Tag Archives: fried chicken

RT6: to Saratoga Springs

Today, day seven, we leave Rhode Island for upstate New York and a three and a half hour drive.  At 10 am it is already blistering hot and muggy. We skip breakfast and hope to find road food.  Gulf stations and McDonald’s have the Mass turnpike locked up. We make do with cheesy crackers and red twizzlers and decide to wait until we arrive in Saratoga Springs.

An uneventful fairly dull drive, alleviated by The Bugle podcast with John Oliver. Eventually the highway starts to get hilly and we can see the Adirondacks in the distance. Arriving in Saratoga Springs we are already impressed. Exit 14 takes us right by the racetrack and horse stalls, as well as along a street lined with large, stately Victorian manses. Lovely. We head downtown to Broadway, a very pretty avenue lined with shops, one-of-a-kind boutiques, restaurants and outdoor cafes.

Parking is competitive but we luck into an unmetered street spot and head off in search of a late lunch. We don’t go far before we spy Cantina. Hmmmmm….Mexican this far north? Bound to be crap. We have done no advance research for this town, so are really winging it here. Rob checks out the posted menu and notices Mexican street corn on it. He says this is the real deal and in we go. Inside the place looks like it was a British pub in a former incarnation. Add some Mexican pottery and some fake fiesta flowers and bam! Mexico.

Our young waitress, tattooed from neck to foot with gauged ears, all very tastefully done, brings fresh, homemade tortilla chips (the thick kind which are not my favorite) and good, finely diced fresh salsa. She answers our many questions about the menu, and the town. We are particularly intrigued by what may be going on today because we have, no joke, weeks ago by telephone, secured the very last room available in town. Even tiny outlying motels in this town of beautiful resorts proudly display NO VACANCY signs. Our young server informs us that it is the anticipated yearling horse sale, and the town will be full like this for the next five weeks.

We order well made margaritas and Verduras guacamole, fresh made avocado guac topped with lump crabmeat, mango and pistachio crumbs. Creamy and fresh. The crab is excellent and the mango lends a little sweet. Excellent. Traditional guacamole is also offered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For mains I ordered the chile relleno and Rob chose the spicy shrimp tacos. Both entrees came with refried pinto beans and well made Mexican rice in reasonable portions instead of a huge platter of filler common in so many Mexican joints. My chile relleno, a large roasted poblano pepper, stuffed with Mexican cheeses, spicy ground beef, coated in cornmeal, baked and then covered in a fresh red tomato sauce and accompanying crema.

 

Rob’s shrimp tacos (three) come on soft, spectacular, house made corn tortillas filled with sauteed shrimp, jalapeno, shallots,  chipotle mayo,  shredded cabbage and pickled onion. Very good tacos.

Cantina on Urbanspoon

Bellies full, we think we should head to our hotel and secure our reservation so we don’t have to sleep in the car. The Hotel Calif – I mean Roosevelt Inn is at the edge of town. We check in and find our “suite”. Mmmmm…smells cottagy. It is very dark but has the basic necessities. The carpeting is dark forest green and is probably hiding a multitude of sins. You could murder someone in here and the blood would not show. It’s fine though….really.

Not much point hanging around the “resort” which I have noticed is up for sale. We drive into town to Union street to go backtrack at the Saratoga Racetrack to take some pics. Traffic is mental. Saratoga is an extremely well done town. We pass a beautiful park with a carousel and fountains. Would love to stop and photograph many points but parking although mostly free, is hard to get today.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After tooling around a bit backtrack, we head over to Hattie’s for dinner. Hattie’s dates back to 1938 and is down home New Orleans cooking. On this particular unrelenting evening Hattie’s was more like Hades, cooled by a few ceiling fans, and perfectly recreating the steam bath that is New Orleans in August.

You enter through an ancient screen door and make your way to the front to ask for a table. The small dining room is packed so this takes some effort. We are informed there is a 15 to 20 minute wait and are sent to the bar in the rear, which is really a mardi gras tent over a patio. Coloured lights and chandeliers, masques and beads and dolls all contribute to the cheerful party vibe. We order Purple Haze beer from Abita which we first had at Coop’s Place in New Orleans.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soon as we drain our beers we are seated in the homey dining room, with cobbled together cupboards, red checkered picnic table cloths and handmade curtains. Hot sauce, vinegar with sport peppers and tiny lamps decorate the table. Fresh cornbread, biscuits and butter are brought over.

We order the fried chicken which we have seen being carried by because it looks amazing. It comes with two sides. I get the mashed potatoes and cucumber salad, Rob gets the cranberry coleslaw and butter and sugar corn. It takes some time to get our order. Everything is homemade. Shortly though our heaping helpings arrive. We will be taking half back to our room for breakfast.

The chicken, a wing, a leg, thigh and a breast, is crisp, crunchy, deliciously moist and succulent inside, and not the least bit greasy. Thin slices of cucumber, vinegar and a little sugar make a very tasty salad. The mashed potatoes are classic, creamy mashed spuds. Rob’s corn is sweet and not over cooked and the cranberry slaw is tasty and unusual, a nice balance of sweet and sour,  with dried cranberries and a nice vinegar bite.

I finished the evening with a perfectly made sazerac and then we literally melted away into the evening.


Hattie's on Urbanspoon

RT6 – To Burlington, VT

Got up this morning to another gorgeous summer day. Got a walk in, spent some time with my kitties and hit the road around 11 am. The pale summer sky has a pinky-gold wash. Ahhhh…nothing like the open road  — very uplifting to a spirit with wanderlust. We pass cottagers returning home, colourful kayaks strapped to roofs, hawks wheeling over late July corn, the ever-changing wildflower palette  and the beautiful, peaceful farms of Eastern Ontario. We cross the International border at Cornwall and head into Mohawk land, past mom and pop smoke shops, casino signs and souvenir stops.

We travel on and enter upper New York state’s Amish country. We don’t encounter any horse and buggies this pretty Sunday. Our progress through the state takes us to small town America, past tiny, neat churches, volunteer fire departments, dilapidated trailers, pretty houses with front porches and waving American flags, horses grazing contentedly, their long tails swishing away flies , an abundance of abandoned farm implements as lawn ornamentation and cows. Lots and lots of cows. We cruise into picturesque Rouse’s Point and cross the bridge over sparkling Lake Champlain into Vermont, the green mountain state.

My entire view is green, green, green, hazy with mountains, blue sky and pure white cloud. My only regret is passing incredible, rustically beautiful barns and livestock sheds in a variety of stages of decay, many invaded by wildflowers, and not being able to stop and photograph each and every one.

Shortly we exit from our brief stint on I-89 into downtown Burlington, a quaint college town on Lake Champlain. Hope to explore a bit of the main drag before continuing on to Portland tomorrow.

Relaxing in my hotel room, I am treated to a beautiful view of the lake, dotted with sailboats, a mountain rising in the distance and more stark, white clouds. We decide on an early dinner and head out to Farmhouse Tap and Grill, a nice walk from our hotel.

The Farmhouse Tap and Grill is immediately comfortable, with a hip college vibe, but is populated with couples young and old, and young families with well-behaved little ones. This does not appear to be a hangout for students. Maybe they come later – it’s only 6pm. We decide to eat inside as the day is still quite hot. The Farmhouse, open in front with raised glass garage doors, has a breezy, pleasant atmosphere. Decor is chalkboard hipster with distressed wood tables, chairs and padded benches. No annoying music of any kind. Good date kind of place.

The menu at Farmhouse is small, eclectic and makes use of the best local product. The beer menu is extensive and unique. It includes a $45 Brooklyn Black Ops. Our server brings us an unexpected amuse bouche of asparagus in a mustard vinaigrette, incorrectly labeled aioli. This is the only misstep in the entire meal. Our server though barely shaving, is subtly charming and very knowledgeable. The menu features Vermont cheeses and we wish to choose a combination that is not offered. Not a problem. He goes over our beer choices with us, Doghead Fish Festiva Peche, a sour wheat beer with a hint of peach, and Allagash, a Belgian white, and is able to comment intelligently. We also order the house made pickled vegetables.

Our cheese platter includes a Cobb Hill Ascutney Mountain firm cheese, Green Mountain Boucher Blue and a Champlain Valley Triple Cream, a smear of apple butter and some crisps. All three cheeses are high quality. The blue is creamy, medium strength in flavour and outstanding overall. The pickled veggies are a quick pickle of cucumber and fennel. Lightly sweet, vinegary, crisp and excellent. The Doghead brew, a sipper, nicely compliments the cheese course.

 We had not ordered dinner at this point and our server returns to see if we would like anything more. I order the buttermilk fried chicken with potato puree, fresh farm greens dressed in blue cheese and El Cortijo buffalo sauce (a habanero based sauce from a sister restaurant specializing in Authentic Mexican).

Rob orders the pulled pork, cornbread and apple cabbage slaw. Since we are walking, we decide to indulge in more alcohol. Rob has been actively studying the beer menu to this point and orders a $25 bottle (large) of Allagash Victoria Ale, a Belgian style beer brewed with Chardonnay grapes for me and a Scottish Crabbie’s Ginger Beer for himself.

Our meals arrive  at a relaxing pace (the joint is full and there are people waiting but there is no rush). My chicken is sublime. Boneless breast meat battered and fried perfectly, pairs wonderfully with the peppery greens and light blue cheese dressing. The habanero sauce lends big heat that is tempered by the potato puree. By all accounts, a truly outstanding entree. Robs’ pulled pork received a B grade (although his high standards are shaped by the outstanding pulled pork of North Carolina). The cornbread was sweet but freshly baked in a oiled skillet with a golden crust.

We opted out of dessert but were severely tempted by what was carried to other tables. The Farmhouse Tap and Grill, a real treat,  was recommended to us by a fellow Ottawa Foodie, a great community, resource and fount of knowledge. Check them out at www.Ottawafoodies.com.

We walked back to our hotel room, to be treated by the sun setting over Lake Champlain. First day of road trip 5 is in the books.

 

 

 

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.

Texas Mish-Mash

Today was a patchwork day. Maureen and I went to an old Austin favourite for Breakfast, took a drive to San Antonio for Lunch, and ate sports event concession food for dinner.

Magnolia Cafe South on UrbanspoonThe day started with a trip to the Magnolia Cafe. it’s one of the most popular cafes in the hip SoCo (South Congress Avenue) district — a funky (overused term when describing things in Austin) 24-hour joint with an eclectic menu that described the cross-section of cultures here — cowboy favourites sit along side Mexican dishes. Diner food mingles with upscale eats.

Although the entire menu is available 24hrs a day, we were there for breakfast. Migas is a popular Tex-Mex breakfast item, scrambled eggs with onion, cheese, tortilla chips, served with tortillas and salsa and refried beans on the side. At Magnolia, there’s an option to order the “Love Migas” where the entire dish is cooked in garlic butter and serrano chilies. We opt for that, please!

The place is also celebrated for its plate-sized pancakes and we order one each — gingerbread for Maureen and I opt for the cornmeal pancake, continuing my love affair with all things corn.

Our breakfasts arrive and the aroma rises to make us want to roll around in the plate. The garlic, cheese, heat from the serranos are heaven when the eggs and beans and house-made chunky salsa are piled into a fresh, hot flour tortilla and eaten taco style. It makes for a creamy, eggy, spicy experience that’s totally unique to the Magnolia Cafe.

On to the pancakes: Maureen’s gingerbread pancake has the same rich hue of good gingerbread, but it has the soft and fluffy texture of a pancake, a real winning combo. My cornmeal pancake has great corn-cake flavour and a coarse texture from the cornmeal — great with butter and syrup.

We hit the road to check out some of the small towns (Gruene and New Braunfels) on the way to San Antonio to tour it’s famous Riverwalk — a peaceful, meandering canal through the heart of San Antonio. Constructed with a great deal of forethought and vision for the city, it’s overhung with Magnolia trees, filled with singing birds (important to us Canadians who have missed them for the last several months), and lined with plantings, fountains, cafes and shops. Some stretches of the canal reach into historic districts. Tour boats and water taxis move up river, some with bandoliers, and or microphoned tour guides.

Ibiza on UrbanspoonAfter walking some distance, checking out the sights, we were heavily motivated to have a seat at a sidewalk cafe and enjoy the warmth of the sun (it had been overcast and a little chilly (for Texans – still t-shirt weather for Canadians) since we’ve arrived. We chose Ibiza, an eatery that specializes in Latin cuisine, with Mexico, Cuba, Spain and others well-represented on the menu. We order the Cubano sandwich, which has the traditional ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles and mustard in a toasted roll. Ibiza decided to fore-go the pressing of the sandwich and left the roll in it’s full-volume state. Mixed veggie chips accompanied the sandwich and we washed it all down with a couple Blue Moons. The roast pork was excellent and was definitely the star of the show. As well, the Cubano depends on the combination of salty ham and pork, the creaminess of the cheese and the sharpness of plain old yellow mustard and pickle to provide it’s iconic flavour profile. Even though the sandwiches weren’t pressed, these satisfied the yen.

We headed back to Austin via I-35 — as depressing a stretch of road as you’re likely to find. Chain restaurants, one after another on both sides of the roads for miles and miles, broken up by gas stations, low-end hotels, warehouses and the odd outlet mall were the only view. It reminded us yet again, why we have a strict no interstates, no chain restaurants rule on our road trips.

We had to get back to Austin because we had tickets to the season opener of TXRD all-womens’ Roller Derby. Austin is the epicentre of the resurgence of this sport, blending more actual sport and less Wrestlemania-style they do inject some light-hearted fun into their version of the sport. There are local rock bands playing in the breaks and punishment for minor penalties are assessed by spinning a wheel. Punishments involve the potential to give up points if a penalized player loses a contest, such as a pillow fight, arm-wrestling, a tug-of-war or a two lap track race. However game play is serious and highly athletic, and there’s plenty of bone-crushing contact between players to keep the audience on their feet. There’s a punk rock aesthetic to the whole roller derby scene in Austin that keeps it a great venue for watching people letting their freak flag fly. It was a great time.

Jackalope on UrbanspoonAnother thing we liked about it was the concession food. Sure, you could get pizza and hot dogs, but you could also get some highly inventive fare from Jackalope, a local eatery. In addition to items like a jalapeno Texas hot-link dipped in orange pancake batter and deep-fried as their take on a corn dog, they had one item that was too intriguing to not order: jicima and cabbage slaw with Cap’n Crunch and couscous crusted fried chicken with green chile ranch dressing on top all served in a bacon waffle cone. This was easy to hold, easy to eat and man, was it good. Sweet, savoury with a nice bite from the slaw and heat from the green chile ranch. The chicken was tender and juicy and Cap’n Crunch is an inspired choice as breading material for fried chicken… well, fried ANYTHING for that matter.

In case you were wondering, the Holy Rollers beat the Putas Del Fuego in a close 54-51 match with the Putas putting on a major comeback push that made it a nail biter. It was a great day across a couple cities. We ended the night with a major crash and slept in on Monday.

 

RT7: Tupelo to Nashville

It’s a cool 80 degrees at 8:00 this fine morning as we prepare to leave. Breakfast is to be at a local bagel shop. We head out and in under two minutes manage get pulled over by Tupelo PD. You cannot drive in parking lanes here. Who knew?  After a “Be careful of those parking lines, ya’ll have a nice day now!” we are off again. Bagel Shop…closed permanently. Sigh. We are back tracking the way we came into town to regain the Trace so we don’t miss mile marker 269, where there are 13 Confederate gravesites. We are quickly running out of breakfast options. There will be even fewer along the Trace. In desperation we turn to Dodge’s Fried Chicken. Dodge’s is a chain originating in Tupelo, which we have never heard of. They seem to be part of filling stations across several states in the South. It will have to do. We order chicken tenderloin, egg and cheese biscuits, crispitos and fried sweet potato pie to share.

The fried chicken, egg and cheese is on a not half bad southern biscuit, but the entire sandwich is a tad salty for my liking. The crispito is a deep fried burrito rolled thin and open ended, stuffed with industrial queso, possibly chicken and some spicy red sauce. Sounds bad but it was just cheesy and spicy with a crisp flaky envelope. Not terrible. Lastly the hot rectangular sweet potato pie had a creamy filling much like pumpkin pie and a crisp shell with a crunchy layer of cinnamon and sugar. All in all not too bad, but too much fried food for my delicate constitution.

We enter the Natchez Trace heading to Nashville. Our first stop is at mile marker 269. We take a five minute hike on a neat trail through sun dappled forest.We come upon a clearing in the woods and there they are: 13 tiny headstones, each one chiseled with the words: Unknown Confederate Soldier. No one is sure how or why they ended up here. The markers are adorned with plastic flowers, tiny, faded confederate flags and stones from visitors pausing to reflect and note the passing of these, probably very young men, during a conflict so long ago.

Our next stop is Cave Spring. Just off the pull over is a collapsed limestone shelf that created a cave. It is believed to have provided shelter and water to natives along the Trace.

We cross into Alabama, our third state on our monster road trip. The Trace cuts across a small corner of the state. Soon after we come upon the Tennessee River and cross the John Coffee Memorial bridge. It is not clear to us how travelers hundreds and thousands of years ago forded this major waterway. We stop on the other side of the bridge to enjoy the view and snap some photos.

Traveling the Trace is a relaxing and pleasant drive through forests and grasslands dotted with mile markers, clean restrooms, and historical sites. It is fun to soak up the history and the ghosts of travelers who endured the hardships of the early Trace, many of whom died in the process. It does not escape me that I have just sent an email to my decorator 1000 miles away in Canada on my iPhone. Mind boggling to me still.

Back on the Trace we come upon Metal Ford, a gorgeous, peaceful trail a few meters into dappled woodland which reveals a swimming hole with warm, crystal shallow waters and a smooth rock floor. A tiny set of rapids babbles upstream. The air is fresh and sweet and the temperature drops slightly to a bearable degree.

Our next stop will be our last before lunch. Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, died and was buried on this spot along the Old Trace. His death remains a mystery but it was messy and possibly self inflicted. In 1848 the government erected a monument to commemorate a life cut short. Curiously, he is buried in the middle of a small pioneer cemetery full of tiny flat markers of which no mention is made.

The memorial spot takes us off the modern Trace and leads us into Hohenwald, a little dusty town. As we follow Stella’s instructions we agree it does not look promising for lunch.

Rob struggled last night to find a place worth visiting for lunch off the Trace. After much research he decided that Big John’s Pit BBQ (listed on the town government’s website as one of a dozen places to eat in town including fast food joints) is our best bet. Worst case we have actually passed a McDonald’s and a Sonic. We pull up at the BBQ and there are a number of pickups in the parking lot. A good sign.

A few people are finishing up lunch as we order off hand written menu boards at the cash. We want to try a few things so we order three sandwiches to share, smoked turkey, pulled pork and smoked pulled ham and cheese, deep fried okra, potato salad and coleslaw. The three sandwiches come wrapped in white paper.

All are on soft, white, well made buns and have fresh tomato slices, leaf lettuce, sliced onion and ridge cut dill pickle. They are piled generously high with meat. The ham sandwich has cheddar cheese and the turkey a little mayo. A sweet BBQ sauce in hot or mild is provided in a squeeze bottle. We apply some to our sandwiches and dig in but we know just by looking: these sandwiches are going to be awesome. And they are.

The meats are hickory smoked and they are pull-apart-melt-in-your-mouth juicy. The ham and turkey are my personal favorites and they are one of the best sandwiches I’ve had anywhere. Sandwiches range in price from $1.75 to $3.50. The fried okra is well made and not greasy, but indistinguishable from fried zucchini. It came without sauce and was great dipped in their house bbq sauce. The small side of potato salad was good, eggy and had a little sweet vinegar taste. The coleslaw was of my personal favorite variety. Vinegar based and finely cut and diced green cabbage.

Why would you go to McDonald’s when you have this kind of food two driveways away? What an awesome discovery, especially when we expected nothing from this lunch except to fill our tummies. Big John’s is so unknown it does not have a web presence and does not appear in any food review sites that we could find. You heard it here first! A real treat.

Big John's Bar-B-Q on Urbanspoon

Back on the road to Nashville where the midday temperatures are a relatively cool 97 degrees (it’s all relative after you have experienced 106 degree weather)…our next stop is Fall Hollow. Here you follow a path a little way into the forest and you come upon a pleasant waterfall with a twenty food drop.

We finish our drive on the Trace on the winding roads through the hills of Tennessee. The road terminates at mile marker 444 and conveniently at the Loveless Cafe. We stock up on their lovely peach preserves and head to the hotel to relax before heading to a friend’s home for dinner. Good to be back in Nashville.

The Old Natchez Trace is still present along stretches of the parkway and serves as a constant reminder that this road has been used for over a thousand years.
Local flora and fauna
The hills get bigger on the approach to Nashville.