Category Archives: Road Trip

From one of our many road adventures.

Palm to Pine Highway and Some Vietnamese-ish

After a luxurious sleep in, I roll over and read a few chapters while Rob takes a bidness call, we hop in the KIA and head up to Palm Desert and the Palm to Pine Highway. This winding roadway will take us up three thousand feet past spectacular views of the Coachella Valley at our feet. Further on there will be views of the snowy peaks of San Jacinto and Santa Rosa, and beyond that, lunch awaits at the Paradise Valley Cafe.

IMG_4204Palm to Pines highway is a well maintained, slightly harrowing climb through mountain passes with spectacular views. Don’t look Rob, just drive! We pull into a few turnoffs (which allow faster traffic to pass) to take photos before we come to the main vista point overlooking Coachella.

IMG_4197The views of the Coachella Valley from this vantage are spectacular, marred only by douchebag cretins who think nothing of tossing their trash over the barrier and in the parking areas.  The view of the Valley below and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountains is a symphony of pastels beginning with the azure blue of the clear sky, the pinks, buffs, greys, apricot, rust and mocha of the rocky peaks to the green sage dotting the rock faces and crevices in a bid for a foothold. Teddy bear cholla cactus, agave, century plant and octillo make their home below the 3000 foot elevation. These plants become more sparse, giving way to pinion pines at the higher elevations, where we get the best views of St. Jacinto and Santa Rosa. We left the towering, stately, royal palms at the base of our climb.

IMG_4206After an hour drive to conquer 24 miles of twisting, rising roads, we come upon the Paradise Valley Cafe.

IMG_4509They are only serving lunch by 11:30 which is fine. They are known for their burgers and Rob orders The Harley Davidson,  with a whole green chili and cheese. It was a great, homemade angus burger with fresh toppings. Definitely fit the burger jones he was feeling.

FullSizeRender-2I went with the chicken burrito, spying spumoni ice cream on the menu…maybe later. The burrito comes out the size of a football. It is stuffed with rice, chicken and refried beans, smothered in cheese and enchilada sauce, accompanied by both red and green salsas, each of which have quite a bit of heat.

IMG_4512While excellent, I am not playing hockey 9 times a week anymore. It is a struggle to finish half. No spumoni for me. Although we did not indulge, Paradise has quite an interesting beer menu.

IMG_4510No one however, not even passengers , should be drinking beer and then hitting the Palms to Pines. More caffeine, please!

Back at the Ace for a little photo work and cocktails! Three Desert Facials (vodka, pineapple, cucumber, and mint) in and I decide it is a good time to play some ping pong. Best of three! I won’t say who won…ok I won but it was uncomfortably close. The man has a wicked back spin.

This evening we are headed a short drive from our hotel to dine at  Rooster and The Pig, a contemporary vision of Vietnamese cuisine. Not much to look outside and nestled into a small strip mall, there is a small crowd waiting for seats. We get on the list and are seated within minutes. By 6:45 there is a large crowd waiting. The house front staff, wait staff and from what I can see of the kitchen staff, are not Vietnamese. The resto is sparsely decorated with small mementos from Vietnam and a few favorite cookbooks. Clearly this is a labour of love of Vietnamese food.

The house is full of 40 and 50 year old diners with the exception of two twenty somethings beside us. In Vancouver this place would have a younger vibe, but Palm Springs is an old town and this crowd is “young”.

Our server brings us a amuse bouche of a spicy rice porridge, speckled with a little shredded chicken, scallion and roasted garlic. A delicious way to quick up your appetite for more spicy food. This kitchen as we found, was not afraid of garlic and chilies!

FullSizeRender-11

The menu is not very large and that in itself is different than most Vietnamese places. There are starters, mains to be shared and “autumn rolls” which are the same as summer rolls, delicious things wrapped in rice paper and dunked in noc cham. The Rooster and Pig offers a number of fillings in their rolls, all of which are inspiring and unique. We chose one with lemongrass pork, date, cucumber, carrot and daikon glass noodle. Fresh and delicious. Other rolls came with wood ear and green papaya and I wish I could have sampled them all.

FullSizeRender-7

Next up we tried the charred brussel sprouts, an unusual ingredient on a Vietnamese menu. Sauteed in tons of fresh garlic and fish sauce and tossed with thin slices of a pepperoni like Asian sausage, they were a standout.

FullSizeRender-5

Mains took a really long time to come out but as we were in no hurry, it was nice to have a little down time to digest our starters. We ordered three mains to share which was a bit ambitious now that I think of it.

First up was a crispy beef and noodle. The thin egg noodles were very well dressed with scallions, onion and soy, and tossed with delicious morsels of crisp fried beef. The perfect noodle dish. Full on umami.

FullSizeRender-9

The shrimp poppers were well thought out menu item but missed the mark somehow. Delicate cups of a well made bean custard and pieces of shrimp are folded into lettuce leaves with a little red cabbage and noc cham. The noc cham overpowered the delicate custard. Maybe a little citrusy sauce would have been more complimentary.

FullSizeRender-10

Our third main was a more classic dish of spicy garlic shrimp and green beans bok choy, onions and chanterelles in a very spicy chili sauce. The shrimp were perfectly cooked but overpowered again by the chili sauce. The green beans however, were the star of this dish and really stood up nice to the chilis.

FullSizeRender-8

Rooster and the Pig is an inspired take on Vietnamese cuisine, incorporating classic dishes with new and fresh ingredients. I could return there daily for the sprouts, autumn rolls and the crispy beef noodles.

 

 

 

 

Joshua Tree, Jaliscan and Italian

Today we decided to let the wind take us. We doodled around the main drag checking out little shops and were frankly kinda bored. So we hoped in the car and headed to 29 Palms. Mostly so Rob could take a photo for some ex-band mates, referencing the Robert Plant song. The drive is very picturesque and enjoyable. The mountains, as all mountains are, are mesmerizing. We pass wind farms and desert scrub while our front vista is the gorgeous Sierra Nevadas. As we ride higher in elevation and the scene changes little, but the mountains envelope you.

On the return from 29 Palms, which aside from the pretty desert drive is nothing to right home about, we decided to check out Joushua Tree National Park. $20 gets you a 7 day pass. The road into the park leads us past humble desert abodes and a few upscale but not over the top, colourful homes built into the landscape. The builders seem to know what they have and use it to the best of their means.

Joshua is a pristine National Park at the center of two deserts, the Mohave and the Colorado. It is a chilly 58 degrees once you leave the valley. The only trees above the scrub are the pointy, prickly poodle tufts of the Joshua. They dot the landscape and oversee the lesser vegetation and small cacti.

IMG_4160

IMG_4181

 

It is January and the desert is awaiting its spring burst to life, but there is plenty to see.  Deserts, despite their name, are teeming with life, insects, birds wheeling overhead, small and medium sized mammals and lizards and reptiles skittering across roadways and under bushes. The stone hills, the only relief taller than the Joshuas,  look carefully stacked and like they could tumble at any moment, but in reality they have been formed by millions of years of volcanic activity and weathered by wind and water.

IMG_4185On the return trip we intend to check out a little BBQ place we saw on the way in, but alas it is closed until Super Bowl Sunday. Decision made. Tacos at the scrabbled together Jaliscan Mexican joint attached to the Jaliscan tire mart.

IMG_0422

They don’t speak English and we muddle through ordering. How can you go wrong? You can’t really. One look and you know it is authentic Mexican and you will leave with happy mouth.

FullSizeRender

We ordered up 3 kinds of soft tacos, pork carnitas, al pastor and carne asada with two Modela beers.  The tacos, $1.50 each, came on two 3 inch soft, corn tacos with a little raw, sweet onion and a choice of red or green salsa. Total for 6 tacos and two beers, $13.30. Perfect.

Back at the inn we chill around the pool as the sun sinks behind Mount St. Jacinto, with icy drinks and catch up on the day. Tonight we we will walk across the street to dine at Appetito, for some light Italian fare.

It is a short, pleasant walk to Appetito in the chill desert evening air. The place is half full on this Tuesday evening and we grab what ever table we want. We order a nice bottle of chianti and consider the menu.

FullSizeRender-5

Clam linguine for me and spaghetti with Sunday sauce for the man. The linguine was classic, garlic and white wine with perfectly cooked pasta.

12648096_10153760732170469_1719428944_n

Rob’s Sunday sauce was a nice sweet tomato and the pork sausage was tight with  sweet Italian spices and a lot of fennel. We were offered regular or large portions which was really appreciated.

FullSizeRender-4

The regular size was perfect and allowed us a little room to share a dessert of Kahlua bread pudding.  Cappuccinos arrive (average) and a piece of excellent, caramelly coffee bread pudding that could easily feed six.

FullSizeRender-2

While very good, I am not sure of the point of this. It was far to large a portion for two of us let alone the single it was intended for.

Back to the hotel for a little reading and a little research for what to do tomorrow.

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 storied 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.

Oakland 003

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 008

ToSavannah 006

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.

SavannahD3b 009

SavannahD3c 019

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!

HHeadD2 014

HHead 008

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.

HHeadCharles 013

Charleston 012

Charleston 008

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?

Wilm-Norfolk 009

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

Norfolk-DC 001

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.

Norfolk-DC 008

DC 008

DC 009

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.

Norfolk-DC 002

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.

Norfolk-DC 001

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.

Norfolk-DC 003

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.

Norfolk-DC 004

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

Norfolk-DC 005

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

Norfolk-DC 006

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.

Norfolk-DC 007

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.

Ship

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.

Norfolk-DC 008

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.

Norfolk-DC 009

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.

Norfolk-DC 010

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.