Sunday, April 30, 2017

Food, drink, being merry on the East Coast

So now that you've plodded through another half-dozen or more (OK ... more, for sure) posts about my most recent travel stops, I felt you should be rewarded at the end. Everybody loves food, so I am going to presume most everybody will have even a remote interest in this. (See how I used italics there to protect myself from stumbling upon that oddity of humanity who will be repulsed by this and/or find it inexcusably indulgent?)

As I've done for previous travel excursions, I saved my final post to present some of the photos taken of food and beverages enjoyed (mostly) at various eating establishments along the way. I've grouped them by locale in the order the community was visited. Within the locale grouping itself, however, the eateries are not necessarily listed in chronological order.

Most interior photos (including all of the food) in this post were taken with the camera on my iPhone 6s Plus. In some cases, lighting was so low, I had difficulty ascertaining focus, so if a shot appears blurry, that's my lame excuse. All exterior shots were taken with my Canon 6D.

Savannah, Ga.
The Lady and Sons
I have to start with what ended up being my favorite stop on the trip, The Lady and Sons, the southern cooking restaurant owned by TV celebrity Paula Deen and her two sons. The eatery at 102 W. Congress St. in the downtown area, about two blocks from Ellis Square and from where I was lodged during the stay in Savannah.

This place is extremely popular, and if you don't hit it at just the right time, you may have a hefty wait, and we saw lines forming outside the doors on various occasions before we decided to actually dine there. When we did finally go, we got there at some point between 4 and 5 p.m. Apparently that was right before the nightly rush, because we were seated immediately, and the restaurant looked almost full (see photo above) as we sat down. You can order entrees off the menu, or pay a set price to help yourself to a hefty buffet that includes several main courses (I recall fried chicken, barbecued ribs and barbecued ham, but I think there was shrimp and possibly catfish, too) and an array of sides. We chose the buffet, and I sampled the first three entrees listed above plus a few sides.

Three things were utterly outstanding to me at this meal -- the chicken (highlight of the trip), the dessert (more on that later) and the Savannah lemonade cocktail (pictured at left), which consists of Fruitland Augusta Peach Tea Vodka, lemonade and a splash of Sprite ($8.25 per). I sheepishly admit to having two of those. The photo leading off the post from the menu here has the the recipe for the Savannah lemonade.

I was stuffed by night's end, but a choice of a handful of certain desserts came with the buffet. But there was a catch. The only dessert I was in the mood for that evening was key lime pie, and that wasn't on the select list of options. So to get it, I paid extra. But it was well worth it; it was the best key lime pie I've ever had (my half-consumed portion is pictured below): a delicately textured (and utterly scrumptious) filling on a graham cracker crust.

Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room

On our first full day in Savannah, while exploring the two dozen or so rectangular-shaped neighborhood squares (I love the geometric irony there), we neared Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room, 107 W. Jones St., a longtime favorite eatery of locals and tourists because of its family-style southern-cooked meals (photo below) served at large tables where strangers, by default, meet new people.

Mrs. Wilkes' is located right in the middle of a residential area on West Jones Street (said to be the most beautiful street in the city). It really got a jolt in food cred in early March 2010, when President Obama dropped in for lunch unannounced after delivering a speech at Savannah Technical College.

Like Paula Deen's restaurant, Mrs. Wilkes' is extraordinarily popular, and the long lines are exacerbated by the fact that meals are served only from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. To Mrs. Wilkes' credit, it feeds anyone who is in the line by 2 p.m., no matter how long the line is. I
photographed the line you see above after we exited the dining room. When we got there earlier, it was just about as long as you see here, and we arrived shortly before opening.  A portion of the modest dining room is seen in the photo below left.

There is one crucial detail you need to know if you've never been there -- Mrs. Wilkes' accepts only cash for payment. While we were in line, at least two people near us in the queue learned about the cash-only policy from chatter among others in line, so each had to send someone in their party out to search for a nearby ATM.

Mrs. Wilkes' has a fare similar to Paula Deen's buffet, although Mrs. Wilkes' doesn't offer ribs. I enjoyed the friend chicken and ham served in a barbecue sauce. Side dishes include coleslaw, grits, collard greens, black-eyes peas, lima beans, cucumber salad, mashed potatoes, squash, macaroni and cheese, to name just a few.

Pirates House

If I remember our trolley guide correctly, the Pirates House, 20 E. Broad St., is located in one of Savannah's oldest buildings (above) and may be its oldest commercial establishment, dating to 1753 when it opened as an inn for seafarers.

The building still looks a little worn, but perhaps intentionally so -- to emphasize its significant position in Savannah's history. Employees are dressed in pirate attire, and periodically, one of those employees will take visitors and customers who gather near the entrance on a modest tour of the facility. You can see the guide who took us through the house in the first photo below. One of the places she showed us was the pit seen in the second photo below.

The restaurant has some interesting decorations and wall art. I was most intrigued by displays of wooden ship models, an example of which is seen above. But ... I digress. We were there to eat, and you probably want to know more about that. (The four pictures you've seen of the Pirates House so far were taken with my Canon 6D, by the way).

The meals were fine, but nothing out of the ordinary. Lee Ann had a reuben sandwich (above right), and after a couple days of chicken and seafood, I was in the mood for a hamburger.

Moon River Brewing Company

I've taken a keen interest in local micro-, or craft, breweries in recent years, exploring quite a few of them in my hometown of Indianapolis (and even launching a separate blog devoted to that interest), so I knew when I learned that Moon River Brewing Co., at 21 W. Bay St., was only a block and a half from my room, that a visit there would be in order.

On the plus side, Moon River has an extensive food menu, like some craft breweries are gravitating toward to draw stronger crowds and sustaining support. Many craft breweries I've visited will offer new visitors several flight (sample) options if they want to try the various beers. That way, they can pick just a small number to leave out those they're certain not to like.

For example, I know without even trying beers that I will eschew porters, stouts and most other dark beers. I also dislike sour beers, which seem to be gaining popularity, as well as beers with strong fruit undertones. My preferences are lagers, cream ales and India Pale Ales (IPA), and I'll try variations (also called seasonals) to those. But I digress (again) ...

At Moon River Brewing, if you want to sample beers, you have to buy the full 10-beer flight -- for $15, as I recall. Well, I was on vacation, so I shrugged my shoulders and splurged. You can see the flight pictured above. Just as I predicted, I was put off by the two very dark beers and didn't drink but a sip. There was a sour beer in the batch, and I didn't get far with that, either. I did finish off the rest, and as was my experience in previous instances when sampling so many beers at one time, none of them stood out. I think I ordered a full pint of one of them, but I don't remember which.

As for food, Lee Ann opted for a small plate of grilled Georgia shrimp (photo below) atop Italian sausage ravioli and finished with a house-made Wit beer-grain mustard sauce. She found it interesting.

We also ordered a small plate of chips with a fresh salsa (left photo). I'm not a huge salsa fan, so this was all for Lee Ann. I had been leaning toward the menu's invitation to "build your own burger" when the server talked me into sampling the pork shoulder sandwich on a brioche bun (photo below). It was hefty, and I remember having to eat most of it with a fork and knife because the sandwich was way too bulbous to hold like a traditional sandwich. I ate it all, but I felt that the pork was not nearly cooked (or smoked) as long as it should have been to tenderize it properly. I know from personal experience (cooking on my home grill) that slow-cooking risky cuts of meat can be a challenge for all but the seasoned chef, but I believe that if an eatery offers it on the menu, it better get it right every time.

Our Daily Bread Cafe

The Our Daily Bread Cafe, 6 E. State St., was a place we decided to stop at on the spur of the moment while touring more of the historic squares in the late morning of our third day in Savannah.

It was nearing noon, in fact, but Lee Ann was hungry for breakfast, while I was more in the mood for lunch. She opted for an egg sandwich with bacon and cheese (above right), while I went for a ham wrap with soup (I forget now what kind it was). We both had coffees, and both of us liked our food and coffees. A few photos of the eatery's interior appear below.

Tybee Island, Ga.
North Beach Bar and Grill

At the north end of Tybee Island sits the North Beach Bar and Grill, 33 Meddin Drive. It's adjacent to Fort Screven and short jaunts from the Tybee Island Light Station on one side and the beach on the other side. It was here that I enjoyed the best tropical beverage of our trip to the East Coast.

The Savannah Lemonade at The Lady and Sons was excellent, and ranks a very respectable runner-up, but the Cruzan Confusion at North Beach takes the prize. The menu purports that it consists of a mix of eight (you read that right) flavored rums, pineapple juice and a splash of cranberry juice (which no doubt gives it its reddish color).

I could not locate an online beverage menu for North Beach Bar and Grill, but I have found several sources online that offer variations to the drink's recipe (including most that contain fewer than eight rums). The most popular flavored rums for the beverage seem to be coconut, banana, mango and pineapple. I've also seen versions containing black cherry and guava rums.

For food, Lee Ann opted for the half-pound sauteed shrimp, while I was in a cheeseburger mood. We shared an order of french fries. Pictures of those appear below.

If you're perplexed by the inordinate time I spent describing the Cruzan Confusion (and I easily could have devoted more) versus that of the food, it was because the Cruzan Confusion clearly ruled the day. Lee Ann and I ended up sharing three of them, although I will admit consuming the majority of all three. It was that good.

Charleston, S.C.
Jestine's Kitchen

Before ever arriving in Charleston, I'm pretty sure Lee Ann and I were certain we'd return to Jestine's Kitchen, 251 Meeting St., where I had fried chicken and Lee Ann had fried chicken livers when we were there in April 2016.

It's difficult for Lee Ann to find good liver meals anywhere, so she knew immediately that after last year's delightful experience, she'd have the chicken livers again when we returned to Jestine's. Those are the livers on a bed of rice above left, along with sides of mac and cheese and green beans.

I was pretty sure I'd have chicken again ... until our server told us that lightly breaded friend catfish was a special menu item that day. When the server told me the catfish was delicious, I trusted her, and I'm happy to report that she did not let me down. The catfish was just the way I like it -- tender and delicious. That's the catfish above right, with coleslaw and green bean sides.

The real surprise from the visit to Jestine's this year was Lee Ann's beverage of choice, Cheerwine (right), a Southern thing. You and I would describe it simply as a cherry coke, but in Charleston and other parts South, Cheerwine is a big deal. Lee Ann made a point to look for it again during our remaining days in South Carolina. Back in Indiana, she really struck gold recently when we happened upon it on the shelves of Tyner Pond Market at 120 S. Audubon Road in Indianapolis, a next-door neighbor of The Mug farm-to-table restaurant I wrote about previously.

Cumberland Smokehouse

Cumberland Smokehouse is at 5 Cumberland St., and when we visited Charleston in 2016, we went there on a Thursday hoping I could say I had dined on smoked ribs in a southern barbecue restaurant. We were sadly told by the proprietors that they served ribs only on Fridays and Saturdays.

So this year, we returned to the Smokehouse on a Saturday. When I asked for ribs, the server said she had to ask the manager if they could make it. Huh? I was perplexed. Fortunately, she came back and said they could, and they did. Ah, but that's the end of the good part of the story.

The bad part is that I've had better ribs -- much better, in fact -- slow-cooked on a large mobile barbecue at summer church fundraisers that a Garfield Park neighborhood church in Indianapolis hosts near where I live. Those are the ribs at Cumberland Smokehouse above right (it was at least one phone photo that did not turn out sharp). Lee Ann isn't a big barbecue fan, but she sampled the pulled pork with sides of baked beans and potato salad. She did not like her meal, either.

North Myrtle Beach, S.C. 
Eggs Up Grill

I start with the Eggs Up Grill at 4018 U.S. 17 South because it was the surprise "find" of our East Coast trip.

Lee Ann was eagerly hunting for a local place to get good coffee (I think she was hoping to find the local version of Leigh Ann's Cafe that we came upon while in the Keys at Marathon, Fla., in January), and while skimming the reviews websites, she saw strong positive comments for Eggs Up Grill. So ... off we went.

For meals, we both ordered breakfasts of scrambled eggs (Lee Ann had bacon, I went with sausage links), and American potatoes (pictured side by side below). We both loved our meals -- thought they were delicious, in fact -- and the coffee equally good and hot. I also had a side Belgium waffle (big photo below) that I shared with Lee Ann, and it was tender -- just the way I like it.

The North Myrtle Beach Eggs Up Grill had been open only about a year or so when we went there, but it seemed to fetch a lot of patrons, based on reviews we read. Oddly, though, we got there either right before or right after lunch-hour rush (I can't remember now), because there weren't many people (see two photos below)

One thing Eggs Up Grill is on the ball about is merchandising. In a corner of the restaurant, it had an area set aside to sell coffee mugs, caps, shirts and the like emblazoned with its logo, such as the coffee mug above, or shirts with catchy phrases and cute illustrations shown in the racks below.

Hoskins Restaurant

Always on the lookout for good fried chicken, we stopped at Hoskins, 405 Main St., on the second day in North Myrtle Beach precisely because of its strong reputation for that entree. And the reputation, I'm happy to report, is well-deserved. I give Paula Deen's chicken the nod for tops in friend chicken pm our trip, but Hoskins was pretty good, too.

We had a modest wait outside the restaurant before we were seated, but we weren't very far back from the door when we arrived, so we stuck around. And I'm glad we did. Lee Ann ordered black-eyed peas with her meal (above left), and I went with corn and brown rice (above right). Both were delicious. A small portion of the seating area is shown in the photo below.

Joe's Bar and Grill

When we asked the concierge at our hotel in North Myrtle Beach for recommendations on places to dine, Joe's Bar and Grill, 810 Conway St., was the first one he mentioned, perhaps because of its proximity to the hotel. It was within walking distance, in fact. It is situated in a kind of triangle of eating establishments named for "Joe" (no idea if there really is a Joe and/or if it's the same guy). The two others are Joe's Hamburger's (presumably exactly what you'd expect) and Native Joe's Scoop and Grind, a coffee and ice-cream place with limited of hours of operation. We were hesitant to explore the other Joe establishments after our experience at the Bar and Grill, unfortunately.

The first disappointment about Joe's Bar and Grill was that the "bar" part of the place offers no draught beer. How is that even possible in this day and age? Our server saw my disappointment when he informed me of that after I asked him what local craft beers were on tap. He recommended a canned version of a craft beer called Duke's Pale Ale, which he said was brewed in neighboring North Carolina (referring to the Oskar Blues Brewery in Bevard, N.C.). I took his recommendation, and I would thank him for it later. I enjoyed the brew (pictured above right).

I would learn much later that technically, Oskar Blues originated in Longmont, Colo., and later opened satellite breweries in Brevard and as well as in Austin, Texas. But I'm still on the fence about whether I would call it a North Carolina (or in this case, a "local") beer. But I digress (again). Lee Ann sampled one of the bar's flavored martinis (above left), and when I asked her recently whether she remembered liking it, she responded, "I can't remember liking anything there," adding, jokingly, "It had alcohol in it, and that was the important thing."

For our entrees, I gambled on the prime rib (above left), and Lee Ann opted for a dish the menu called Filet Neptume, which are filet-quality medallions topped with crabmeat, shrimp, scallops and a bernaise sauce. I probably should have had my prime rib cooked longer than I did, but I'm not sure even that would have helped (I ordered it medium). It was too chewy and not flavorful. In my disappointment, I found myself reminiscing about the splendid smoked prime rib I thoroughly enjoyed at Sunset Bar and Grille in Marathon, Fla., in January.

Both of our meals were served with red potatoes and green beans, the latter in a sauce that neither of us recognized or care for -- it had a strange, tart vinaigrette tang to it. Unfortunately, the sauce bled into the potatoes and meat, tainting those, too. Lee Ann did not even like her filet medallions, but she let me sample one, and I thought it was exquisite and velvety tender. The salads, the medallions and my beer were the only things I enjoyed from the meal.

Lee Ann was even put off by the decor, a curious mix of wild-game wall mounts and framed (and somewhat campy) illustrations or quips with outdoorsy themes (see photo below) that she described as "hideous," although it didn't bother me.

Cheeseburger in Paradise

OK, you might be wondering, "Why did you bother to stop at a franchised place?" Well, we were driving back from making a couple stops in Myrtle Beach (the original tourist trap), and got the munchies but didn't want to do a full dinner. When we approached this place, we remembered (from visiting the Cheeseburger in Paradise in Indianapolis) it had an extensive appetizers menu, so ... that's why.

We arrived with only about an hour left before it would close, there weren't too many people in the place, and our server was in a very accommodating mood. She told us that she was newly hired and in training, so I'm sure that's why she was trying to make sure our visit was pleasant.

We explained that we wanted to eat light(ly), and when we asked if we could get two appetizers -- one, the loaded potato chips, and for the other, we wanted a variation of the Smuggler's Platter, which normally is a combination of four sliders (small burgers) and Frickles (fried pickle chips). But I wanted some wings, too, so we asked if we could improvise. I don't remember now if I just asked to add two jumbo wings with teriyaki sauce onto the platter, or asked if we could swap in two wings and maybe even some of the pickles, if necessary, in exchange for two sliders. Whatever we bartered for, she checked with her manager, and they said we had a deal. The platter plate is the first photo below, the chips are below that. The chips were loaded with cheese, bacon, tomatoes, green onions and sour cream.

The portions were larger than I had imagined they would be. I finished the wings, and we each had a slider. But there were plenty of pickles and chips left over.

Cary, N.C.
First Watch

Between the stops in Savannah/Charleston and North Myrtle Beach, we drove to Cary, N.C. (near Raleigh) to visit with family. In Cary, we came across a newly opened breakfast/lunch restaurant that emphasizes farm-to-table foods. It's called First Watch, and we learned when we got home to Indianapolis, that this growing chain recently opened two First Watch eateries in the Indianapolis area -- one in Carmel, the other on 86th Street across Keystone at the Crossing.

The one in Cary is at 1325 Bradford View Drive, Suite 110 (it's across from Freddy's Frozen Custard and Steakburgers on High House Road, for those of you who live down there.

Pictured below are our meals -- I went with the Tri-fecta Classic breakfast -- a Belgium waffle with scrambled eggs and bacon (everything delicious!), depicted in the first photo below. Lee Ann chose the Classic Traditional breakfast -- scrambled eggs, bacon and American fried potatoes (second photo below). She also loved it. I had a glass of orange juice to go with our coffees, and the beverages were equally delicious.

Since returning home, we have visited the First Watch on 86th Street, and found it equally wonderful. We reprised our orders, so there's nothing new to report. Next time, though, I think I'll try the Eggs Benedict.

Previous posts in this series:

Part I: Savannah's Forsyth Square

Part II: Savannah's old-city neighborhoods 

Part III: Savannah's Riverwalk

Part IV: Savannah's Bonaventure Cemetery

Part V: Tybee Island, Ga.

Part VI: Revisiting Charleston, SC, and its charms

Part VII: Nature's splendor can be found at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens in Charleston

Part VIII: Magnolia Plantation and Gardens' swamp preserve a photographer's delight

Part IX: North Myrtle Beach: Chills along the water

Part X: Heritage Shore Nature Preserve in North Myrtle Beach a compact, quick visit