Road trip! Wildfire BBQ in Perth

Despite being a chilly, cloudy day, the ever changing fall colour palette of buff to amethyst and everything in between makes a drive through rural Eastern Ontario a feast for the eyes. The native sumacs are at their fiery peak. Honey locusts glow golden and look as if they could light the way at night. Fall is quick upon us and Wildfire BBQ and Smokehouse in Perth will only be open until Thanksgiving (Canadian, the real one).

Wildfire 1With Josie packed into the back of the car, we head out on our hour trek to find out if the Wildfire is the real deal Southern Q we have been searching for in the Great White North.

Perth itself is worth the drive. A charming, quaint town on the Tay River, it offers a few eateries and pretty main street shopping. BBQ is just a bonus.

Wildfire 16We pull up to a tidy red trailer, attached to another out building.  The patio dining area is fenced with rustic cedar rails and features picnic tables and an oversize Adirondack chair you could photograph a family of five in.

Wildfire 4Parking is in the rear, as is the smoker and piles of split hickory and cherry wood.

Wildfire 7We head around front where a biking couple is just finishing up. Other than that, we are the only other diners. We order up brisket and ribs which come with four sides. They allow Josie to eat on the patio, so I know this is a classy joint.

Wildfire 5Food comes out in in plastic baskets and red and white checkered paper. Classic. Wildfire offers both metal and plastic cutlery which is appreciated. We tuck in.

A nuisance of wasps arrives but for some reason leaves after about three minutes. Wish I knew that secret.

The brisket is ‘wet”. We were not offered a choice of wet or dry (fat or lean) as you often are in Southern USA joints, but I would have ordered the wet anyways because it is the tastiest. Wildfire brisket does not disappoint. It is as delicious as it looks. Rich, deep, rosy smoke ring and beautiful dark bark. It is lightly sauced and a squirt of their own bbq sauce on the side makes for a more than decent brisket. Wildfire 10This is probably the best I have had since Kreuz Market in Texas, which I pine for weekly. Josie also enjoyed the brisket. Happy puppy mouth.

Wildfire 15Two sides come with the each meat order. My mac and cheese is underwhelming. Large, overcooked elbows of pasta swimming in a mild cheesy sauce. The maple cream corn is interesting. While tasty, it is very loose.

Rob’s ribs are fantastic as well. Wildfire is two for two on the meat. The pork ribs are meaty and smoky sweet. Again, the meat succulent with a beautiful, pink smoke ring, is perfectly smoked and sauced.

Wildfire 14Wildfire’s BBQ beans are also a standout. Navy and kidney beans are slow cooked medium sweet and smoky, Rob’s second side is coleslaw which is a decent homemade cabbage slaw but nothing out of the ordinary.Wildfire 12Wildfire certainty has done the South proud and done honour to the pig. A few things are missing but they are minor. Some pickle and white bread would be nice. The over cooked, ubiquitous corn on the cob of the South is happily absent.  Wildfire offers homemade sweet tea but does not offer unsweetened or half sweet so I passed.

Wildfire 6I look forward to trying some of Wildfire’s other menu items on a future road trip in true BBQ weather.

 

 

Road Trip 2014 Wrap-up

So another road trip is in the books.  This year’s was marked with genteel Southern towns and the heat. My goodness, the heat. All the places we visited declared their summer to be temperate with the heat really only coming on in the last couple weeks — OUR weeks. As usual, we didn’t stay in any one place to form an accurate impression of the place. We just formed impressions based on our short experience there. Here they are:

Atlanta happily traded in their part in Southern history for urban sprawl and crazy traffic. We got a sense of the tremendously stories history from our visit to Oakland Cemetery — a cemetery different than any other we had been to or heard of. It’s a gathering place, a place to celebrate and a place to soak in the beautiful gardens. Our most memorable meal was at Daddy D’z BBQ, festooned with spray paint art and great messy ‘cue. Another amazing thing was picking up a peach at a roadside stand in Geogia. Such peachiness. Much juicy.

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Savannah, GA was the most picturesque stop on our road trip. Each of its 24 downtown squares were showcases for Southern charm. It’s historic houses were pristine and it was a joy to walk through it’s downtown, despite the heat. One of our favourite meals there was at Vic’s on the River. A mix of elegant and old school, we’re still talking about it.

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Hilton Head, SC was the odd one out for this trip. It was a pure beach-sun-and-fun stop and we embraced it. We originally wanted to soak up some of the Gullah history but it’s really only alive in the stories of those who grew up there before the island opened up as a resort area. This happened in the 80s and beyond, so everything had that kind of corporate-ish feel, but once you got beyond the bad architecture, the places were great. We loved the Low Country Backyard restaurant so much we went there twice!

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Charleston, SC was another beautiful, genteel Southern city like Savannah. It was a holiday weekend and was quite crowded when we were there and its was crazy hot, but the town’s charm still shone through. We loved dinner at the Craftsmen Tap Room and Kitchen, and the Tomato Pie at the Dixie Supply Bakery and revisited our affection for Cheerwine, the Carolinas’ own softdrink.

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Wilmington, NC really didn’t see us for long. We had a nice breakfast the morning we left but the real highlight of the day was whole hog BBQ at the Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC. They had chopped whole hog on a bun, or on a paper plate, cole slaw and cornbread and that was it. When you’ve reached perfection, do you really need anything else on the menu?

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Norfolk, VA was another quick in-and-out stop on the road trip. We had a fun breakfast at Doumar’s, on of the oldest drive-in restaurants in the US, then it was on to Washington via the Virgina Byway.

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Washington, DC saw us in traditional decompression mode as the last stop in our road trip. There was, of course, lots to see and do in DC, but not the energy to blog it every day. Highlights included seeing the DC landmarks and taking a side trip to Jefferson’s Monticello.

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Here are our “Trippys” for this journey:

Best meals:
Dinner: Vic’s on the River in Savannah, GA
Best Lunch: Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC for whole hog BBQ
Best Breakfast: Ria’s Bluebird in Atlanta

Nicest Drive:
Virginia Byway from Charlottesville to DC

Gotta-go-back-to:
Charleston & Savannah when it’s not so hot.

Food Discovery: Last road trip we discovered Bourbon. This one had a serendipitous drop-in to the Savannah Honey Company that had a lasting impression. We had already been deeply impressed by this article in Afar magazine, about how single-source honey is a perfect reflection of the land of which it comes. And tasting the various single-source honeys fills your head with pictures of where the honey comes from. We’ll definitely follow this revelation up with a honey tasting of some sort.

Parting thought: America wears its history on its sleeve. Every location and story is celebrated. We need to do more to connect Canadians, especially Ottawans to their local and very rich history.

Doumars, Monticello and on to DC

Final leg of our epic Road Trip 2014. On to Washington D.C. Breakfast will be at Doumar’s, another triple D joint established in 1904 and noted for having the world’s oldest ice cream cone making machine.

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It’s a drive-in but we go inside because it really doesn’t look like anyone is gonna come out.We sit and order at the counter.

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Doumar’s is great just to sit and look at how old everything is. They are famous for limeades so we order up two. Limeades, syrup, soda and lime, are made by hand but feature limes I would have already chucked out. Still the drink is refreshing and not overly sweet.

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I’m getting an egg and fried ham sammy and Rob wants to try their split dog on a hamburger bun and their pulled pork sandwich, because we are staring at four pork shoulders, spit roasting. Prices are super cheap, $2.80 was the most expensive sandwich we ordered. My sandwich is decent, egg, processed ham and cheese on a nice, soft hamburger bun, a tick up on an Egg McMuffin.

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Rob’s red dye number 4 hot dog and is red. It’s redness is very…red.

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And the pulled pork is okay but livened up with Doumar’s own hot sauce into being more than passable.

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All in all, I would not go out of my way to eat at Doumar’s but seeing the ancient diner was worthwhile one time.

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We officially hit the road for DC via Charlottesville to visit Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s estate. This is a revisit for me. I last visited 35 years previously on a class trip when I was 17.

Leaving Norfolk we snap some pics of a battleship parked eternally at the naval museum. We pass through a relatively industrial area then drift by some lovely Victorians and hit the highway proper.

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Jefferson’s Monticello is 2 and a 1/2 hours away. I am excited to revisit because when I was last there I was fascinated with Jefferson’s vegetable garden, forsaking everything else about the place. When we arrive there is a massive visitor center, museum and gift shop. I remember none of this. I ask about it and am told it was built 7 years ago. Phew.

We hike up to the tour bus stop and get on a bus to the house. We are early for the tour so we do a self guided tour around the grounds.

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The cook’s quarters and kitchen are on view here as are the fish pond, the rear gardens, a most spectacular view over Virginia and of course the amazing vegetable gardens that Jefferson considered his lab. His garden makes me itch to get my fingers dirty. It is a work of art.

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Jefferson’s grave and family plot (still active) are a half mile trek from the gardens. We head down and spend a bit of time gazing through the wrought iron fence. Lots of Randolphs buried there. Jefferson’s mother was a Randolph. We spy at least one Confederate soldier’s grave as well. Jefferson has a large obelisk monument at one end. In behind it are 4 very old, tiny markers I can only assume are his 4 children that did not live to adulthood but I can’t get any info on that. When we return from the grave site we realize we missed our house tour. No matter, we saw what we came for.

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On to DC.

We take Virginia Byway 29, the scenic route past pristine horse farms, North Virginia wine country, bright yellow fields of goldenrod and hazy mountains rising up out of the horizon. At one point we see a bald eagle soaring then diving to the asphalt to dine on some poor unfortunate squirrel. A fine and pleasant day drive.

I am looking forward to this trip to DC, the final stop on our road trip. I last visited when I was 17 with my American History class. The world was a different place. Regan had not been shot and the 9/11 hijackers had not been born. I have vivid memories of visiting the beautiful capitol building with minimal security. We toured the Pentagon and snapped pictures with our Kodak Instamatics. A classmate and I blew off the tour of the White House (you just lined up in those days, no passport required, no letter from your congressman or embassy, no appointment, no paperwork) because the line was too long. Instead we walked down the side of the White House, outside the fence. There are side gates back there and they were opening. We stopped curbside to allow two DC mounted police and a single black limousine to pass within 2 and a half feet of us. The back window of the sedan was rolled down. Inside sat then President Jimmy Carter and Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat. They both waved at us schoolgirls. Different times. Very different times.

 

Wilmington to Norfolk

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mr. Fish & Points North

We start our trek north today, intending to stop at Mr. Fish in Myrtle Beach for lunch. We had a wonderful meal there 4 years ago at the end of a road trip. We do know that the business has become very successful and has expanded considerably. I hope the food is still good.

After a pleasant mostly rural drive with plenty to look at, we pull into Myrtle Beach. The noon sun is blazing hot. The town is busy with last minute vacationers leaving or squeezing in the last bit of summer before returning to school and work.

Mr. Fish has become a veritable empire, with a fresh fish restaurant supply business and a new restaurant that has easily tripled in size and so has the parking lot, which is half full. We head in just having missed a rush. The new resto is nothing like before but the homey touches are still there with framed clippings about the place and children’s drawings on the wall. Ted Hammerman, Mr. Fish is there, seating people. He is always here, our waitress says.

We order something new, coconut mahi mahi bites and two favs from our last visit, shrimp and grits and a shrimp po’boy. Fresh, really well made hushpuppies and butter are plunked on the table. These are the most evil freebie and will spoil your meal. I had to force myself to stop eating them.

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The mahi mahi “bites” must be two whole fillets cut into halves, battered in an excellent coconut heavy batter and expertly fried. No scraps of fish or shredded fish formed into fingers here. Served with an orange marmalade horseradish sauce. Total yum.

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My shrimp and grits arrive, an overly generous potion (should have opted for the appy size). The grits are much as I remember them from 4 years ago, creamy with a rich low country sauce, but this time there is fresh diced tomato on top and large pieces of onion and well cooked sweet green bell pepper within that I do not recall but are an excellent addition.

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Rob’s sandwich had all the hallmarks of a great po’boy. Simple, with expertly fried shrimp, lettuce, tomato and a mayo-based tartar sauce on a soft, fresh bun. They were served with home-made, Old Bay spiced kettle chip and a great slaw which was a perfect foil to the rest.

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Mr. Fish’s was a great idea for lunch. While I’m happy for Ted’s obvious success, I do mourn a bit for the tiny place that was Mr. Fish’s four yeas ago when we sat and chatted with Ted and local’s reading the paper. Four years ago we were the only tourists eating lunch that day. Today, the place has retained it’s quality food but the atmosphere is all tourist. I think it is probably the only way to survive in the food business in Myrtle Beach.

 

Our search for authentic food experiences at home and around the world.