Tag Archives: corn bread

Gullah & More Backyard Eatin’

Gullah culture survived on Hilton Head from the end of the Civil War period to the 1960’s when it started to deteriorate. A bridge from the main land to this barrier island brought the outside in. Developers followed and Gullah peoples, who once owned 1/3 of the Island given to them by Union troops, now own less than 1000 acres.

Originating in West Africa, Gullah people were enslaved and brought to South Carolina by the British, where they were ideally suited to work the island’s rice, indigo, sugar cane and sea cotton crops as they had some immunity to the diseases that ravaged the area as well as knowledge about herbs and medicines to treat yellow fever and malaria. There are no grand plantation homes on Hilton Head as British plantation owners preferred to live in a less plagued environment.

Union troops descended during the Civil War. 1700 of them are buried on Hilton Head. Escaped slaves were considered property and spoils of war. Contrabands. They were paid to work, and children were educated, but they were not exactly freedmen until the emancipation proclamation issued by President Lincoln, January 1, 1863.

Hilton Head offers a tour of Gullah lands and culture. It was very disheartening to see how little of this rich culture survives. In our lifetime it has all but disappeared. Gullahs survived as a hunting, farming and fishing community for 100  years before modern development overtook them. Still, today, some of their language and food culture persists.

Our tour guide and driver Irvin is Gullah. We chose this particular tour because of him. Irvin, one of 13 kids and a Viet Nam veteran, is living history. He remembers when you could look from the coastal waters clear across to the Atlantic. When he is gone pretty much so will anyone who remembers the old ways. His family for the most part has held on to their Gullah lands. They own a good chunk of Spanish Wells. As he drove past golf cottages, manicured medians, retirement villas, he painted a vivid picture of his boyhood and what used to be there. There is nothing left to see but a few delightful homes his relatives own, their gardens and their kitschy yards filled with doodads and portraits of Jesus and the like. Offensive enough to newcomers that they were asked to please fence them in.

After we get back to the bus depot, the Basket Man, Micheal Smalls, is sitting in the shade weaving sweetgrass baskets.  “Sweetgrass is a fine bladed, sweet vanilla fragranced perennial grass that grows behind coastal sand dunes in moist soils.” says Wikipedia. Coils of dried sweetgrass are sewn together with palmetto threads. Beautifully crafted, the baskets are a much sought after Low Country art form. Basket Man says it takes him about three days to complete one piece. I had noticed the baskets in the gift shop before the tour left. I had to have one. It was a treat to get off of the bus and find the artist there.

After saying goodbye to Irvin, we head once again to the Low Country Backyard for a lateish lunch. We so enjoyed our dinner last evening we decided to hit it up again as their sammy menu was so appealing. So many items look great on this creative menu, available all day. We opt to order and split a Nancy’s Tomato Sandwich and a Shrimp Burger. We have a choice of two sides and go with Mom’s Macaroni Salad and Collards. Ice tea, half and half (half sweet, half unsweet for the win) for me and Diet Coke for the man. Moonshine is legal in South Carolina and the Low Country  Backyard has a good selection but we opt out as we would like to get to DC at some point.

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The tomato sandwich comes lightly toasted on excellent white bread. Made with perfect, ripe, juicy South Carolina tomatoes, mayo and iceberg lettuce, this is the perfect hot day lunch. The macaroni salad is unremarkable except for pieces of green olive which are quite nice.

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Collard greens are often overcooked or too greasy with pork fat. Backyard’s collards are the BEST EVER collards. Perfectly cooked, not over stewed, lightly sweet and sour. The Shrimp Burger will absolutely make you forget that beef burgers were ever a thing. A patty of chopped, seasoned shrimp served up in a soft, eggy bun topped with more of those South Carolina tomatoes, mayo, lettuce and butter pickle, this is a world class sammy.

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The pickles are homemade and remarkable in that they are the perfect balance of salty and sweet. They come on the side but Rob slipped them onto the burger.

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Lunch is a nice size, leaving room to share the home made Banana Pudding we regretfully skipped last evening. Sweet, creamy pudding with chunks of just ripe banana on a shortbread cookie base and a dollop of lightly sweet whipped cream. Perfect. Now a swim and some afternoon sun.

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I wanna go back for dinner, but they will think I’m a stalker.

As it turns out it is a lovely evening to sit pool/oceanside and The Porch restaurant in the hotel, independently operated, has decent food. We order a pitcher of peach sangria made with peachshine and cava and fruit purees. Icy cold and perfect for watching the sun set. We order a few apps to chill with before deciding on dinner.

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The house made pickle is creative and spicy with chilies. The pickle has a varied veg mix, including cauliflower, chiogga beet, asparagus, grape, carrots and a pepper.

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The hot out of the oven, served in a well seasoned cast iron pan, corn bread was perfectly sweet and the spicy pimiento cheese was a nice foil.

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Since we ate leisurely watching the sun and sea, we were not overly hungry so we ordered the half rack of ribs. Slowed cooked for 8 hours, they were very decent BBQ. Came with a spicy and a sweet bbq sauce as well as a honey mustard. The bourbon beans had neither bourbon nor were they home made, Libby’s I suspect but none-the-less tasty, as I prefer a sweeter bean. Coleslaw was decent and the soft, hot rolls were excellent.

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Tomorrow we start our trek north to Charleston.

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Road Trip 2014: Atlanta

Day one of an epic road trip to Washington DC, begins in Atlanta, Georgia. We have a 9 AM flight to Toronto and then on to Atlanta. Quite civilized. After many teary goodbyes to my furbabies, some kitty disdain and big brown eyes and a licorice nose in a cocked head staring plaintively as we turned the key in the door, we are off. Road trip 2014, The Chicken and Waffles and Civil War Tour, is officially under way.

We arrive in Atlanta on schedule. 90 degrees at 1:00. It takes one hour from touchdown to sitting in a rental. That’s without having to go through customs as we cleared in Toronto. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson Airport is massive. I normally would not notice so much but ya do with a bum knee.

NOTE to Avis: A seven seat Explorer is not in the same class as an Escape. This is the second time we have rented an Escape and been switched out for a behemoth. Gas costs will be through the roof. Oh well, c’est la vie. Won’t get caught on that again.

3:00 has us settled into the Hotel W, one of the nicer W’s we have stayed at. A little unpacking and it is time to hit the hotel bar for a cocktail. The W has a little bar on the 16th floor with a nice view of some of the city. Attached to the pool, the bar is noisy with a DJ. We have a cocktail and peruse dinner possibilities. There are endless possibilities in Atlanta.

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Tonight we chose Aunt Pittypat’s Porch based on my love for Gone With The Wind and because Pittypat’s made Thrillist’s list of best fried chicken in Atlanta. We walked the several blocks in a still hot sun, blistering and unforgiving even at 6pm. Opting out of the porch to dine due to the oppressive heat, we head inside. Greeted by friendly staff and live piano music tinkling such classics as This Diamond Ring, we head downstairs. Pittypat’s keeps the Gone with the Wind theme in check. Aside from some themed menu items and a life sized Scarlett, the dining room is all old South charm and grime. A large brick fireplace graces one end, pheasant wallpaper and china racks decorate walls, tables are dark wood, a bit of faux paneling and basement chic round out the room.

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Our server arrives with the bread course, a delicious sweet potato chocolate muffin, a decent wedge of cornbread and a passable biscuit. We order cocktails, a mint julep for me and watermelon punch for Rob. Both are somewhat disappointing, the julep watery and the punch outrageously sweet and in no way resembling watermelon.

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For starters we decide to share Pittypat’s Fried Green Tomatoes. The order is surprisingly sparse, just three well made slices and an excellent, spicy remoulade dip.

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For mains we both order the famous fried chicken. All mains come with their famous sideboard, read salad bar. The bar has cold items only, featuring a rather pathetic green salad selection but offering a really nice Hoppin’ John (rice and black eyed peas, spicy with jalepeno), pickled water melon rind, sweeter than a classic bread and butter pickle, with a nice texture, and one of the best cold macaroni salads I’ve had.

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The chicken arrives.  3 LARGE pieces, hot, steamy, moist, crisp. Perfectly fried and not greasy. Ah the south. They do know how to fry food. An ice cream scoop of mashed spuds covered in the whitest yet very tasty gravy I’ve seen completes the plate and collard greens and black eyed peas come separately. Both sides are excellent. The collards are sweet and sour, and the peas are stewed with a little onion and tomato, naturally a little sweet and lightly smoky.

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Once again we forgot about portion sizes in the United States, particularly the South. I hate to waste food. We have a huge breast, thigh, and leg boxed up. We have no fridge. I offer it to our cab driver and tell him if he doesn’t want it maybe he knows of a person who may. He is happy to take it.

 

 

The South Rises!

I love the Southern USA. In the west, the desert is gorgeous and the food has a spicy, Mexican inspired kick. But when people talk about Southern food, they’re talking about the South East — Louisiana, Mississipi, the Carolinas, Georgia, and on and on. Fried chicken, BBQ, gumbo, biscuits and gravy, catfish — all not that good for you, but all completely, utterly delicious.

Every year we do a monster road trip. We’ve done the South West, the US West coast, the South East and last year, along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to Chicago. Maureen doesn’t know this, but I picked the last route just to cover some of the same Southern ground we ‘ve done on previous trips because I pine for Southern food.

When we heard that Chris Lord, formerly of the Whalesbone Oyster House and, most recently, of Wellington Gastropub opened his new restaurant, UNION 613, on Somerset St. and it specialized in Southern-inspired dishes, we had to check for ourselves. Its location on Somerset Street has suffered from high turnover in recent years having been at least four different eateries in recent memory. We certainly hope that the latest tenant breaks the pattern. We loved tonight’s visit. The menu made good on the promise of a refined  (but only slightly) take on southern classics, most of which were represented in some form or another. Fried greed tomatoes, pimento cheese, muffuletas, fried chicken, mac salad, grits, biscuits and gravy, fried catfish, ribs and cornbread all made appearances.

After sipping on sazeracs and splitting an appetizer of fried green tomatoes, that came with a bibb salad with a peppery ranch dressing and pimento cheese, Maureen had the fried chicken (what they called “yard bird”) with a side of chile-lemon green beans and cheddar-roasted garlic grits. I had a pork chop with a peach BBQ  sauce, with a shrimp-boil macaroni salad, and we split a small cast-iron pan of hot cornbread with bourbon brown butter.

The appetizer was delicious enough to make me forget my documenting duties, so no pics here. Maureen’s chicken was crisp and well-seasoned and juicy on the inside. It was served with a vinegary hot sauce that complimented it well. Her green beans were bright from the lemon with a little spice. They were very good, but we both found the lemon a little over-assertive.

As for the grits — we LOVE grits, and we’ve written many times here that Canadians don’t “get” grits, mostly because they don’t have the opportunity to eat really-well-prepared grits. Union 613’s grits were tasty, cheesy and comforting, but they weren’t really grits, which come from coarsely ground and boiled hominy, blended with other delicious complementary flavours. The restaurant decided to eschew this course and served whole hominy, cooked with cheese and roasted garlic. It was comforting, and cheesy, but folks looking to find out what is so special about grits won’t find out here either.

My pork chop was juicy, perfectly cooked and the chunky, peach BBQ sauce was an excellent addition. My macaroni salad, cooked and spiced with shrimp boil seasoning was absolutely killer. It was the hit of the table. The cornbread was soft, fresh, rich and luscious.

Our table sampled all three of the desserts offered on the menu (there were four of us) and all were inventive and unique.

Now I have to determine how long a waiting period I need to suffer through before I don’t seem too desperate to go back. Maybe a day? Two? Union 613 absolutely satisfied my jones for good Southern food. Having it here in Ottawa makes it even more special. There’s something to be said for eating fried catfish purchased from a roadside shack right on the bayou, but there’s also something to be said for a taste of the South a 5-minute drive from home.

Fatboy’s Roars into O-town

When it rains it pours. Ottawa, after having existed in a BBQ vacuum for so long, now has a third joint gracing the real BBQ landscape and we have heard unconfirmed rumours of yet another joint to open on Bank. Fatboy’s Southern Smokehouse opened this week on the Byward Market. Rob and I headed down there last Satuday to check it out.


Fatboys Southern Smokehouse on Urbanspoon

The entrance is warm and beckoning and we were immediately greeted by friendly staff. The interior is brightly lit, bustling, charming and traditional with a warm faux wood floor, accented with a  brick wall painted nostalgia-style with the Fatboy’s logo, featuring pine planking and steel accents, red checkered tablecloths, comfy padded armless chairs, and a bright open kitchen showcasing a monster Southern Pride smoker that holds 750 pounds of meat. They have a smaller one elsewhere as well. The large bar area with stools and tables propped up on real Jack Daniels casks is cheery.

Flatties featuring sports abound. The opposite wall features a replica 1914 Harley Davidson. More Harley and Jack Daniels paraphernalia complete the decor. The bathrooms at the rear of the restaurant are marked by huge cans of Bud light and Budweiser. Fun, but the server has to explain to each customer which is which. Still, fun.

We are seated and I order Waupoos, which they don’t carry. They make up for this by having a small but decent beer menu including Rolling Rock and Shock Top. Fatboy’s also offers small pictures that hold two beers worth and saves you half a loonie. Rob and I both order a 1/2 rack each of St. Louis cut pork side ribs. We decide to share the Campfire Baked Beans, Kansas City Cornbites with Maple Butter, Tangy Coleslaw and Picnic Potato Salad. The menu features some other genuinely southern items like Fried Green Tomatoes  Warm Cinnamon Apples, Catfish and Memphis BBQ Spaghetti. These are all items I will definitely be back to try.

Fatboy’s serves the sauce on the side. Memphis Traditional. They offer 3: Memphis BBQ (Sweet, brown sugar, molasses) Hillbilly Heat (Memphis BBQ with a nice mild kick) and Memphis mustard (yellow mustard and brown sugar, non traditional). Hillbilly Heat was the clear winner at our table where we tend to like a sweet heat style of BBQ.

Our food arrives shortly. The ribs look amazing. We dig into those first. They have great hickory smoke flavour, a nice rosy smoke ring and a most excellent bark. The real deal. With the exception of the potato salad, the sides are good but not outstanding. The beans are sweet with chunks and bits of brisket with little or no heat. Very traditional. They just were not as sweet as I like them and seemed a bit bland. As per my rule regarding BBQ beans, if they are not excellent I don’t eat more than a spoonful or two. I did not eat them. The Tangy Coleslaw was simply not. It appeared to be completely undressed. I loved the cornbread but it was not Rob’s favorite. Fatboy’s cornbread is of the cakey sweet variety. I also love the coarser, lightly sweet cornbread. I’m happy either way. I was however hard pressed to find any maple flavour in the maple butter.

The Picnic Potato Salad was by far the best side we tried. And one of the better potato salads I’ve had anywhere. The potatoes are just slightly undercooked and the salad is lightly dressed with chunks of bell peppers. The highlight of the meal was the meat and I would go back in a heartbeat for the ribs and some hillbilly heat. The sides are fine but we would probably opt for different ones next time. A notable missing component of all the BBQ joints in Ottawa is crunch. There is no crunch on any of the plates. In the south you are often served a few slices of pickle and sometimes a slice of red onion on the side.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Our server let us know that the restaurant was still experimenting with the dessert menu. Today they offered a Southern apple dumpling. Rob and I shared the small portion which was good but it was only marginally better than a PC frozen apple blossom. To finish we had a shot of Jack Daniels Tennessee Honey. Awesome. Fatboy’s is one of the only places in town that carries it.

Ok. What you have all been asking. Which is better? Fatboy’s or SmoQue Shack? There is no better. They are both very different and both are welcome to fill us up with awesome BBQ. SmoQue Shack is a little more on the “boutique” side, offering a taste of world BBQ including Texas beef ribs and Jamaican jerk, with slightly more exotic ingredients gracing its sauces. Fatboy’s is down-home Southern: fried green tomatoes, catfish, and sweet heat on the side. Can’t wait for their patio to open! We look forward to visiting both for a long time to come.

Fatboy’s takes reservations. Buh-bye Baton Rouge. Ottawa knows better now.