9 am and it’s sweltering. Windows in shops and cafes are dripping with condensation. We sit down on diner stools at a great little place for breakfast, Dixie Grill, and my first thought is I will never, could never live in the south. Usually every great town or city we visit has me looking at houses, and Wilmington is historic and downright adorable. You can buy a most amazing Victorian for less than $300,000. I thought I liked heat, and I certainly prefer it to the alternative of an arctic Ottawa winter, but there has to be a happy medium…Vancouver. I digress.
Dixie Grill is charming and small-town comfy. Staff is young and friendly. Coffee and OJ is ordered and we both choose the corned beef hash which comes with a choice of toast and 2 eggs how you like ‘em. The brisket is made in house and fried up with nice roasty potatoes, peppers, onions and covered with provolone cheese made all melty good by the hot fried eggs. Portion is good but not “I need a nap now” size. Very satisfying breaky before hitting the road to Norfolk, a four and a half hour drive including a slight detour for lunch.
On our drive we are accompanied by The Smartest Man in the World, Greg Proops. We have a number of his “Proopcasts” on board and the miles fly by. Most of the drive is on a country two-laner, a pleasant drive by tidy little bungalows, trailers, churches, horses, tobacco fields, churches, shacks of people living in extreme poverty, cotton crops, churches, country stores, auto shops, churches and a vineyard.
Precisely at noon and about 30 seconds before the rush, we pull into Ayden, North Carolina for a BBQ lunch at Skylight Inn which is not an inn curiously.
North Carolina BBQ is about all about the pork. Skylight serves chopped whole hog with a little hot sauce and vinegar added while the meat is chopped.
You get a nice mix of dark and light meat and pieces of crispy skin. Pretty much to die for. Not much to look at.
Comes piled high in a little paper tray. You can add more vinegar, hot sauce or a vinegary black pepper sauce at the table. For $6.50 you get a medium tray, a big slab of really excellent cornbread made in a cast iron pan basted with pork fat and a serving of green, mushy coleslaw a la KFC, my favourite kind (another dirty little secret).
Skylight is friendly, despite all the bossy signage. Orders after 6:45 must be TAKEN OUT. Chicken THURSDAY and FRIDAY only. NO CELL PHONES AT THE COUNTER.
Another satisfying meal and first BBQ joint I’ve been to where you can get a normal portion size. As we climb back into Moby, an American fellow asks us to roll down a window so he can tell us how much he loves our car. To each his own. He ain’t drivin’ this whale 1000 miles and paying for gas. Norfolk, Virginia, next stop.
We are staying down by the Naval museum, downtown Norfolk. The battleship parked nearby is formidable but oddly beautiful. Tonight we will dine at Todd Jurich, classier joint than we have been frequenting. The menu looks amazing. 7 pm reservations. We walk three blocks to the restaurant on the shady side of the street as the heat almost laughably, has not abated. Todd’s is a nicely appointed place with business men finishing up and couples arriving although on this Tuesday, the restaurant is not overly busy. We are seated at a nice table and order sparkling water and a really excellent dirty (downright sludgy) gin martini for the man. I’m saving room for the most excellent bottle of Napa Caymus Special Selection Cabernet.
We need more time to peruse the menu which has way to many appealing selections. Finally we choose the bread, which Todd’s charges $5 for, which I don’t mind if it is really good. I do not understand who started the free bread or free anything craze. One way or another, you are paying for it, so let me pay and make it a quality item. For apps we both really want a salad after so much heavy southern food. Rob opts for the very excellent Caesar and I choose the beet salad, which should be called a spinach salad with beet garnish and the now tired fried goat cheese. Todd’s beet salad was chunks and slivers of some very delicious red and golden beets playing hide and seek in a mountain of lightly dressed baby spinach. The goat cheese was bland and absent that very desired tang.
Back to the bread: A dish of sweet butter with sea salt arrived with a basket of very nice baguette, a slice of fruit and nut bread, very cakey with grapes and almonds, delicious, and a popover which I found tasted of stale grease.
Our mains arrive, on room temp plates and my food is lukewarm. As we lingered over our salads, I suspect food in slow kitchen came out way too fast and sat a bit. Management problem in the kitchen. Rob’s Rib eye and reduction was excellent as were his duck fat fries which arrived a few minutes later as I suspect they were not dropped until our apps were cleared.
My Carne Asada was a very nice medium rare steak with a mild garlic flavour but certainly did not taste of the spice, lime and chill a good asada promises. The mash was typical but not hot enough, the fire onion was a nicely charred quarter of a sweet onion.
We decide we cannot leave the south with out a piece of pecan pie so we opt to split their dessert with cappuccinos. The pie is typical of any mass produced tartlet in any city. Not particularly memorable. I expect my pecan pie to be loose and gooey…a layer of pecans over a great butter tart on a well made flakey, buttery crust. This was not it. We’re going on record here — pie is pie and a tart is a tart. If a menu says pie, serve a slice of pie.
All in all, dinner at Todd Jurich was fine but not memorable, except for a most excellent cab sauv and good company.