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.

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.

Beer, Cookies and Paddles

Once upon a rainy, nasty, cold day there was a brewery that offered an interesting pairing event that drew me from the comfort of my snug apartment to the hinterlands of Lincoln county. Along the way my sister joined me since she was the instigator of this quest.

Our destination was Back Paddle Brewing and a pairing of Girl Scout Cookies and beer. Lunch was in the plans too because beer and cookies on an empty stomach seemed like too much of a risk for people with sugar issues.

I got the Brat Burger and my sister got the BBQ pork tacos.

The Brat Burger was made with heritage breed pork, house made beer mustard and apple slaw as well as lettuce and tomato on a potato bun. It was a tasty combo. The report on the tacos was positive too. My sister had ordered them before so they have to be deemed re-order worthy.

Now the main reason for us being here was the pairing.

They had my top three Girl Scout cookies; samoas, thin mints, and tagalongs. The also had the lemon one. The beers in order they were to be paired with the cookies as listed above were:

  • Easy.Ready.Willing Witbier – Wheat beer
  • No Luck At All – Irish Stout
  • Celebrate We Will! – Brown Ale
  • Black IPA – didn’t get this one

We agreed on the success or lack thereof for each of the pairings even if our taste buds were on slightly different pages. The best was surprisingly the lemon and wheat bear which paired very well together. The tartness of the lemon and the lightness of the wheat beer melded nicely. The tagalongs were to the brown ale as a pesky younger sibling to a teenager. On their own they are perfectly fine but as a companion to the brown ale the sweetness of the cookie just overwhelmed the ale and canceled out the flavor . The black IPA and the thin mints weren’t ideal mates but they didn’t conflict either so that one was ok. The stout and samoa was interesting in that the samoa countered a lot of the flavor but left a coffee aftertaste that was quite enjoyable.

Back Paddle is not someplace you’d just stumble on but it is worth a drive. I liked the picnic style tables they had spaced well apart and pairs of stools at the bar. The folks working there, including the owner, were all very nice and willing to answer questions, make suggestions and let you take a taste of a beer if you needed to help you decide. Nice place I’m very certain I’ll visit again. Oh and the paddles were the tap handles, no one was actually paddled in the making of this blog (well this entry anyway).

Mexican Omelet with a side of bacon

The King of Bacon

Mexico

This week I decided to combine both my Saturday breakfast out with a blog relevant restaurant, Taqueria El Rey. El Rey (The King in English if you didn’t know) is a Mexican place that, as of this blog posting, recently started offering breakfast on the weekend.

The seating area is spacious and I was the only one there so social distancing was pretty easy. I was surprised to get chips for breakfast but I rolled with it.

I didn’t get any salsa and that had me confused until I saw the server, Madeline, distributing ladles at the Salsa bar. Yes, you heard me, the Salsa bar.

In addition to a lot of options they have a heat score card atop the bar so you don’t pick something that will hurt you. I opted to try the spicy version of the salsa verde and the peanut salsa.

Both had some heat but weren’t too spicy. The peanut salsa was different. There was a peanut flavor but I found it a bit thin. Thankfully I only had time to try a few chips in each because my main dish was going to be a challenge to finish.

I asked which item was the most authentically Mexican on the menu and was directed to the Mexican omelet. Madeline confirmed my impression that most of the items were Mexican with a “twist”. I went with the suggestion and because there was no meat in the omelet got a side of bacon.

The picture doesn’t do the scale of this breakfast justice. The omelet was at least a 3 egg omelet, filled with refried beans and mozzarella. It was topped with pico de gallo and sour cream with queso fresco blocks on the side. Talk about a filling breakfast and this has to be in the conversation. Presentation was nice and it tasted great. I could have foregone the bacon but I am so glad I didn’t. For one thing this side portion had to be at least 6 slices of the crispiest, least greasy bacon I’ve ever had. Ever. The title probably makes sense to you now. If you love crispy bacon it’s worth visiting just for the bacon. I had to take a break and read a few minutes to let it settle some before I could finish.

I enjoyed every bit of my experience at El Rey. Even the coffee mug was intriguing.

The inside of the mug was glazed as was the brown chocolate colored dripping around the rim. The decorative painting on the outside was also glazed but the clay was not so you could feel the texture of it. Very interesting.

It’s a shame there weren’t more people showing this place some love but at least there were more people pulling in as I was leaving. Maybe they were waiting on me to leave. If you’re in Augusta on a weekend and want something different for breakfast I’d recommend giving El Rey a shot. The fajita omelet and breakfast chimichangas sound like a reason to return.

Also check out the Tell Me More page for Mexico for some randomness.

Starting New With a Sunrise

It’s been a while since I posted anything new but life and relocations happen. I’m back in Augusta now after being gone for more than a decade. One thing that excited me about moving back was there would be a whole new set of restaurants to discover.

I decided to keep it simple for the first entry here while I search out the international restaurants. I opted for a good old American breakfast at the Sunrise Grill just up the street from my apartment. I’d eaten here before but it was many years ago so aside from the location I didn’t remember much about it.

Sunrise is in an older or shall we say well established shopping center that has seen facelifts over the years but you can tell it’s on the other side of prime. In spite of that when you walk in to the place it is bright, big and open. The wait staff was extremely friendly and masked up whenever they were interacting with customers. There was plenty of spacing out for social distancing.

I sat at the counter and I don’t think the next stool was quite 6 feet away but the capacity at the counter was cut down to half or less than what would be there in pre-pandemic times. Plus the only other person sitting at the counter sat at the other far end so we’d have needed walkie talkies or at the very least cup and strings to even communicate. OK maybe not that far away since I did hear him order fried bologna and eggs for his breakfast.

I kept my order simple with fried eggs, grits and sausage. Grit consistency is a good gauge for a southern restaurant, are they too soupy, too thick or just right. That attention to detail can tell you how they deal with the rest of the meal.

After ordering I had my meal in less time than it took me to open my Kindle app, sync it and read more than a page or two (no it’s not because I’m a slow reader). The grits passed muster, the eggs were fried up as ordered and the wheat toast was toasty. The sausage was a pleasant surprise because not only were there 3 patties instead of the 2 I’d grown accustomed to at most places now they had a bit of a spicy kick to them. Nice touch. The coffee was middle of the road, not strong, not weak, just hot, fresh and coffee flavored.

Overall it was a good start to discovery or re-discovery of my new old environs. Next week I’ll get the passport out and see what international culinary destination I can find.

Hot or Not Cocoa

I posted a few weeks ago that I was going to plow through a variety box of hot cocoa K-cups and see how they stood up. Some did and some didn’t. It took a while to get through them because the unseasonably warm weather just didn’t call out for warm cup of chocolatey goodness. I did finally make it through all of them. Of course as soon as I was done we have sub-freezing mornings, thanks 2020.

The number of different brands and flavors in the variety really surprised me. There were 22 distinct k-cups, some sporting well known brand names and some not. Some with great names that reflected the contents and some that overreached. I’m not going to review them all just the overall winners and the dregs so you’ll know which ones might be worth checking out and which ones to avoid at all costs.

I graded on a 10 point scale and the ratings ranged from 5 to 9. None were total failures but mediocrity was in evidence. I considered the smell, the chocolateness (I know I’m making up words), the success of any adjunct flavors and overall impression in my grading.

There were 4 that hit the top score of 9 and 3 cellar dwellers that had a 5 rating. For stat nerds the break out was:

Score% of cups
918%
818%
732%
618%
514%

The Buy recommendations, in the order they were consumed, are: Soho Cocoa Decadent Cherry Cordial, Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie, Tootsie Roll Premium Hot Cocoa and Sugar Babies Premium Hot Cocoa.

The Soho Cherry Cordial was a pleasant experience from the get go. There was a scent of cherry that wafted up from the mug to greet me as I took a sip. There was a cocoa presence but the cherry came through as the most prominent taste as well as smell. It might not have been spot on a cherry cordial but it was spot adjacent.

The best of the mint flavors was the Bosco Chocolate Mint Cookie. Minty aroma with an undercurrent of cocoa on the nose. The initial sip hit the tongue with a mild chocolate flavor that was quickly overwhelmed by a bold mint that was definitely the alpha flavor. I liked it a lot. If you’re meant to be mint, be minty and this was.

I’m not going to lie the Tootsie Roll one surprised me because I am not a fan of the candy. As a hot cocoa it was not my favorite in spite of the rating but it did match its name very well. There was a nice chocolate smell and they nailed the flavor of the candy down to an almost waxy taste. It was the single best match of name to taste.

Last on the hit parade was the Sugar Babies. Up front I’ll say the caramel flavor was definitely artificial but not bad at all. Like a lot of the other flavored hot cocoas the prominent smell was from the add in flavor and in this case the caramel charged up from the cup like it was on a mission. On the flavor though the caramel and the chocolate were more balanced than in any of the other caramel flavored cocoas in the batch. That balance and general pleasant taste got it to the top.

The loser list is made up of Pingo Peanut Butter, Charleston Chew Vanilla Nougat and Brooklyn Bean Midnight Hot Cocoa. The first two both suffered from a thin milk chocolate taste and neither had a pleasant aroma. The Peanut butter smell was as weak as the chocolate taste and the taste was only marginally better. The Vanilla Nougat gave off a whiff of burnt sugar and indifferent cocoa. While there was an indistinct sweetness atop the average chocolate flavor, I was hard pressed to identify it as vanilla or nougat.

The BB Midnight Hot Cocoa started with the promise of a slightly bolder chocolate smell than most of the others but the flavor was disappointing as it was only a shade more chocolaty than the plain. If you’re going to call yourself Midnight hot cocoa I expect a certain level of dark chocolate to back it up and that was not in evidence. I will say the chocolate flavor did build up over time and if it had been labelled just Hot Cocoa or maybe Dusky Hot Cocoa it would have been higher rated but Midnight was just too far outside reality for me.

That’ll do it for this entry. Hope not to have such a gap between posts again for a while.

SpiceBreeze part 2

As mentioned in the SpiceBreeze review I decided to make at least one of the recipes included with the spice blends from each of the three envelopes I received. Each of them turned out pretty well and the spice blends played key roles in every case.

The first one was using the “Tacos al pastor” seasoning mix.

This recipe called for creating a thick, onion heavy marinade that included the spices, some oil and tomato paste then coating the pork with it and letting it marinate for a while. It also called for frying up some pineapple rings to go along with the meat. The recipe called for the pork to be cooked then cut into strips and then fried again. I had some salsa in the fridge and threw that on as well to get the end result you see below.

They were terribly tasty tacos that had a smoky flavor imparted by the spice blend. Was worth my efforts.

The next one was a spice blend for and Indian dish, Summer Aloo Gobi Matar.

This hearty dish is a stew of potatoes, cauliflower, and peas that also included garlic, onion, tomato and ginger. In my case I exercised one of the suggested options and included a bit of chicken. Served with the suggested Basmati rice and naan this was filling and had some nice color. The spices in the blend played well together and it was savory and satisfying as well. For the curious the spices were; fennel, cumin, turmeric, coriander and cardamom. As an aside there was another pack in the envelope of whole cardamom seeds with a Mango Lassi recipe that also got used. I love mango lassi.

The last one was a Kabob Koobideh spice blend. This is a ground meat grilled kabob popular in Persian communities, as well as with others who just like good food.

Now I’ll admit up front these aren’t as visually appealing as they could have been and bear a striking resemblance to something you might not want to eat but trust me they tasted better than they looked. The restaurant versions of this dish I’ve had were a little thinner and were formed such that there were little ridges along the length almost like delimiters for bite sized chunks.

The recipe called for lamb, beef or chicken and had the store had lamb I’d have gone that way but instead I settled for lean ground beef. The recipe is fairly basic other than grating an onion and squeezing out all the juice, which isn’t difficult just something I’d never done to an onion before. Next up was adding some garlic, egg, spices and then the meat. Then you knead it for a while to incorporate everything and give it texture. In this case the spice blend consisted of sumac, turmeric, black pepper & parsley. The recipe called for just shaping the meat into long patties and frying but I was having none of that and decided they’d be shaped on skewers and grilled like they should be. The end result, when paired with the marinated cabbage (also included in the recipe) and some rice, was very good and bonus there were plenty of left-overs.

I have to give the SpiceBreeze team props for some fairly simple recipes that were delicious and did a good job showing off the spice packs they sent. So while it wasn’t something I wanted to continue I could certainly recommend it to others who might want to try their hands and discovering new cuisines.

Beach Week 2020

In spite of efforts by COVID-19 to destroy this year my family still got together in Surf City for our Beach Week vacation. Dining out, however took a big hit and instead of eating both breakfast and lunch out most days I only ventured forth 4 times and 3 were to places covered in other blog posts but I’m going to revisit 2 of them in this entry because I got something new at both places. The first place, Hot Diggity Dogz, was just a short walk from the house.

My brother-in-law and I strolled over and grabbed a couple of dogs each and wolfed them down at one of the picnic tables. I got the Carolina dog that had mustard, chili & coleslaw plus a Hawaiian dog that had cheese sauce, jalapenos and crushed pineapple. The grilled all-beef hot dogs were served on potato buns with toppings that were fresh(ish). I say ish because some of it came out of a can but it seemed like the can was recently opened so I’ll take it. I’m sure somebody is going, “back up there big kahuna and explain what was up with that Hawaiian dog” so I’ll tell you. It’s pretty obvious the only thing remotely Hawaiian was the pineapple but that was weird enough to get me to try it. It never occurred to me that pineapple and jalapenos would be a great pairing much less throwing in some cheese but it turned out to be a successful three way. The sweetness of the pineapple took some sting out of the jalapenos but left enough to let you know this wasn’t a wienie for weenies and cheese goes with anything. I might get it again but they have a handful of other dogs I need to try before another repeat.

One day a subset of the family headed to the Riverview Cafe. Another repeat but on this trip I got the scallops with two sides special.

That plate full of fried scallops was down right dee-licious. A quick word about the restaurant. It’s in Snead’s Ferry, NC, has a nice view of the New River and they make better than passable pies. As for lunch they have a multitude of options and change specials daily but I’ve only ever gotten seafood and after this trip I see no reason to change that up. The scallops were beautifully fried tender morsels of seafood goodness. The cheesy, garlic potatoes had no choice but to be good just based on the ingredients and the broccoli casserole offered redemption to broccoli for being broccoli. Between the lot of us we wound up taking home a box of seafood and a box of sides to be consumed later because the portions were so generous.

The last place I wanted to cover was a new (to me) place I checked out on the last full day we were there. It was also within walking distance, just a few steps past the hot dog joint actually. I was solo this trip but I think next year I’ll be able to talk some folks into going to The Fast Fish with me.

The Fast Fish is a Poke place with some other stuff too as you can see from the menu board.

I’d never done the poke thing before (stop laughing) so I decided to get a bowl. I started with one of the daily specials, spicy soy salmon, as the protein with rice for the base and kept it relatively simple with pickled vegetables and green onions for add-ins.

This was a very tasty lunch. In case you can’t tell from the picture the salmon was not cooked but the spicy soy sauce it was marinated in dressed it up just fine. The pickled vegetables were mostly cabbage and carrots but there were some onions, cucumbers and a jalapeno or two floating around. The whole thing was topped with toasted black and white sesame seeds. Stirring up the bed of white rice into this mix made for an excellent lunch that was filling but not heavy. Would very much recommend this place if you’re ever visiting Surf City, NC.

Now I’m just going to throw in a gratuitous food pic and let it speak for itself.

Trail Head

So as I mentioned in the last entry my plan was to start hitting the international flavored restaurants again and while Legal Remedy Brewing doesn’t represent any country specifically there are some tenuous international connections which I’ll point out a bit later.

What kind of derailed my initial plans were the weather and downloading the Visit York County app so I could do the Brew Trail & Taste Trail. One is a list of breweries in the county and if you check in at 6 of 8 you can get a t-shirt and the the taste trail has a list of 15 or so restaurants and if you hit 12 and have their “signature” dish you can also get a t-shirt. I saw these as win, win, win contests and I love winning contests. I decided to start both at the one establishment that gave me a twofer being on both lists. Legal Remedy Brewing is also a place I’m familiar with and like.

Their signature dish for the Taste Trail is an appetizer, Southern Poutine.

Here’s our first international connection, Poutine is a Canadian dish, eh. The LRB Southern version happens to be well fried, semi-crispy French fries topped with smoked jalapeno pimento cheese, bacon, and pepper jelly. Initially I disdained cutlery and proceeded to play a sort of edible jenga game where the goal was to get a hold of the fry with toppings and not get any on me. That led to a leisurely dining experience until people started noticing the intense concentration and deliberation with which I was eating and I think they started worrying about my sanity. When the fork and knife were brought to bear the pace was accelerated and the bacon and pimento cheese disappeared in a frenzy of fries.

The pimento cheese was good but I didn’t notice much smokey or jalapeno-y about it. The pepper jelly was an interesting addition that was more jelly and peppery. The bacon was just right. Overall it was enjoyable the portion generous enough I didn’t even finish it all. The beer might have helped in making me feel full.

As is my want in a place that offers the option, I got a flight of the seasonal offerings. As you can see I got a mix of light and dark. I started with the heaviest and went lighter as the meal progressed. The Barrel Aged: Elements of a Crime was an imperial stout aged in bourbon barrels and conditioned (I have no idea what that means) on Brazil Monte Verdi coffee from a local roaster. And there’s the other international connection, Brazilian coffee. The stout was just that and had very much embraced the barrel and its bourbonness.

The next dark beer was Exhibit:Gingerbread Porter. A mild porter that had some hints of clove but that was about the only one of the winter spices it was brewed with I could discern. After the two dark ones I had the Probation Pilsner, a German pilsner with a light flavor and hints of evergreen. I saved the Bribery Bittersweet Orange Wheat for dessert. A sip of that provided a nice flash of orange that quickly dissolved into a bitter finish, in a good way.

In summation your honor it was a good lunch and a great start to the trails.