Tag Archives: country ham

Plantation Cafe, the Angel Oak & Charleston

Hitting the road for Charleston today. It is a short drive but we are taking a 40 minute detour to see the Angel Oak. We are going to breakfast around the corner at the Plantation Cafe. Full up when we get there, we wait ten minutes and are seated inside. By 10 it is too hot to eat outside.

The cafe menu has plenty of southern classics and some creative breakfast choices. I’m brought a really good cup of coffee and some oj. The chicken fried steak is frozen. Pout. I choose Ellie’s breakfast but substitute country ham for sausage. Our waitress assures me it is the real deal, not processed crap. Rob orders the True Southern Breakfast.

Plates arrive. My breakfast comes with two prefect fried eggs, a delicate, fluffy angel biscuit, three slices of fried green tomatoes, grits and a huge slice of country ham. The grits are unseasoned. This is the second time this trip. I add a pat of butter, salt and pepper and then they are delicious. A light bulb goes off. I ask our waitress if unseasoned grits are how they are served here in the southeast. She said generally yes. People like to doctor them to their own tastes…more butter, less butter, salt no pepper, and maple syrup. The fried green tomatoes are disappointing. No seasoning and no heat. I don’t eat them.

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Country ham is a thing of beauty. Salty. A slice of meat off the haunch. Real meat not processed. We do not get ham like this in Ottawa. If ham is offered for breakfast in a restaurant home, it is processed. The tomatoes are forgotten.

The true southern breakfast came with excellent golden, crispy shredded hashbrowns, 2 eggs, another fluffy angel biscuit, well made pancakes and sausage patties that were absolutely ordinary.

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Time to head north. The short drive brings us by the Marine Corp Air training center, with several fighter jets on display, trailers, open fields, swamps, vegetables like okra, butterbeans are on offer by the roadside, boiled peanut stands, antiques, churches, fireworks and a vineyard. A billboard advertizes The Edisto Beach Shagfest(!). A fireworks store announces “Everything 25 cents and up. Mostly up.” Gas stops stock camo Redbull.

About 15 minutes out of Charleston, we follow a dirt road to the Angel Oak, a live oak tree that may be up to 1500 years old. It is magnificent. The trunk is 8.5 meters in circumference. The branches arch and dip gracefully to the ground and rise up again, growing, reaching. Many of the limbs have supports to manage the enormous weight. The angel oak is something to behold and it is almost impossible to get the entirety of this tree in a single camera frame.

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Before leaving the oak we visit the gift shop and discover an interesting treat. Benne wafers. Africans brought benne seeds with them to America and made them into sweet wafer treats. They taste nutty of sesame, honey and caramel and are nice and crunchy.

We are almost upon Charleston, our destination today and home for two nights. Bags are dropped and we are off to explore. The city is charming and colonial. The waterfront park has children splashing and wading in fountains, cruise ships anchored and boaters enjoying the final weekend of summer.

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It is baking hot. We last a scant forty minutes before finding sustenance at the Blind Tiger. Vodka Gimlets. A seriously refreshing growed-up drink. A small nosh and back to the surface of the sun.

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Dinner tonight will be at The Craftsman Kitchen and Tap House, a short stroll from our hotel.

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Craftsman has 48 taps and an impressive 200-plus bottled beer selection about which our waitress is quite knowledgeable. Rob starts with a Festina Peche, a Berliner Weissbeer from Doghead Fish Brewery in Delaware and I’m having a really excellent Long Day Bohemian Lager from Red Hare Brewing Company in Georgia.

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For dinner,  we decide to split the Crunchy Dame Sandwich, stout braised pork belly, cherry jam, raclette cheese, grainy mustard aioli and a  fried sunny on sweet Hawaiian bread egg. The sandwich is small but rich.

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It’s too hot for a large meal. We order some highly recommended squid fries, beer battered squid with pickled onion, house cured bacon and a lemon aioli.

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Next, we have some some very tasty General Tso’s wings – – 8 wings in a sticky soy garlic sauce with a mild chili bite, served with a cucumber soy pickle.

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The house made pickle plate included squash, green beans, red pepper, more cucumber soy, cauliflower and napa cabbage. The pickles were salty and vinegary. No subtlety. Not a favourite for sure.

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We have a second glass of beer, local Thai white, with Thai spices, that our able waitress has selected for us. Excellent end to satisfying meal.

 

 

 

Tennesee Country Ham

Ah… country ham. It’s pretty much unknown here in Canada. It’s a southern treat that has a character all its own and completely distinct from the “city ham” we are used to here. Here‘s a breakdown of how they differ.

On our first trip to Nashville, we had country ham for breakfast one day, served with Red Eye gravy. It was a revelation. Salty, meaty and with a depth we weren’t prepared for. Of course it goes perfectly with the gravy made from the ham drippings, some black coffee and a little brown sugar.

For a family holiday dinner this year, I decided to try a whole salt and sugar cured country ham, bought by mail order from the Loveless Cafe out of Nashville.

A country ham is no picnic. It’s a multi-day prep process to make this ham ready to eat. When you remove the wrapping, it’s covered in a fine mold from being hung for up to two years, kind of like an aged cheese. It was also well, a little funky. After a good brushing, the ham needed to soak in water for two days with complete water changes twice a day. Removing the hock (the large knot of bone at one end of the ham) is optional but requires a saw. I opted to leave it in.

Country Ham 1Country Ham 2

Country Ham 3Country Ham 4After the skin is removed, you score the fat and bake the ham for 4 hours or so. With an hour to go, you brush on some glaze to caramelize onto the ham. I used some of Loveless Cafe’s amazing peach preserves, ginger and some grainy mustard.

Country Ham 5Country Ham 6

Country Ham 7Country Ham 8When the ham was finished baking, the glaze was shiny and cooked on and the ham smelled delicious. I let it sit for a half-hour before carving  into slices with an electric knife. It was juicy, smoky, sweet and a little salty with more depth and complexity than other ham I’ve had.

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Country Ham 13We served the ham with biscuits, scalloped potatoes, a brussel sprout hash made with pecans and a maple basalmic vinaigrette, mustard pickles, and some of those best-ever peach preserves.

Country Ham 9Having the freshly carved ham is great, but the next morning, having it with freshly baked biscuits is really the raison d’etre for this ham. It’s its calling. There’s a reason ham and biscuits is a time-honoured Southern tradition, and now it’s one of ours.

RT8: Red-eye Gravy & Tunes

Today, Friday is our first full day in Nashville. We are staying in a hotel downtown and have had to contend with jack hammering below our window until 12:30 am and were awakened by it at 7 am. Luckily the hotel can move us to the other side of the building for our next two nights.

I am determined to find cowboy boots here. I love them and every time I am overwhelmed by the selection and can’t choose, so I go home empty handed. I’m going to start a “cowboy boots go with everything” trend back in Ottawa.

Breakfast is at Puckett’s Grocery and Restaurant downtown. I order the country ham with red-eye gravy, a biscuit, fried potatoes and two eggs over medium. Rob orders country-fried steak with much the same trimmings but he gets pepper gravy instead. The coffee is decent, the orange juice is watered down.

I love country ham. A big bone-in slab of salty goodness. Why cant we get ham like this back home? This is so far removed from the pressed meat we call breakfast ham. Southern country ham is salt-cured instead of smoke-cured. The red-eye gravy, made from pan drippings and a healthy shot of coffee, is not salty and is excellent. I am no judge of red-eye gravy as this is my first experience with it, but I could drink this stuff. Perfect with the ham. My potatoes are fine and the eggs are perfect over medium. The biscuit is light, moist and fluffy and no butter is needed.

Rob’s chicken fried steak is fresh made and hand dipped not frozen. It comes hot, crispy and juicy. His pepper gravy… flour, cream and pepper, is flavourful, thick and has a nice pepper edge.

Puckett's Grocery & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Shopping on Broadway brought us to Hatch Show Print and one of their two cats, Huey. Apparently he has a favourite spot.

Our afternoon is spent relaxing…well, me reading and Rob doing laundry. We head into Franklin, Tennessee for an evening of BBQ and good music. Mickey Roo’s, a Texas style BBQ joint is recommended to us and seems like a great option. You can smell the hickory smoke as soon as you leave the car. Mickey’s is decorated in late “junkyard” and has comfy picnic tables covered in western handkerchief printed oil cloth. Mexican horse blankets are provided for boney bums. Big Texas atmosphere and a Texas sized stage are in house. Flatties feature Nascar and NFL.

I grab a cold Yuengling beer so I can think after coming in out of the 104 degree heat. Yuengling is the oldest brewery in the US. Good beer, but any beer is good when it is 104 degrees. I swear you cannot get a buzz on in Nashville. It’s so hot the beer just leaks out of your pores. You can’t keep up.

First off we order up some Big Joe’s Diablos, smoked shrimp stuffed into a jalepeno, wrapped in bacon and covered in Monterey Jack. Glad we chose the order of two to share because they are huge. I can see as I’m sure you can, that these have to be fantastic, and they would have been had they been heated up properly. They had obviously been cooked sometime earlier and so were just merely good.

Rob and I both order the baby backs and two sides. I get potato salad and Boot Kick’n beans (hot). Rob gets Bullstrings (fried onion strings) and Lone Star Beans (not hot). The ribs are slow smoked for 8 hours over hickory smoke, so they are more tender than the usual 4-hour ribs. These are really meaty ribs. Hot and sweet BBQ sauce is provided on the side. The sweet still had a nice little mild heat but more vinegar flavour would have been nice. The potato salad is chunky with egg and mustard. It is good, standard fare.

The onion strings are crispy and delicious while they are hot, but because they are so thin they cool fast and are less so. The beans are very good. The Lone Star beans are sweet but not overly so, while the hot beans have a nice heat, larger beans, and good flavour but could have done with a bit of molasses, although a squirt of the mild BBQ sauce fixes them right up.

Mickey Roos Texas Style BBQ on Urbanspoon

After dinner we head on over to the Bunganut Pig to watch Ottawa boy and friend Trevor Finlay perform. We sit outside with his fiancee Josee, and enjoy a few beers and a beautiful Nashville evening listening to Trevor and his guitar.