Tag Archives: grits

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.

 

 

 

RT2014: Savannah History & Bonaventure

I keep repeating myself but we wake to yet another beautiful, sunny day in the south. Expected to climb into the 90’s today. We want to head out early to capture Historic Savannah before the sun becomes too harsh for photos…and people.

Yesterday’s hop on hop off tour was excellent for knowing where we wanted to be today. For breakfast we are trying the well recommended Clary’s Cafe. Right downtown in the historic district and open for breakfast, Clary’s seems ideal. We elect to sit outside on the sidewalk.

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Many other patrons choose to as well and we meet a few roadtrippers like us and many many canines, travelers and locals. Our waitress drops by for our drinks order. OJ is not fresh squeezed and she notes probably for the first time that yes this is a shame. I opt for it anyways, coffee as well. I’m going to go with their specialty Crab Cakes Benedict, after asking if the Chicken Fried Steak was fresh or frozen. Frozen. Rob is having the corned beef hash.

Everybody but us has a dog or dogs with them. Waitresses are prepared with treats and all the the furbabies are well behaved. Savannah is dog friendly. I walked by at least one business with a gorgeous long haired kitty preening in the window. This speaks well of a city.

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Sitting in the warming shade, chatting with fellow travelers and dog lovers is a pleasant start to our final day in Savannah. Coffee arrives, lukewarm. It is refilled generously several times but it never gets hot. Breakfast is served and we dig in. My benny is fine. The eggs are well poached, nice and runny. The English muffin is perfectly toasty and chewy. Breakfast came with the choice of grits or homefries. When in the south I choose grits. Unfortunately these grits were tasteless and unseasoned, but nothing a pat of butter and salt and pepper couldn’t fix. They turned out okay after all. The crab cakes are merely fine. Maybe it’s my expectations. I think big chunks of luscious, white crab barely held together with egg and potato and I get shredded crab held together with a lot of potato. I don’t fault Clarey’s, but I think I’m over crab cakes. Also I’m confused about something. My eggs benny comes with “Canadian” bacon. In Canada, Canadian bacon is peameal bacon. We don’t call it Canadian bacon but Americans do. But when you go to the States and get Canadian bacon it is this round of over processed, pale ham-like substance. Anyways anything less than salty, cured pork tenderloin with a layer of juicy fat and a peameal crust is unacceptable. I digress.

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Rob’s breakfast is quite good. Clary’s calls corned beef hash one of their specialties. They corn their own beef briskets and it shows. Rich with corned beef, onions and potato, it’s a winner. Served with two cooked eggs, the aforementioned heavily-adjusted grits and a good biscuit. All in all, the food in Savannah has been fine. Nothing exceptional, nothing we will gush about to future dinner guests. We have done our research, talked to people, taken the advice of the hotel, been to highly recommended places, but we have not found the real Savannah dining wise. If it indeed exists. (Stay tuned).

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After we settle up, we park Moby and head into the Historic District to take pictures. Downtown Savannah is as charming and quaint as they come. Architectural detail abounds, gaslights flicker, gardens are lush, alleyways are secret treasures, planters and topiaries are exquisite.

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Row upon row of colourful homes delight the viewer. The lush green park squares allow you to sit, reflect and refresh.

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The cicadas serenade. Many squares feature fountains or statuary usually dedicated to a military hero. Some have bodies interred within. One square is a legitimate cemetery. Savannah is a fabulous walking city if you are mindful of your footing. Sidewalks are old and paved with bricks. I could walk for hours.

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After a very pleasant morning spent in the Historic District, we head to Thunderbolt to the Bonaventure Cemetery, famous for being featured in the film Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The cemetery is also the final resting place of two confederate generals and Little Gracie Watson, a six year old who died of pneumonia in 1889. A top her grave is a life sized sculpture of her rendered by then up and coming sculptor, John Walz. It is rumoured that if you place a penny in her hand and walk around her grave three times it will be gone. The much visited grave site now has a pretty wrought iron fence around it.

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Bonaventure is peaceful and serene. You can drive through in a car and pull over along the way to walk and snap photos. The cemetery is noted for its beautiful statuary. Live oaks and Spanish moss grace the plots. Gravely paths have to be navigated with some care as ancient tree roots have broken through the surface. It is less orderly than Oakland in Atlanta but every bit as charming and lovely.

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Rob digs around a little more on the internet, determined, and finds a dinner place walking distance from the hotel. Vic’s on the River. We set off despairing of finding a meal to write home about.

Vic’s is on Bay street. Part of the building faces Bay Street and part faces the river. A piano man tinkles the ivories as we enter and we are seated at a lovely table for two by the 12 foot window looking out onto Bay and an exquisite live oak.

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Vic’s oozes southern gentility, with black linens, silver and warm, light peach walls. Blonde wood floors show generations of wear, window boxes overflowing with hostas, sedums and soft, silver wormwood boldly underline the magnificent old windows. So very simple, so very elegant.

Warm buttermilk biscuits with whipped, honeyed butter appear on the table while we refresh from the day’s heat with gin and tonics. We are enjoying watching our neighbour, “Pebbles”, a strawberry blond 18 month old with her wispy curls piled on top of her head in a fountain tail, eat with great gusto.

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The menu is inspired but we manage to settle on two apps. I’m having the Crawfish Beignets and Rob, reminiscing his childhood, orders the chicken livers. Both are excellent choices.  The improperly named crawfish beignets are  more of an empanada. 3 soft, flaky, delicious half moon pastries were filled with a lightly sweet crawfish filling and dressed with a sweet hot tabasco drizzle. Excellent, inspired, but one would have sufficed. Ok, maybe two.

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The chicken livers were exquisite. Perfectly cooked (overcooked and they get tough and chewy) and bathed in a luxurious sauce of sauteed onion and bacon in a wine and stock reduction. They brought Rob back to his childhood where he got to eat the cooked liver from that night’s chicken and loved it.

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Mains come with a salad course and we both opt for the classic iceberg wedge with blue cheese dressing. The salad comes nicely chilled with an excellent, mild, blue cheese dressing. Cucumbers and cherry tomatoes accessorize, as do home made buttermilk biscuit croutons. Bacon would have added a nice smokey, salty punch but was absent from this classic. This wedge was a nice, manageable size unlike some of the monsters I have been served.

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Mains arrive in a nicely paced fashion. Rob orders a steak with truffle butter, accompanied by a corn grits souffle and sauteed spinach. The steak is a delicious medium rare and the truffle butter is entirely superfluous and gets scraped off to the side. The grit souffle is cheesy and light with a slight smoky edge from some smoked chile.

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My southern fried pork chop is a thing of beauty, golden, crisp, crunchy coated, bathed in a luscious, rich, creamy wild mushroom sauce and nestled on golden mashed potatoes with perfect tender crisp green beans. This was Southern comfort on a plate. I will be thinking about this dish for sometime to come. Perfect on all counts.

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We slowly sip the remainder of our rosè and stroll back in the evening light to our hotel. End of a perfect day.

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We have really enjoyed the beauty of Savannah. I continue to admire the cleanliness and civic pride in the city and within Georgia as a whole. Tomorrow, we cross the Talmadge Memorial Bridge into South Carolina and head north to Hilton Head.

Atlanta Day 2

We sleep in a bit today. No furry alarm clock. Breakfasting this morning at Ria’s Bluebird, across the street from Atlanta’s famed Oakland Cemetery, where we will be spending a good part of the early day before the heat becomes to oppressive. I think Southerners must pride themselves on their heat tolerance like a Canadian prides themselves on wearing flip flops at least until the first snow. I like the heat but I am melting.

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Bluebird is a short drive from the W. No reservations. The small parking lot is full and there is a significant lineup out front. The wait is 45 minutes we are told, but it’s more like 25. They move people through well but don’t rush you. Soon we are ushered in and brought fresh squeezed lemonade on ice. Icy cold, lemony sweet-tart. Perfect.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 004We have had a minute to peruse the short menu in the hipster meets summer cottage surroundings. I note here that they have several veggie options and they are creative and not second thoughts. Tattooed service is friendly and efficient.  The vibe, noisy and fun. Lots of young families, couples and friends meeting up.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 001Rob and I decide on the brisket breakfast but then he is swayed by today’s special when the server returns and reads it off to him. Eggs Benny with pickled shrimp, melted lardons, fennel, onion and chile peppers on toasted French bread with a side of very good, peppery grits. Very Scandinavian. ‘Cept for the grits.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 004We also choose a short stack to share because the NY Times declares these pancakes to be the best in the world (not fact checked other than for us eatin’ them).

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Breakfast arrives and we tuck in. My brisket breakfast is melt-in-your mouth beef soaking in a dish of beefy, salty, rich sauce with two poached eggs and toasted baguette on the side. The short stack does indeed have world class aspirations. I am not a fan of sweet breakfasts for the most part, but these were delicious….especially when you dipped a forkful in maple syrup and then into the beefy sauce. It reminded me of a dish Alton Brown created on a road trip (big inspiration to us getting going). He went to the kitchen where the old cook was making rib tips for dinner service and he told her he wanted the rib tips on pancakes. She fussed a bit but finally gave him what he wanted. Then his whole crew wanted it. Then it ended up on their menu. Rob makes it from time to time. But I digress.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 005Breakfast was wonderful and the portions were not crazy. Just satisfying. It is hard not to waste food in the south, but Bluebird has it just right. As we head off into the sweltering sun, our server offers us icy lemonade to go. Free refills he says. They go down good.

We hop into the white behemoth hereafter to be referred to as Moby, and head over to Oakland, Atlanta’s historic cemetery founded in 1850 and our entertainment for the day — cruising leisurely through an old graveyard. It is a great place to take pictures, beautiful, serene and tells the story of a place. Some people like city halls and other attractions. We like cemeteries. The architecture, the history, the ghosts. It says so much about an older city. This cemetery is unique because it’s also an open city park that has art shows, concerts, culinary events and other fundraisers. It’s a gathering place in the city, which is a beautiful thing for a cemetery to be.

It is the final resting place of notables such as Bobby Jones and Margaret Mitchell. Oakland is also home to many ancient oaks and magnolia trees, art and sculpture. When the cemetery was first established, it was designed in the “new” rural garden tradition that was a forerunner of the public park. It still operates today as a park. People in the early 19th century picnicked and communed there. Sunday was a day where families gathered to tend their dead. More acreage was added to accommodate fallen confederate soldiers as the civil war raged through Atlanta. At this time, Jews were buried apart from Christians and African Americans apart from them. The last sites were sold in 1884, but we saw a grave as recent as 2012 in a family plot. The cemetery fell into serious disrepair some time in the 20th century as people moved away and lost touch with their ancestors. In the seventies it was declared a historic landmark and government and public funding has restored a large part of it to it’s former glory. The cemetery has a 10 stage refurbishing plan, dependent on funding. As we walked through today, we could not help but notice that the African American section is in serious decline.

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Oakland 005The sun is now pretty much directly over head and molten. Still we persevere and decide beers are in order and maybe a little BBQ. This is silly because there is no such thing as a little BBQ. In any event, we spied a place on the way over this morning, Daddy D’z.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 006Daddy’s is hard to miss. It is total homemade shack. Gaily painted with African American culture and a hammered together smoker out back it screams “Good BBQ Inside!”

Bluebird&DaddyDz 010We order a couple of beers and some small plates. 4 ribs and two sides. I ask for just one side of mac and cheese as it is seriously almost too hot to eat.

Bluebird&DaddyDzB 008I get six ribs and a double order of mac and cheese plus a huge chunk of really good cornbread…sigh I really hate to waste food especially when an animal died to provide it, but I just can’t eat these quantities. Rob orders the small plate as well, with really good collards and yams as sides. It comes piled high and he can’t finish it either.

Bluebird&DaddyDz 012Ooh yeah. The ribs. Excellent, beauty pink smoke ring, perfect bark. Comes with either spicy or sweet sauce. We chose sweet. It was everything you could want in a sweet sauce, thick and tangy.

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Bluebird&DaddyDzB 009Back to the hotel to escape the heat and regroup and maybe a siesta. For our final evening in Atlanta, we choose a Triple D joint, Varsity, the world’s largest drive-in. Food is cheap and homemade. Rob whispered earlier that I could eat in the car! This is one of my dirty secrets. I hate going into fast food places to eat. I love to eat it in my car. Rob hates to eat in the car.

Varsity 001Varsity is not too busy this Sunday evening as we pull into a parking spot. Immediately a young carhop, #47 comes by shouting “What’ll ya have?”

Varsity 004Rob’s having the chili slaw dog and I’m having the hamburger. We both try the homemade, hand dipped onion rings, a fried peach pie and a small frosted orange.

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Food arrives window side quickly. I only order onion rings if they are fresh not frozen. These don’t disappoint. Classic. My burger is a simple house made patty with mustard, ketchup and dill pickles. Nothing fancy. Exactly what I was looking for. The burgers are on the small side, but at $1.89, if you are still hungry you could order a second and be able to finish it.

Varsity 008Rob’s chili slaw dog was terrific. Good dog, good chili and creamy slaw, yet not messy and easy to eat. The frosted orange was amazing. A dreamsicle in a cup. Icy cold. The fried peach pie was not terribly memorable. The peaches we good quality in a sugary syrup, but the crust was quite thin and didn’t hold together very well for eating by hand.

Varsity 009I long for the old days of McDonald’s fried fruit pies. (Editors note: Ignore that last sentence — she’s a loon.)  #47 pops by to pick up trash. Tomorrow we head for Savannah.

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Bourbon Tasting Party

This past weekend we noted the chill in the air and the naked trees. Time to experiment with the warming comfort of some amber liquid. Bourbons have become quite popular over the last little while. Rob has always liked them and I am learning to appreciate this drink. I got a bit of a taste for bourbon on our trips to New Orleans.

As with many alcoholic beverages, side by side comparison is a great way to find out what you like or don’t care for. We decided to host a bourbon tasting event with a small group of friends (8 is a nice number for this). Some of our guests were experienced, but everyone was learning.

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On hand we had 9 bourbons for tasting. Elijah Craig, Buffalo Trace, Knob Creek Single Barrel, Woodford Reserve, Basil Hayden’s, Bulleit, Booker’s and Maker’s 46, and for research purposes, Buffalo Trace White Dog, an unoaked, young “fresh” bourbon (moonshine). We provided ice, small shot glasses for tiny tastes and comparison, and whiskey glasses for the committed.

A southern food theme seemed apropos. As well we included many smoked items and cheeses that pair well with bourbon. With that in mind, we decided on pork ribs basted in black currant sauce and cheese grits as main fare. The ribs were rubbed and slow-cooked and then glazed with a BBQ sauce that was made with bourbon and black current jam.

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They were accompanied by smoked nuts, dark chocolate, smoked shrimps, scallops and salmon from Boucanerie Chelsea, pomegranate, persimmon, physallis and apple, a charcuterie platter with ham, peppered salami and summer sausage from The Piggy Market, and crackers paired with a strong Roquefort, Prima Donna, St. Angele, mimolette from Jacobson’s, and Gjetost cheese as well. The Gjetost is noteworthy because it is a caramel cheese that’s not sweet and really goes well with apple and bourbon.

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Bourbon 13Small bottles of water on hand are also a good idea, to cut the bourbon if desired but also to help guests pace themselves. For dessert, Rob smoked some pecan and butter tarts with apple wood.  We had enjoyed the happy accidental marriage of pecan pie and wood smoke in Nachez, Mississippi and were trying to recreate it with limited success. The smoke was a little bitter. Pecan chips might be the way to go.

Bourbon 7Guests tried and experimented throughout the evening, the women settling in and committing sooner. Personally I already knew I enjoyed Elijah Craig but found that I also really liked Basil Hayden’s. Both are smooth and milder than the more spicy, peppery choices offered. Side by side tasting really allows you to discover. Near the end of the evening, one of the guys got brave enough to open the White Dog. We included this for learning purposes. This is where Bourbon starts. And ends, had it been the first thing I tried that evening.

Bourbon 4White Dog. What can I say. This should be partaken of, upon reflection, only if the occasion arises where you are in your car. You have already tossed the gun out of the window, are being pursued by police at a high rate of speed and are about to hit the the tire spikes at the road block erected in your honour and then die in a hail of gunfire. Vile. I consumed less than a half teaspoon and my throat was as raw as if I had vomited bile for 24 hours. Not recommended.

 

 

 

Breakfast: The Old Coffee Pot

For breakfast today we sought out a well-recommended location in the French Quarter called The Old Coffee Pot – an original restaurant of old New Orleans established in 1696. The establishment’s history was evident in the historical paintings and objects located throughout the restaurant.

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Maureen and I ordered “the Plantation Breakfast” — two eggs any style, ham steak, grits, biscuit and something called “Calla Cakes” — deep-fried sweet rice balls seasoned with vanilla and almond flavourings and dusted with powdered sugar.

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On the plus side, the eggs were cooked a perfect over medium and the grits were buttery and well seasoned. The “ham steak” was tasty but was clearly a slice of processed, pressed ham which is kind of a sacrilege in the South. We were expecting a slice of off-the-bone ham. The biscuit was warm, light, fluffy and delicious – among the best we’ve had.

The calla cakes were, like the beignets of Cafe Du Monde, submerged under a tiny mountain of icing sugar. Once the cake was shaken off enough to get a bite without wearing some, the crispy treat was a warm, homey delicacy with dominant almond flavouring. Our server made it seem like it was a “secret ingredient” and looked crestfallen when we identified it immediately. They were good to try, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to order them.

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The ham was wonderfully rescued by placing it between two halves of this amazing biscuit. All is forgiven.

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