretty appropriate.

This place was more homey and mismatched than Tokyo next door. There is one older lady greeting people, taking orders, cooking and delivering orders. The menu is limited but has a great variety from several countries.

I ordered the Sweet Potato Glass noodles with chicken since I’d never had those before. The meals come with free hot tea and the lady was pushing that tea like she was getting paid by the cup. I got a can of hibiscus flavored sparkling water because that was another thing I’d never had. I knew I disappointed her and this is about the time I started feeling like I was dealing with a relative. As I sat there waiting for the food and another customer came in and I listened to their interactions that feeling did not go away. When I got my food she made sure she told me she only put a little kimchi. When she saw I ate it and liked it she came back over and offered to bring me more.

At this point I felt like I was having dinner at my Asian Grandma’s house. I didn’t taste too much in the way of sweet potatoes but the sauce was so tasty and everything cooked so perfectly I was eating it like I was being timed. It wasn’t fancy but dang it was tasty.

As I was leaving she tried again to get me to try the tea, there were two choices, Chinese or Japanese green teas. I hated disappointing her again because I felt like I was letting my granny down but I just couldn’t hold another thing.

I recommend trying both of these places and I’ll definitely be back for lunch in Tokyo and dinner with Grandma.

Drunk Tex-Mex?

I was staying at a hotel in Seneca / Clemson and after a long day decided not to stray too far from the hotel. I’d already been to Popeye’s and Five Guys just felt like it was going to be too heavy so Tipsy Taco it was.

The place has outside seating that I would have gone with if it was just a few degrees cooler. Instead I parked at a high top in the bar area. This is a regional chain, mostly in the Greenville, SC area but they’ve strayed up to Charlotte now as well. As my title says it is a casual Tex-Mex restaurant with some interesting choices on the menu. In my case I went with their Street Taco and the Luck O’ the Irish with a side of street corn.

As you look at the picture you may be saying to yourself, “Dude that ain’t street corn, it’s off the cob”. You are correct, they may be tipsy but they know eating corn on the cob can be messy and conveniently offer it off the cob. It’s cooked on a flat top I suppose with butter and seasoning. It is quite tasty.

You can select from flour tortilla, white corn tortilla, hard shell or lettuce wrap to keep the filling from falling between your fingers. I got the street taco with white corn tortilla and the Luck O’ the Irish with flour tortilla. The street taco is beer braised pork, onions, cilantro and lime. Fairly standard and it is good but not outstanding. I started to say nothing to write home about yet here I am writing away. The LOTI consists of corned beef brisket, shredded cabbage, swiss cheese and thousand island dressing. Mine had a good flavor but was a bit fatty. Reflecting on it I don’t even remember the cheese. I’m not sold on the dressing but it keeps it from being too dry.

Food wise the corn was probably what I enjoyed most. My beverage, a Wicked Weed Pernicious IPA, came in second. The tacos were about even with the Street taking the taste medal but LOTI got the prize for originality. I wasn’t blown away but the atmosphere was good and they have a couple of other tacos that look intriguing so I expect I’ll be back once I move to the area.

I’ve Been Mooned

I normally restrict my Saturday breakfast comments to Google maps and Instagram unless there is an international intersection but this week I think the breakfast warrants a mention.

New Moon Cafe was number 9 (I can’t even type that without hearing that dang Beatles song) on my list based on the recommendations I got from the Connect Augusta Facebook group. Thumbs up to that group by the way, they are one of the best I’ve been part of. Anyhow, their number was up so downtown to the old JB Whites building I went. Parking was a breeze as there wasn’t a big crowd clamoring for breakfast at 8am on Saturday. I entered through the outside seating area and it immediately reminded me of Amelie’s in Rock Hill. Kind of a quirky coffee house aesthetic, bright colors and chalkboards, an upstairs seating area and the smell of fresh coffee.

As you can see from the photos it wasn’t busy so I ordered and got the order relatively quickly. I missed the breakfast special, chorizo breakfast bowl, on one of the chalkboards which I’d have probably tried but have no issues with what I did select. In the spirit of trying new stuff I went with The Downtown Mess – Augusta Style.

This breakfast mélange consists of creamy grits, pimento cheese, avocado, salsa, bacon, and Cholula hot sauce. I didn’t take an “after” picture once I’d stirred it all up because it looked like a dog’s breakfast. Taste though, that it got right. The textures and tastes contrasted and complimented one another, like the creamy grits and crunchy bacon. The Cholula hot sauce was a great medium spicy counterpoint to sweetness of the grits and cut the fattiness of the avocado. The whole was very filling and I’m glad I opted not to order a bagel to go with it. As messes go this was a great one. I will be going back for lunch one day this month because I want to try the BBQ Duck Grilled cheese and a Vader-ade.

Edit: Just wanted to throw this in since I got back to get the Duck and Vaderade before the post went up. The sandwich was very tasty but the drink was mildly disappointing only because the pomegranate overshadowed any blood orange that may have been there.

Greek Week or Maybe Weak

Passport Stamps | Greece

Friday night, food trucks, family, Greek food and music, what’s not to like? Lines. Lines are what’s not to like. Fortunately the other stuff made up for it.

It was that time of the month again at the Columbia County amphitheater for Food Truck Friday. I met my sister, brother-in-law and nephew there, all looking forward to some good food. The theme was theoretically Greek food. That was kind of thin since they only had one food vendor offering Greek food and another pizza. If you wanted deserts you had two trucks and a couple of tents to hook you up. The line for the Greek truck, The Mad Greek, was very long so we decided to find a seat and listen to the band, Pure Indigo, and hope it calmed down a bit.

We grabbed beverages prior to our seeking spots in the amphitheater. For my first drink I went with a local Savanah River Brewing beer called, No Jacket Required. It was a decent pilsner that went down easy on a warm evening.

After 45-60 minutes of chatting and listening to the music the line hadn’t noticeably eased up so we decided to bite the bullet and join the queue.

A quick aside. The conversations now are much different than 20 years ago. At one point my brother-in-law and I were enthusiastically discussing our favorite Great Courses and how Einstein’s theories can be tough to wrap your head around. Very different.

Anyway we spent a long time in line to place our orders and then another fairly long time waiting. I was number 91 and as I stepped into the crowd of waiters number 64 was called. The main benefit of all this waiting was I got to spend a lot of time with the family. Finally my number was call and I got my order of a Greek Dog and Spanakopita.

I almost hate to admit it but they were worth the wait. The Greek Dog was a pretty simple concoction of a grilled beef frank topped with olive tapenade and crumbled feta. It was a delicious but very salty combo. I like tapenade quite a bit so it was great topping for me. The spanakopita was outstanding. The pastry was flaky and crisp on the outside and the spinach and feta filling was perfectly balanced. The reports on the Greek potatoes and dolmathes were that they were also outstanding. We were hoping they had a brick and mortar location locally but turns out they are out of Marietta. I don’t think I’d drive that far but if I see them again I’ll be in the line to try some of their other fare.

Another good evening.

The Three B’s

I’m a tad tardy getting this written up but I didn’t want to just let it go since it was an important event for me in this pandemic influenced time.

For this entry the Culinary-Passport was all about the B’s. Columbia County Parks and Rec was having their Boots, Brew & BBQ event Friday which sounded interesting. It moved from interesting to “Let’s do this” when my sister sent me a text asking if I was going. She and my nephew swung by, picked me up and off we went, images of food trucks, beer in plastic cups (or a bottle of Sprite for the underaged) and live music dancing in our heads.

This would be the first fairly large live event I’d been to in a year so I was excited and also interested to see how folks handled it during these interesting times. It was about what I expected. Some masked, some not. The space between people sitting in the amphitheater was probably a little greater than in “normal” times. The folks in lines were observing more personal space than I’ve seen at similar events in the past, which suited me fine because I’m not a fan of people breathing down my neck.

The music was good, varied with a slant towards country. They were obviously experienced at events with diverse groups. When they broke into Gimme Three Steps I was on board. There were at least half a dozen options for the BBQ portion of the evening, some food trucks and some pavilion covered spaces. We opted for Pot Smoker BBQ.

It was a fairly good choice. It had the longest line but the benefit of the wait was one of the folks running the truck periodically walked the line giving out pork rind samples and copies of the menu. The menus helped keep the order line moving. I decided to pig out (pun intended) on the pulled pork plate that came with two sides.

Are you looking at the picture and asking, what the heck is that taking up half the plate? Well, what had happened was, they had pork rinds as a side option. I’d never had that as a choice of side before so I had to. For the second side the obligatory mac & cheese side was a no brainer. They threw in the slice of white bread because that’s what happens around here.

The picture is deceptive because the pig skins are covering half the BBQ depriving you of the full effect of the generous serving size of pulled pork. The pork had a nice smoky flavor and with the spicier of the various sauces added it got some heat, tanginess and a hint of sweetness. Overall a nice combo. The skins had some BBQ flavoring on them and a good crunch. I wouldn’t have them as a side again but I’d definitely munch them as an appetizer or snack. The mac & cheese was a minor disappointment primarily because it was cold. The flavor wasn’t bad and it had something added that gave it a reddish hue and an interesting flavor. I’m not sure what it was but it made it stand out from the myriad of mac & cheeses I’ve had in the past. If it had been hot or even warm I might be giving it an enthusiastic thumbs up, as is though it’s a thumb sideways. I may venture to the brick and mortar location to give it another shot for a final decision. I really enjoyed being out on a pleasant spring evening with family, dining, chatting and listening to live music. Looks like there will be a monthly Food Truck Friday here May-Sept so I expect I’ll be posting a few entries from those.