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.

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.

Fry Fry Again


This weekend I took the culinary-passport on the road to enjoy lunch with friends in West Columbia, SC.  The McGehees have been with me for several blog lunches and this time we were going to try a Jamaican place they’d not been to before.  Wait, you say, the title clearly says USA.  And so it does.  Our plans got derailed when we got to the Jamaican restaurant and it was closed.  When we saw the neighborhood I don’t think any of us was that sad it was closed.  I don’t feel like I’m being elitist or anything when I say this was a sketchy neighborhood because there were bars on all the windows and not the decorative wrought iron kind.

So we regrouped and decided since Jamaican wasn’t in the works and we were hungry, Jackson’s Southern Kitchen would provide the comfort food we’d need to console ourselves.  I was also promised they had some of the best fried chicken ever and what decent Southerner would turn down great fried chicken.

Aside from the assurances of my friends this was a good place to eat the number of cars in the parking lot was another give away that the place was popular.  Jackson’s is a buffet style restaurant with a salad bar (I saw maybe half a dozen people get something from it), a hot bar (where the good stuff is), and a dessert and bread bar (where more good stuff is).  The restaurant is broken up into several large rooms with plenty of seating but Saturday afternoon at the buffet is a busy time which meant tables were at a premium.  We got one in the room with the buffet bars so it was convenient but on the other hand there were so many people and it was loud.  But when the eating started it didn’t really matter.

Most of the containers here are not the huge square ones that seem to be standard at most buffets but about half that size.  The line goes down both sides so this along with the tray sizes means they are constantly bringing out fresh food and the popular items are always hot from the kitchen.  For my first trip I decided the hyped fried chicken would be the primary meat item.

In addition to the chicken I got some BBQ, hash and rice, mashed potatoes and green beans.  If you aren’t familiar with this part of South Carolina let me tell you they are a mustard based bar-b-cue sauce people and they also put mustard in their hash.  It’s not my favorite of the regional sauces so I enjoyed the smoked meat plain just fine.  The hash and rice was meh and the green beans we good.  The two best items on this plate were the mashed potatoes and chicken.  The mashed potatoes were made with red skin potatoes and were some of the best plain old mashed potatoes I’ve had at a restaurant.  They had a good potato taste with just the right amount of salt and butter that you didn’t need to add anything.  The chicken was as promised some of the best I’ve eaten from a restaurant.  We had some discussion about whether your Mama’s or Grandmama’s chicken counted when judging the best chicken ever as they were likely default winners.  We ended up with me stipulating that as purchased fried chicken went this was probably top two.  What they have going for them is the chicken is always hot and cooked just right down to the bone.  Not overcooked or undercooked but just like the baby bear’s porridge, it’s just right.  The coating is fairly light and the seasoning is simple but very tasty.  Plate 1 was a winner overall.

One reason I tend to avoid buffets nowadays is the almost mandatory second trip and I succumbed to that peer pressure from the hundreds of not skinny people around me.  I did get only ribs plus a couple of sides to help calibrate Jackson’s against other buffets and oh yeah more potatoes.  The baby limas were good and the mac & cheese was also very competently done but nothing to stretch a blog out over.  The ribs though do deserve a line of appreciation.  They weren’t fall off the bone tender like you get some places but what they were was meaty and smokey with a good sauce.  The smoked flavor went beyond just the surface and permeated the meat entirely.  The meat was tender and was easy to cut or tear from the bone depending on your caveperson proclivities.  The sauce was a little sweeter than I would make it but still very good and as I said there was plenty of meat on each rib.  Plate 2 was a winner as well.

The dessert bar was loaded down with staples of the southern buffet and each of us got something different.  I went with the banana pudding and it was ok but I’d probably have been happier with something like the strawberry shortcake or some peach cobbler.

Final verdict is Jackson’s is a great place to go with friends and family to enjoy a mess of comfort food that on the whole is made by people who know what’s what in the kitchen.  So while it’s too bad we didn’t get a chance to try something new we finished lunch more than satisfied with the backup plan.  Thanks to the McGehees for sharing the meal and their company.

BBQ Time

American South

Not finding any restaurants representing an untried country and with food trucks on deck for next week I decided to add another variation to the theme and look for restaurants that represented regional American cuisines.  So I might not need a passport to visit their home area (unless SC doesn’t update their drivers licenses then I’ll have to use my passport card) but it’s still from outside the area.  Figured it made sense to start on the home turf with some pork BBQ from a local establishment.

In this case I decided on 521 BBQ in Tega Cay just up the road from me.

There are in a little strip mall and don’t have an outdoor pit or big smoker outback with guys shoveling in coals or anything but I understand they do smoke their own meat.  When you go in there are some tables and the bar up front and then down the left side of the restaurant there is a fair amount of additional seating.  The bar area has a few flat screen TVs showing sports and a nice selection of craft beer.  As a side note it amused me that the bartender had to go look in the back to see if they had any Michelob Ultra when someone asked for it.  Since it was right there in my face that’s how I started my visit, with one of the craft draft beers.  Specifically it was a DuClaw Sweet Baby Jesus.  I know that might sound like a questionable name and it didn’t provide salvation but it was tasty.

As you might have noticed this is a darkish beer.  That’s because it is a chocolate peanut butter porter.  When I picked up the beer the foamy tan head gave off a distinctly peanut butter scent and the first sip backed that up with a peanut buttery taste.  I didn’t get much chocolate from it but the slight bitterness expected from a porter was there along with the peanut butter.  It was smooth and delicious but really kind of heavy for the lunch I had planned.

I ordered a combo tray that came with two meats and two sides.  Chopped pork and ribs were the meat selections while baked beans and collards were the sides I settled on.  While I waited on the entrée they provided a complimentary basket of hushpuppies to keep me occupied.

They came with some honey butter spread that I’m sure would have been good but I just ate a couple plain.  They were slightly sweet with just a vague hint of onion.  Not my Granddad’s hushpuppies but acceptable.  It was just a few minutes though and the main attraction was delivered.

If it looks like a lot of food that’s because it was.  I started with a small taste of each of the sides before digging into the meats.  The baked beans were made with a smoky, sweet thick bbq sauce that was the predominate flavor.  They had some bacon and onion as well to balance the sweetness a bit.  The collards looked great and you could see they had added some pork in with them.  I can’t lie, the first bite had an sort of fishy taste that almost made me quit it right there.  I don’t know if it was just some weird combination of the aftertaste of the sweet smoky beans and the savory collards but man the initial reaction was not cool.  I waited a second and tried them again and didn’t get the same taste so I could proceed.  They were ok, texture was good, not mushy like some and the pork was ok but smoked, salted meat would probably have been a better flavor choice.

The ribs on the other hand were great from start to finish.  There were two ribs in each of the pieces and they were generously coated in the sweet, smoky sauce.  They were not fall off the bone ribs but the meat came away from the bone cleanly as you ate them.  The chopped pork was delivered without sauce just the smoked, chopped meat and you had three options of sauces at the table.  The previously mentioned smoky, sweet sauce, plus mustard based and vinegar based sauces made up the choices.  The pork itself had a mild smoke flavor with salt and was edible plain but much better with sauce.  Being from an eastern NC family I loaded mine with the vinegar sauce after segregating a couple of small portions to sample the other two.  It was a bit sweeter than I prefer but not bad.  The mustard sauce was nice and tangy and the other sauce was ok in the beans and good on the ribs and decent on the chopped pork too.

Final verdict for me is the place is solid but nothing exceptional based on what I had.  After the beer I’d say the ribs were probably the next best thing.  If you’re in the area and feel like getting some BBQ you’ll do okay if you stop in.