I Went Viking

A couple of weekends ago I decided to check out the Lavonia, GA Renaissance Festival. It is a 1 day affair in a local park. The theme was Vikings so it was technically outside the Renaissance period but why quibble with a nice day out.

I was hoping to grab some festival food while I was out but the pickings were slim and nothing grabbed me. However I did check out the sites.

I bought some blueberry blossom honey that was very thick and rich and may wind up in a mead. I also checked out the reenactors giving demos and talking about the period, around 1066, that was the focus. Plus the wolf was cool.

If you’re wondering why this is in the blog and not just on FB, I’m getting there. After I left, unfed, I was inspired to go viking (the verb not the noun) but with less looting and pillaging. Mainly it was exploring. I jumped off on an unfamiliar exit heading down a road I knew would eventually get to familiar territory. Like this post. Well I spotted the Spotted Pig BBQ restaurant and decided to delve into the discovery.

It’s kind of in the middle of nowhere and there was only one other car there so I wasn’t sure what I was going to wind up with but in I went. They have a nice large dining area and a decent sized outside seating area from what I could see. I was seated quickly by one of the several staff members huddled at one end of the bar. The menu had reasonably standard fair along with some flair like the BBQ egg roll. I kept it traditional and got the rib plate with mac & cheese and coleslaw.

As you can see the ribs come pre-sliced with 4 ribs as a serving nicely presented. There was also a mini cornbread muffin on the side that I saved for dessert. I have to say these were the best ribs I’ve had locally. The smokey flavor along with the dry rub and tender meat that resisted just a bit made for a delicious satisfying bite every time. I did try the sauces that were at the table just to see what they might add.

They weren’t bad, the spicy was moderately hot, the sweet was just that. I’m not a big fan of mustard based sauces but this was a good example of what one should be. The mustard was definitely the star with a hint of sweet and a touch of heat. In the end I ate the last two ribs sauceless because I thought they were fine as is.

The coleslaw I really enjoyed. All the ingredients tasted fresh and had a crispness that gave a nice crunch as it was eaten. The mac and cheese was also nice in that it felt more like homemade than a lot you find. The cheese wasn’t a cheese sauce and you got a little more in one bite than you might in another. I like that personally. The mini muffin was pretty sweet and had some kind of additional ingredient that made me save it for dessert.

I was happy with the meal and service overall and will go back however, I won’t be getting another $7 draft beer. That was a bit of a shocker since I didn’t check out the pricing first. It was a nice coffee lager but that just felt too steep to me.

After lunch I continued my exploration and found a farmer’s market / yard sale that was closing down. I did acquire some well priced tomato plants to add to my garden after some fierce haggling (ok they thrust them at me and named a price I couldn’t walk away from).

I think I did that Swedish / Danish part of my DNA proud out there exploring new areas, destroying that rib plate and coming back with fresh acquisitions.

All the B’s

Saturday wasn’t a day for international food specifically but the base of both experiences is global in scope. I mean grilled meat and fermented beverages, what culture doesn’t have that? BTW this is going to be a longer than usual entry.

BBQ Barn

My first decision was to visit a meadery, Southern Origin Meadery, located in Canon, Georgia. Well that presented the opportunity to find a restaurant between here and there. After some searching I decided on BBQ Barn in Lavonia. It looked interesting and rustic sitting in the middle of town.

It was kind of weird, there was one window that served drive through and walk up. I’d thought about eating at one of the picnic tables but there was a line of cars and I didn’t want to go stand behind the last car and breath exhaust as the line moved. There was a walk up couple at the head of the line and whatever they ordered took forever. Once they were gone the line moved nicely. The young lady working the window was all smiley and moved with rapidity and determination. I admire that in a person getting my food. Since I was going to be car dining I selected the BBQ sandwich platter. This came with stew, coleslaw and chips.

Their sandwich is chopped pork, with lots of sauce well distributed. I got the “hot” sauce and to be fair it did have a noticeable pepper heat but it was not what I’d call hot. It was fine. The sauce was a little sweeter than I prefer, on the up side though the meat had a decent smokiness to it. The stew was tastier dish in spite of the consistency being not appealing. It too was sweet but the acid from the tomatoes helped cut that. The consistency issue was that it looked like they took the solids and threw them in a food processor until they were kind of mealy and then chunked it into the liquid. The end result was a bit mushy with particles of corn scattered throughout. I’m not going to be explicit about what it reminded me of but feel free to use your imagination. In my opinion it would have been better served over rice. The coleslaw was nondescript, so I won’t bother descripting it. From here I barreled on towards the Blue Haven Bee Company.

Blue Haven Bee Company / Southern Origin Meadery

But James, we thought you were going to the meadery. I did. The two share space in what I found out used to be a sewing factory. Jeans being a big part of the output. Apparently the Bee Company came first selling personal care products and honey from bees the owners kept. Well if you add some yeast and water to honey you can get alcohol. I guess with a supply of honey, plenty of room and some imagination the meadery was born.

Let me tell you, you are not finding this place just passing by because unless you’re going there you won’t be on the road it’s on. They have a large parking area and a covered outdoor seating area that looked nice. Inside there is a bar/counter area where a nice lady was doing the pouring. There is also a sitting area / show room for the products they sell and an alcove with the bottled meads and some cheeses and snacks.

I’d already scoped them out online and knew I was going to try a flight, which was 6 small pours selected from their menu of meads. A quick aside for those that know I make my own and wonder why I’m travelling 30 minutes and paying someone to try stuff I have probably 50 bottles of at home. I wanted to expand my sample size of other peoples product so I don’t get cellar palate. Besides it’s fun too. OK back to the meadery.

They have the meads categorized as Dry, Semi-Sweet, and Sweet. I’d already figured out I was going to try 2 of each and take home a bottle of whatever I enjoyed the most. The mead-tender suggested starting dry and moving to sweet which matched what I was thinking so we were already on the same page. I figured I start at the most basic level and go for the Culler, a traditional made with cotton blossom honey.

Side trip number 2. A group of 5 ladies were at the place when I got there. They were apparently having a day out with plans to enjoy themselves and they were. Turns out they were from the Anderson, SC area and drilling down a little more one was practically a neighbor (Hi Beth). They were going to hit another winery and more fun stuff. I was invited to join them and if I hadn’t had my day pretty well planned out I am quite sure it would have been a hoot judging by the short time I did share space with them.

Back to the bee juice. My next selection was a blend of a muscadine wine with the traditional mead. I don’t have a refined palate and subtle notes are lost on me so I prefer flavor and scent punches as a rule. This didn’t punch but the muscadine aroma and taste tapped hard enough to make me say “I see you”. Very enjoyable. Next I jumped to the semi-sweet and tried a cyser, which is a mead made with apples and a hibiscus mead. Both very enjoyable and the color on the hibiscus was a vibrant pink/red shade.

The sweets tend to be my, well, sweet spot. Here I was torn between the Cherry Berry and Black Currant because I knew I was going to finish with the Peach. I mean I was in Georgia so what else could I do. The ladies unanimously voted for the Cherry Berry and that was where I was leaning but the mead mistress said the Black Currant was their best seller and she thought I really should try it if I was having to choose between the two. I went with the pro suggestion, no offense ladies.

Look at that beautiful color. The smell was nice too, berryish with a whiff of honey. It was a delight to drink as well. The black currant flavor was bold and the tupelo honey it’s backsweetened with is literally a sweet addition. I did finish with the peach, after a palate cleansing glass of water and a change of glasses.

Aside number 3. The flight here isn’t like most places I’ve been where they bring you x number of small glasses with whatever your choices were on a tray or paddle. Nope, here it was a full sized wine glass with an eyeball pour of a good tasting of the mead of choice. Moving from dry to sweet it didn’t seem to matter and I drained the glasses pretty well so the only time the glass was switched was between the black currant and the peach because of the intensity of the black currant.

The peach was really nice too. The fragrance of the peaches was very much in evidence and the taste was prominent but the sweet honey flavor road along in the aftertaste. They also use some local peaches in the making so that’s kind of cool.

I’m really glad I took the time to drive out and try some new meads and will go back to try the others I didn’t hit this time. Maybe they’ll have the watermelon I heard they’re working on.

Oh yeah I did bring a bottle of the winner.

It’s Dal Good

So it’s Good Friday and I have the day off so I decided to find a place that would be blog worthy. I figured I’d also visit downtown Greenville, SC since I’ve only been through Greenville on I-85. With that criteria I did a little Googling and found Aryana Afghan Cuisine.

Forty five minutes later I was pulling into the little parking lot behind the restaurant. They have an interesting model. You can order one of 3 types of plates; regular, vegetarian or vegan. They have a constantly changing group of foods that they pick from to make your plate based on the selection. Once you order and pay at the register podium you grab a seat and they fix your plate from a buffet style station and bring it to your table.

One thing that was weird to me is that they have Coke products but not diet Coke or Coke Zero. That being the case I opted for their hot cardamom green tea to go with my “regular” plate. I’m actually kind of glad they didn’t have the soda because the tea was nice.

The regular plate comes with veggies, rice and two meat dishes. Also on the side some flat bread and chutney. I’ll say right now forgot about the chutney and have no idea what that tasted like. What I do know is the plate I got was great because there were got two things I had to ask about since I’d never had them.

It took me a second to separate the chicken from the dal visually since they are both orange. The chicken has the pepper and onion sitting on top. I really liked this meal. From right to left; a meat pie, flat bread, basmati rice, chicken pieces, dal, and borani banjan.

The meat pie was simply lightly spiced ground meat in a pastry shell, nice but nothing special. The rice was light, fragrant, and a great accompaniment to the spicier dishes. In this case I don’t mean hot spicy but laden with spices. The chicken was tender and had the flavor of tandoori chicken or it may have been just grilled kabob chicken with similar spices. Either way it was very tasty.

Now the two I’d not had before. The borani banjan is a stewed eggplant dish with yogurt and mint. I really enjoyed the flavor of this and could have handled a double size portion easily. My favorite of the whole plate though was the dal. When the plate was first presented I thought it must be some kind of carrot or yam mash then I saw what I thought were lentils. I kind of expected it to be sweet but it was earthy and savory with a tiny hint of sweetness. It was so flavorful I could have eaten a bowl of this stuff and been happy. Going forward if I see dal on a menu it’ll be on my plate.

The food is enough to get a nod of recommendation for that day’s selection but the fact that over half the people that came in after I did were known to the lady running the place speaks volumes as well. It wasn’t the cheapest and if you’re a picky eater options are low but if you are an adventurous eater go here.

I mentioned part of the reason I wanted to go to Greenville was to check out the downtown. Good Friday was not the day to try that. Between the people who had to work down there, the people who had the day off and had the same idea I did and some event going on it was way too peopley for me. I will go back another day to walk around and visit Falls Park.

Sushi Burrito?

Is it Japanese? Is it Mexican? Why do I also have Korean chicken as a combo option? These are questions I got to answer this afternoon at Zen Ramen & Sushi Burrito.

I was contemplating driving to Greenville to find something on the ethnic spectrum but got lazy. Instead I chose to visit Zen Ramen & Sushi Burrito as it was on my “I have to see what this is about” list. I’d heard before going that they were quite good so I had high expectations going in.

Their whole menu looked good but I had nothing other than a sushi burrito on my mind. Turns out I had several to choose from.

I felt like I might as well start at the top with the Zen Sushi Burrito and made it a combo with the chicken karaage. I’m going to say right now that I could have brought something home. Really should have but it was good. If you like seeing your food made they have the kitchen behind glass so you can be a food voyeur.

I didn’t bother, I figured they knew what they were doing and just ordered and waited. Let me mention if you are a sake lover they have you covered plus they have some Japanese sodas. It was a bit early for me to hit the sake and the sugary looks of the soda made my diabetes twitch so I wimped out with a diet coke. When the food arrived though I was all about enjoying that.

The burrito had all kinds of sea food; spicy tuna, shrimp, salmon, and crab(ish) salad. It also had cucumber, edamame, and avocado for the green fans and some onion to give it a little kick. All that wrapped in a soy crepe with sesame seeds. A soy crepe, you say? Yes I do. It was relatively thin and didn’t have much taste of its own but it kept the whole thing from being a salad so job well done.

I enjoyed it. All the ingredients tasted fresh and the shrimp, salmon and tuna all got to star in their own bites while the crab salad took the place of rice and was liberally sown around it all. Really a nice dining experience.

The chicken karaage was also pretty good but I’d have been just as well off having the burrito and calling it lunch. Just so it doesn’t seem like I’m slighting it though. The chicken had a light batter with some seasoning. The sauce was the big flavor provider. It tasted like it had some sweet plum jam or something with chili sauce. I thought it should have been hotter based on the description but it was tasty.

Definitely will have to try them for some other dishes. The service was good and the staff was friendly, which always makes a difference. If you’re in Clemson and looking for something different check them out.

Extra Credit:Hogs and Hops and a Healthy Olive

Today was a fine spring like day and after doing a little work on the plant bed this morning I decided to investigate a downtown Seneca area, Ram Cat Alley. It’s a couple of blocks long leading to Main Street and an old train depot. I knew there were a couple of restaurants in the area and I figured I’d make a decision once I got down there and see what struck me. What struck me was Hogs and Hops with it’s outdoor seating on such a wonderful day.

The non-BBQ special of the day was chili and cornbread which I almost bit on but figured here was a chance to add just one extra joint to my BBQ database. The other customers and the owners knew one another and didn’t mind chatting while the work got done. To me that was a good sign if people are coming often enough to get to know one another.

BBQ sandwich plate it was for me. For sides I went with the mac and cheese and Brunswick stew. My sauce selection was unorthodox for a southern BBQ sandwich, peach habanero sauce. Hogs and Hops has, hands down, the most interesting selection of sauces of all the spots locally. They also had a pineapple habanero that I almost went with but the pull of the peach was stronger. Speaking of pineapples there was also pineapple upside-down cake. Oh and a diet coke to wash it down cause I’m watching my figure. I was happy to come off the 11 bucks and change for this meal.

The BBQ was smoky and moist and the sauce added a really nice sweet kick of heat. The Brunswick stew also was a fine tasting example of its genre of stew. It had more vegetables than Cole’s that I raved about in a previous blog but I was just fine with that. The mac and cheese was the best of any I’ve had in the area and better than most I’ve had anywhere. The consistency was good and the cheese was just stringy enough to know you had real cheese in this mixture. Really nice. The cake was a little dry except where the pineapple had added some moisture. That didn’t keep me from knocking it out though. I was very happy with my decision to spend the afternoon dining al fresco.

You may have noticed nowhere did I mention hops other than the name. Well apparently they have some deal with Brews on the Alley, a coffee and craft beer bar and if you want to dine indoors you can just cross the street and dine in there and get your beer on. That explains the hops but what about the Healthy Olive I know you’re wondering. Let me tell you.

It’s a little boutique store with way too many cool olive oils and vinegars plus other gourmet type stuff I didn’t know I needed until I went in. I don’t know how many different varieties she has of each but if you can’t find something that intrigues you, you are dead inside. There are little tasting cups so you check them out before committing to a significant purchase. I tasted 2 and bought 2. A blood orange infused olive oil and an aged cinnamon pear balsamic vinegar. Both amazing. Plus a little applewood smoked sea salt and a fancy Italian dinner, just add boiling water.

I will definitely be visiting again. If I bring the bottles back she knocks $1 off the price and there’s a punch card program too.

It’s been a great day already but on the way home I noticed there were two baby goats in the pasture next door. They were just gamboling all over the place. That just leveled up the day.

And the BBQ Was OK Too

I collected my last Seneca data point on the BBQ front from a relatively new BBQ acquisition spot. I don’t call it a joint because Cole’s Southern BBQ is a food trailer in a semi-permanent spot. They do catering but 3 days a week they park at the same place on Sandifer Blvd. They have plenty of parking and some picnic benches so you can eat on site. You get the food truck experience of ordering at the window and standing around talking to other folks (or not) as you wait for your food.

The day I went was beautiful, blue skies and low 60’s. I didn’t even mind when Random Stranger #2 waiting on his food too decided to start chatting. He did affirm one of my side choices as the best he’d ever had other than his own. That sounded promising.

I did chat with the owner / smoker a bit about his sauces based off the sign below. I knew I’d want a couple for the ribs and wanted to make sure we were cool.

He told me to get what I wanted and that was for the abusers. He said a guy the other day got one sandwich and literally 10 little cups of mustard sauce. Turns out they sell bottles of the sauce and there’s one I’d actually consider, spoilers.

Staying true to the methodology I got 2 plates for 3 meals. I did get him to throw in an extra 3 ribs because the normal platter only comes with 3. I could have been fine with just 3. Let me just tell you right now based on the weight of the plates I was not going to be complaining about skimpy side portions.

With the sandwich I got slaw and Brunswick stew and with the ribs I got baked beans and potato salad. Sauces were Carolina Vinegar, Hickory & Cole’s Southern Sweet Heat.

He was quite generous with the sides as you can see. I just wish they’d all been great, they weren’t. The baked beans were fine, nothing you couldn’t get from a can. Potato salad tasted just like Food Lion deli potato salad, again just fine. The coleslaw continued the just fine trend and seemed like it came straight from a carton. Now the Brunswick stew was very much the best of the lot and was worth the trip. This was the one Random Stranger #2 said was the 2nd best he’d ever had. I have to agree it was pretty dang good. Sweet and smoky tomato based stew with loads of meat and some corn and lima beans thrown in for good measure.

I fixed my sampler plate and proceeded to judge.

I’ve already covered the side so lets talk about the meat. The sandwich had lots of well smoked meat that was probably the most juicy or moist of any sandwich I’ve had during this experiment. In fact it destroyed the bottom bun turning it into a soggy mess on the ride home. That didn’t stop me from eating all the pork with a load of the Carolina vinegar sauce. It was probably the closest to the eastern North Carolina BBQ sauce I grew up knowing was the “right” kind for BBQ pork. On the whole pretty good.

The ribs were quite large and meaty but also the fattiest of any I tried. You could tell visually they were well smoked but there was actually fairly little taste from the smoking. That made a neutral pallet for the sauces if that’s your favorite part. The pork itself was tender but firm so you had to put in a little effort pulling it off the bone. To me that was good. The sauces I tried with the ribs were very different but good in their own way. The Hickory Mild was thick and sweet with a molasses and hickory flavor combo. The Cole’s Southern Sweet Heat seemed like a combination of the vinegar and hickory with a doubling down on the black pepper. To me it was the best of the lot and maybe my favorite of the local sauces I’ve had.

Overall I liked Cole’s and when I crave BBQ and the day is nice this is probably where I’ll head.

Actually after all that I’d say in general Little Pigs is my go to but in certain circumstances I’d recommend Black’s Smokehouse and Cole’s Southern BBQ. I think Black’s has the best tasting ribs and for a beautiful day and a bowl of Brunswick stew burn rubber to Cole’s. As a BBQ place Heavenly Hog is a hard pass for me.

Not so Heavenly Hog

The Seneca BBQ data collection continued last weekend when I made the decision to try Heavenly Hog. Turns out it happens to be the closest BBQ joint to my home. The outside looked promising; a stand alone building kind of out in the middle of nowhere, screened in smoke room built on to the side, some pig silhouettes on the front of the building, and customers at 11:15.

The inside gave some indication the original look was a good old cinderblock building. The inside block walls are painted a dark color with heavy wood furniture, plastic table cloths and a kind of divey décor. There were a few people eating and another waiting to get a carry out order. So far, so good. Judging by the menu boards they seemed like more of a diner that featured BBQ rather than a straight up BBQ joint. They were really showing off the meat & two options. Well I came for the BBQ and that’s what I got. From the friendly staff I used the same logic as Black’s and got 2 plates to go so I could sample and split. I got the BBQ sandwich plate and a 1/2 rack plate.

They had a decent number of side options and I went with some southern staples to go with the sandwich and ribs. Initial impressions were mixed. The little containers they put the sides in made the portions seem a bit skimpy except for the okra which was plentiful. The BBQ in the sandwich and the rib portion I thought was good for the money. The sauces, both mild and hot, looked kind of ketchupy so I wasn’t overly excited. The proof would be in the pudding, or in this case the pulled pork. I made my sampler plate and plated the rest for future meals.

Let’s get the sides out of the way first. Fried okra competently done and plentiful, number 2 out of the 4. The green beans were right of the can and no seasoning, I think they may even have been the low sodium canned variety. Definitely bottom of the heap, which made me sad because I love green beans. Mac and cheese was again OK, better than Black’s but nothing to get excited about. Number 3 on the side parade. The sweet potato soufflé was by far the standout in this quartet. Nice sweet potato flavor, the brown sugar was prominent but not dominant and the nuts were just the right amount. On to the BBQ.

The pulled pork in the sandwich was, as I mentioned, a decent portion of lightly seasoned and smoked meat. OK by itself but definitely benefitting from sauce. The hot sauce was at best medium and almost a mild spice level to me. It was a little sweeter and tangier than ketchup so the initial impression was overcome a bit. The mild sauce just had no spiciness at all and should just have been called plain.

The ribs had possibility but by the pale look I knew I was going to be disappointed. I do feel like the portion I got for the price paid was more than competitive to other places I’ve been. The meat pulled away from the bone but in the way that seemed to indicate they’d been boiled first before going on the smoker to tender them up. That would have been ok but they weren’t on the smoker long enough to get a really good smoked flavor. The rub was good but if you didn’t get a piece with a fair bit of rub on it the whole thing felt kind of washed out. Dredging it through the sauce helped and on the whole it filled me up.

I think I will go back and try one of their meat & two options because I liked the atmosphere and I want to like the place. Overall though of the 3 local BBQ spots tried so far they are number 3 for BBQ for me.

I think one more new spot and I will have the majority of the Seneca spots covered for BBQ.

Smokin’ BBQ

Last weekend friends came to visit and I took them to a local BBQ place. Almost everyone that has visited me has been to Little Pigs BBQ. Their choice after being multiple options I’m not getting commission on the pork. I just happen to have friends and family that are BBQ fans. Upon reflection it occurred to me that I could say Little Pigs was the best BBQ place I’ve tried in the area. It also has the distinction of being the only one. So while It is good I decided I needed more data points to compare them too.

For that reason I decided to go data collecting this weekend. My stop this week was Black’s Smokehouse in Seneca. I planned to get takeout and bring it back to the house. The idea was to get 2 plates and split it up to make 3 meals so I could get variety and do some easy meal prep for later. I got there right after they opened and honestly thought they were closed until I saw the Open sign lit up and inviting me in.

I got welcomed the second I walked in by a nice lady who was ready to get my order going. Here are the menu boards I had to choose from.

For my multi-plate carry-out I went with the obligatory pulled pork plate and a half rack dry rubbed rib plate. Each came with 2 sides. I decided to try the cabbage casserole because I’d never even heard of it much less tried it. Loaded potato salad, baked beans and classic mac n cheese rounded out the quartet. They provided little cups of each of the 4 BBQ sauces they serve as well.

Side note, they get extra points from me because they are obviously college sports fans. They had the ever present Clemson National Championship banner but as I was walking around while they were making up my plates I caught this flash of red and black and saw there was a Georgia Bulldogs scarf hanging from an animal skull. So it was either the weirdest lost and found ever or someone was a UGA fan. I came down on the side of them being college fans when I saw the big Tennessee flag hanging in the hall between the two dining areas. Since it was only the three I assumed it wasn’t just pandering to all college sports fans either. So that will earn them an rating point.

So I got my food and headed to the house. Here are the pre-split plates in all their glory.

I pulled about about two thirds of the meat and sides to make plates for later and used the balance to make my sampler plate for reviewing. In hindsight, as I sit hear overfull and contemplating a nap, I could have made 4 plates and still been full at the end of the day. Here’s the tasting plate.

So let’s talk sides. The potato salad was made with skin on potatoes and had a nice mustard / mayo ratio and some bacon bits to get the loaded part covered I guess. It was enjoyable. The baked beans were non-descript but I’m going to descript them anyway. They weren’t bad but just plain generic sweet baked beans. The mac n cheese was also a little bit of a disappointment. The cheese sauce was verging on too thin, the pasta however, was cooked al-dente and that kept it from being a full on disappointment. The cabbage casserole was a nice surprise after the lackluster performance of the beans and pasta. Cooked cabbage with a creamy, cheesy sauce (maybe the same as the mac) and topped with crushed Ritz crackers. The cabbage and potato salad were definitely the best of the 4.

The ribs had a great smoky flavor. For a dry rub they were kind of glazy but still very nice. The meat was tender and came away from the bones easily but you had to give it a tug. To me that’s better than some of the “fall off the bone” ones that almost seem soggy they break down so fast. I had the 3 smallest ones for this meal and they were each reasonably meaty. Definitely a good selection.

The pulled pork was also the sauce delivery system so I’ll cover that all here. The meat was smoky, not as much as the ribs but still sufficiently smoked and a little seasoning. Pleasant and good enough to eat plain but of course I had to sample the sauces. I approached the mustard with a “just get it done” attitude because I’m not a big fan of mustard BBQ sauces. It turned out OK, tangy with just a hint of sweetness, very mustardy. The vinegar was my next try and it was pretty decent. It could have used a little more pepper for me but it’s pretty hard to screw up this sauce. The red thicker BBQ sauce was very much a glorified ketchup in my opinion. It was a bit more vinegary but also sweeter than ketchup. Overall it was disappointing. The hot version of this same sauce was glorified ketchup with a tinge of spiciness. Mixing the hot and vinegar made a passable sauce. If you’re a fan of Kansas City style BBQ sauces just keep driving.

As disappointing as the sauces were and in spite of the mediocrity of 2 of the sides I think the other 2 and more importantly the success of the meat make Black’s Smokehouse a place I could feel comfortable visiting again. I’m giving them 4 out of 5 butts. Pork butts that is. I mean the burnt ends special with jalapeno cheese grits and hush puppies may just blow me away and get them to 4.5 butt territory.

Island In The Storm

Ok, it wasn’t that stormy and it was Caribbean Island food rather than an actual Island but that doesn’t change the fact that it brightend a dreary day.

A couple of weeks ago I saw the Caribbean Hut when I was out buying a gift and knew I had to check it out. It’s a good 25 minutes from the house but less than 10 from the office so I decided it would be a good weekday lunch spot.

As the title suggests it was a dreary day with the cold rain just starting to fall so called it in to get there and back relatively quickly. I got the chicken combo that let’s you choose chicken prepared 2 ways. I went curried and jersey.

I also got a couple of oxtail dinners for a coworker to take home. So when they double bagged it I assumed it was leak protection, and it was, but also because of the weight. Man that was a ton of food.

I easily made 2 meals out of this and could have really split it into 3 and still had a filling meal each time. So they were aces on the quantity. I actually dove on the vegetable first because they were 80% cabbage and I like cabbage a lot. Tasty and well seasoned. The rice and beans were ok on their own but really were a delivery system for the gravies.

I had the curry chicken the first day. Let me just say the cleaver weilder who chopped the chicken was not concerned with the niceties of butchering. The only concern was relative chunk size, consequently there were surprise bones in almost every bite. I chose to look at the positive outcomes which were it forced me to eat slower and chew more thoroughly than is my want, lest I get a jagged shard of chicken bone lodged someplace fatal. I don’t need to have that in my obit.

Interestingly the jerked chicken was much less a victim of hack-n-slash so the element of danger was gone but they did add a little bit of heat that was lacking in the curry for me. It did taste good and was a messy joy to eat.

Even though the early going was fraught with peril the flavors were good, the portions gracious and the employee I dealt with was grateful for my business so I’ll go back. But first I have try the sushi burrito from the place next door.

Month of Mexican, Cuatro

For my last MoM lunch I took a recommendation from a colleague who had the recommendation from a cousin by marriage who is from Mexico. The word was Taqueria El Taco was the closest thing to Mexican this person found in the area so it seemed like something worth trying.

It was in Anderson, so a 25 minute drive from home but I took the day off so there was no issue with time. The tiny little strip it is in is tucked out of the way off a main road behind a Best Buy and close to a Target. The interior is long and narrow with some booths and table to each side and one long bar height table running down the middle.

They take an interesting approach to service for a Mexican place but I think it helps them keep the personnel issues to a minimum. You go to the back and order at a counter and they give you a buzzer (placed in a cheap clear sandwich bag to keep the grubby hands of the last person from contaminating you) plus you get a bowl of chips, drink cup or drink if you ordered a bottled drink or horchata. Across from the order counter against the other wall is the Salsa Bar.

There were mild and hot red salsas, mild and hot verde salsas, black bean and corn salsa, limes, jalapenos and pico. I mixed some hot and mild tomato salsa and some mild salsa verde.


I grabbed a table and started my chip chow down. I’d chosen from the Antojitos section of the menu since that was billed a the “traditional dishes” section. Keeping it healthy-ish I went for the tequila lime chicken.

Another note here is the use of disposable containers and plasticware. If you are put off by that keep going but if it doesn’t bother you and you want some tasty food you’ll be ok. The tequila lime chicken is a grilled breast that has been butterflied so the chicken cooks faster and thoroughly. It was topped with a salsa of tomatoes, corn, pineapple, cilantro, onion and a tiny piece of grilled lime. Honestly the lime flavor was uneven and mostly subtle while the tequila was nowhere to be found. That last I count as a plus since I’m not a great fan of that particular drink.

The vegetables consisted of broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, yellow squash and a lone piece of zucchini. They were seasoned ok and were cooked soft but no mushy. The rice was standard issue Mexican rice. It was a good meal, filling and reasonably flavorful but I think there were better options for a good flavor punch. I saw later that you could get the tacos with corn or flour tortilla OR a lettuce wrap ( I initially mistyped that as crap which I’m sure many would say was accurate). I would definitely come back here if I was in Anderson but I don’t think I’m going to make a 25 minute drive just for this food.

After trying 4 different Mexican restaurants in 3 towns I have to say I’d be happy to visit any of them again but if I made any of them a go to it would be California’s Mexican Grill because it feels like the kind of place you could become a regular they knew by name and treated you like a friend as well as patron. Coming in second would be El Jimador in Clemson because I liked the food but also really like the way they decorated their interior. Overall I feel like this was a good experiment finding some better for me menu options and discovering new places to grab a bite.

I think I may have to try a Month of Chinese in the near future and see what I can dig my chop sticks into.