So 3 months ago my wife and I went on a fairly long road trip through the Southeast. Starting at DC, all the way to Savannah, GA and back to DC.
We're both non-Americans but as a result of this trip we will be moving next year to the Chapel Hill area.
It's been a while and I forgot to write down the report, so I'll do my best to fill in from memory and some notes. To make things shorter I'll just write down the food aspects of the trip, even though we loved most of the nature attractions as well.
We had some highs mixed with some lows. My wife's pregnancy made us shift some of our usual choices.
Day 1 - Gathering Grounds Cafe, Lurray, VA. This was a randomly selected place after our visit to Lurray Caverns. It was very highly rated on Yelp. A decent coffee place with all the right buzzwords (everything was "artisanal", "made from scratch" etc). Just a run-of-the-mill sandwich, but wasn't bad or anything.
Recommendation - Perfectly fine spot to rest if you're in the area.
Day 1 - Our first anticipated dinner was also one of the "lows" of the trip from a culinary standpoint. Zynooda in Staunton is a "farm-to-table" "locavore" restaurant in the middle of a very cute historic town. We loved the restored downtown area. The food wasn't as good, sadly.
While all the ingredients were top notch, I thought the cooking was just off.
I had a starter of Pork shank with goat cheese and black eyed peas. The dish was okay, but the flavor combination was weird at best.
My wife ordered a soup that she couldn't finish cause it was so over the top sweet (I can't remember which one unfortunately).
We also ordered a starter/side dish of Corn Bread which we actually sent back as it was so dry it literally dissolved into sand-like crumbs.
For my main course I had the Pork Chop, which by itself was excellent. The rest of the dish included mashed potato and a strange asian inspired slaw with pineapple that was desert like sweet. It was just not tasty and ruined a perfectly good pork chop.
Recommendation - I appreciate the farm-to-table movement but it just wasn't tasty.
Day 2 - After a nice visit to Monticello we headed down to Chapel Hill. Manage to just barely make it to Allen & Sons. This was our first encounter with NC 'que. We had some barbecue in NYC before (Mighty Quinn's) but not the whole hog type.
It's a bit of a strange experience to get your food within like seconds of ordering, but what can I say - That's some tasty meat. It's not anything we're used to it, but it sure was yummy.
The sides - not as good. Our first encounter with hush puppies was really weird. I didn't understand what it suppose to taste like, but that wasn't good. The Slaw was super acidic which I kinda like in a weird way.
We went full cliche with a Pecan Pie for desert. It was very badly microwaved so it was both cold and boiling hot. The ice cream served with it was full of ice. Hmm, not good.
Recommendation - I liked the meat. Who cares about the rest. I'm pretty sure I'll eat here a lot in the future
Day 3 - So my wife went to UNC for her interview and I walked around the campus area. Stopped at Big Al's for a burger. Super cute place. I went for the Kenny J, which included Bacon, Pimento Cheese (my first taste of that) and a Cheerwine BBQ sauace. I thought the burger was excellent. I might prefer it slightly less less MW, but it was still very juicy.
The fries sucked. They add some dried rosemary to obviously frozen fries. I don't understand why not use freshly cut fries in a country with such great potatoes.
Recommendation - Awesome Burger. Bad fries. This will be a somewhat recurring theme for us in the US. Love the meat, dislike the way vegetables are handled.
Day 3 - My wife's future Boss took us to dinner. He chose the restaurant and we were more focused on making a good impression than the food. He also chose a Mediterranean Greek-style Meze place. It wasn't bad by any means, but nothing memorable for me.
Recommendation - I will have to go again to fully remember the food. Not a great sign.
Day 4 - Heading from Chapel Hill to our B&B near Boone, NC. We stopped at Lexington #1 BBQ. I'm by no means a BBQ expert. I understand that the whole hog is perhaps more highly regarded way of cooking, but I just loved the Piedmont version at Lexington. For the record, my wife preferred the Eastern NC version and didn't really enjoy Lexington. I just ate her plate as well...
We had both the Coarse and regular versions. I can't honestly remember which one I liked more.
The sides were godawful again for my taste. I honestly don't understand why everything has to be so sweet.
Recommendation - Hell yes for the meat.
Day 4 - We reached our B&B and my wife wasn't feeling well. After some rest we decided to take a look at downtown Blowing Rock. It was cute, but extremely touristy. Couldn't find anything we wanted to eat and were slightly in a bad mood.
We "Yelped" our way to a Indian restaurant in Boone named Mint. It wasn't good. Tomato soup was, as gussed, sweet as hell. Coconut shrimp curry was one-note spicy.
Recommendation - I wouldn't go back.
Day 5 - Beautiful drive to Asheville, NC. What a cute city. Sadly my wife was still sick and stayed at the hotel. I walked around the city. Googled my way to Buxton Hall BBQ which I read about back home.
Again, not a BBQ expert. I thought the meat was much drier than Allen & Sons or Lexington. The sides, on the other hand, were super good. I had Grits and Goat cheese (first time having grits) and collard greens (first time too, although we have similar dishes). I thought both were great. Beer was excellent. Banana Pudding desert was, you know, too sweet for me.
Recommendation - Very hipster environment but I enjoyed the food overall
Day 6 - Wife was feeling better and we walked around Asheville. After a fairly long wait we were seated for lunch at Tupelo Honey Cafe.
My wife had the fried chicken sandwich and I had an Omelette with Pimento Cheese and probably half the kitchen's ingredient. My wife LOVED the food. Her sandwich and the house-made biscuits we got when seated. She still craves that sandwich.
My omelette was so over-the-top I don't think I'll order it again, but can't say it wasn't tasty.
Recommendation - Wife says go.
Day 7 - Long drive to Charleston, SC. Lunch was just some quick bites along the highways. But dinner sure wasn't.
First off, Charleston is one of the prettiest cities I've ever seen. We fall in love with the place instantly.
Second, dinner at FIG was hands down the best meal of the trip.
* Ricotta Gnocchi and Lamb Bolognose - Perfect gnocchi. Not something I haven't had before, but perfectly done.
* Tomato Tarte Tatin - Okay, this was probably the best dish I had in 2016. FINALLY a great vegetable dish. It didn't sound like much on the menu and frankly if my wife didn't have diet restrictions, I don't think we'd even order it but it was just sublime. It was served with formage blanc and just pefect all around.
* Suckling Pig on Carolina Gold rice - So this might have been my 2nd favorite dish of 2016. Never had this rice before and it tasted amazing. Dish had green apples in it as well. I didn't write anything down and I still remember the first bite.
* Butterscotch Pot De Creme - I'm not a desert guy, but I am a sucker for Marzipan flavor. This desert came with some Amaretti cookies that I would happily eat as my last food on earth. The desert was also very tasty but i was too busy enjoying the cookies.
Recommendation - YES, GO, NOW!
Day 8 - Husk for lunch. I ordered the Cheeseburger and wife ordered the Sausage Sandwich. We ended up switching cause I loved the Sausage and didn't care much for the very burger. It tasted alright but too smokey and dry for me. Wife loved it tho as did most of the diners at the time.
Recommendation - Fatty and delicious. Go.
Day 8 - Mccrady's. So we booked this well in advance. A full tasting menu, one seating, only 8 diners and probably double as many staff workers. I can't remember all the dishes. I can say that most of the food was great. It had some small hiccups which you have to judge at that price point. I thought the dinner's pace was way too fast. We were in and out in less than 2 hours. Service was good but we kept asking for more details on what we were eating as not all servers were generous with information.
I also learnt that I'm allergic to Sea Urchin, which is handy information to have.
Overall, very good experience. Will be great if they improve on some elements.
Recommendation - Defiantly worth it as a once-a-year splurge.
Day 9 - S.N.O.B. Walked around town and headed to the busiest looking place. Place was packed. They found us a spot in front of the open kitchen. Wife loved her cheeseburger with Pimento cheese (which we later realized might not be the best idea). I had shrimps and grits which was pretty good.
Recommendation - Good lunch.
Day 9 - Minero. Another one of Sean Brock's places. A Mexican taqueria. It was okay, but nothing we ate really stood out from good mexican places. It was defiantly pricier.
Recommendation - I think there are better options in Charleston.
Overall Charleston is amazing. For such a small city it has an incredible amount of high quality places (we couldn't even try some of the fresh seafood which we defiantly will in the future). It's up there with NYC and SF in terms of food experiences in the USA for me.
Day 10 - Heading to Savannah, GA. Stopped at B's Carckling BBQ. Went with the pork again, although it seems like Ribs and Brisket were also popular choices unlike the NC version. It was tasty, slightly different than what we had before. Wife was giving me the "how many more BBQ places we'll we have to go to" look. The pork skins side dish we ordered tasted like heart attack.
Recommendation - Sure. BBQ is tasty.
Day 10 - Dinner at The Grey. I already wrote about it. Terrible experience overall.
Sadly Savannah was also suffering quite heavily from the effects of the Hurricane.
Recommendation - No.
Day 11 - Breakfast Biscuit at 'Back in the day bakery'. Delicious. We had some biscuits before from a drive-thru place in Chapel Hill that were dry and ordinary. This was 10 times better. Unfortunately I asked the sales lady to give me her favourite one and it had peaches mixed in with the cheese. Why so much sugar in everything? The other bacon-egg-chedder biscuit was great.
Recommendation - Yes.
Day 11 - Chipotle. Seriously. We decided to drive till we can't drive no more and stop wherever on the way to DC. Wife never had Chipotle before. She wasn't impressed. I love it.
Recommendation - I like Guac. I know it's extra.
Day 11 - We went to some sports bar near our one night hotel in Arlington. It was so bad I thought it was a parody. The name was Crystal City Sports Bar. I doubt anyone would go there.
Day 12 - Washington DC. Beautiful monument, lots of walking. Wish I didn't return the rental car the night before. Wife loves Shake Shack so we had shake shack. It was tasty.
Recommendation - That's a tasty burger.
Day 12 - After some amazing weather in the south, DC was cold as hell. We felt like Ramen. Daikaya was closest to our hotel. Good Ramen, wish I didn't go for the spicy version as it kinda overpowered the other flavors.
Recommendation - Good Ramen, sure.
Day 13 - Rasika. Maybe my 2nd favorite dinner on the trip. A high-end Indian restaurants that was packed on a random Tuesday night. We decided to try as many starters as we can and skipped main course. Everything was delicious except one Eggplant dish I didn't care for (we eat a lot of eggplants here and for some reason they don't taste as good in the US).
Some dishes (Crispy Spinach, Mango Shrimp and Sea Bass in banana leaves) were superb. The rest were just very good.
The only downside was our server was extremely snotty. Didn't do much to help us navigate the menu and was very condescending.
Recommendation - Great food. Would eat here a lot if I lived in DC.
Day 14 (last day) - I read about a new Filipino place called Bad Saint that was rated as one of the best new places in the US. Never had Filipino food so it was an easy pick. Place open at 17:30. We took no chances, got there at 17:15 on a Wednesday. The line was 110 people long (I counted out of curiosity). The place has 24 seats. I asked the people at the end of the line what exactly is their plan. They didn't seem to mind.
I went to my plan B and tried Thip Khao, a recommended Laotian place. It was happy hour so we sat at the bar which was a mistake as the Bartender wasn't helpful at all and we aren't familiar with the cuisine. I love spicy food and tried a dish labeled as extremely spicy. I vaguely remember anything after that. Food was good but the experience wasn't as good as it could have been because of my bad choice and the lack of service.
Recommendation - I'd try again.
Conclusion - Awesome trip. Not everything was great food-wise, but we loved the experience. In 6 months we'll be moving our small family to NC. We will need to get used to the lower quality of veggie cooking, enjoy the high quality of beef and pork and get used to not finishing everything off the plate cause food size is not normal.
Hope you enjoyed this. I'm sure not many would read all the way through, but this was mostly for me to remember the trip.