Tag Archives: onion rings

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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RT15: Tepid Italian Beef

We don’t get it. We’re prepared to admit it. It sounded good. We liked the IDEA of it. We never stopped to really think about it, though. We know people will say, “You didn’t have it at (INSERT FAVOURITE PLACE HERE)” and maybe that’s true, but we went for the top of the list and one that places highly in most “best of” lists. Remember though, we are prepared to admit that this one is beyond us.

High on this list of iconic Chicago foods is the Hot Italian Beef, a sandwich featured on most surveys of Chicago favourites. Debates rage about who makes the best and the best way to enjoy the sandwich. I’ll let Wikipedia do the explaining:

“An Italian beef is a sandwich of thin slices of seasoned roast beef, dripping with meat juices, on a dense, long Italian-style roll, believed to have originated in Chicago, where its history dates back at least to the 1930s.[1] The bread itself is often dipped (or double-dipped) into the juices the meat is cooked in, and the sandwich is typically topped off with Chicago-style giardiniera (called “hot”) or sauteed, green Italian sweet peppers (called “sweet”).”

We selected Al’s Italian Beef as our place to visit for this sandwich. It places highly on “best of” lists, and seems to be the largest. There are some out of the way joints that probably have raised it to an art form, but they are across town.


Al's #1 Italian Beef on Urbanspoon

There is an expectation raised by the idea of the Hot Italian Beef: A rich, beefy filling, accentuated by peppers, and heightened by the dip in the au jus.

What you get is another thing entirely. This may be the point at which we differ from the Chicago natives. What you get is EXACTLY what the hot Italian beef is: Roast beef, sitting in a “au jus gravy ” for who knows how long and then served on bread that’s soaked in said au jus.

Maybe that’s the point at which we part ways with fans of the sandwich. The beef is soggy, the bread is soggy, the peppers are overdone leaving a soft soggy mess unto themselves. There seems to be a point of pride about how incredibly messy this sandwich is, but what’s missing is real, unique flavour. There is absolutely no reason the crave this sandwich and to NEED one the future. Truly GREAT sandwiches demand a repeat performance. This one left us scratching our heads as to why anyone would want one in the first place.

Is our experience sullied by bad execution? Who knows, but the difference would have to be huge to make us order a Hot Italian Beef in the future. It’s all subjective, we know, and this blog entry won’t change the iconic status of this Chicago favourite. We don’t get it, and we’re prepared to admit that it’s our lack of…something, that prevents us from understanding the allure.

After an afternoon of major purchases, a couple of pairs of cowboy boots for Maureen and a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster for Rob, and then some serious reflection in the hotel bar, we ventured out to Harry Caray’s for steaks – not so much for the Chicago food tradition, but for the Chicago sports tradition. As Canadians who are somewhat removed from the authentic Harry Caray phenomenon, it’s hard for us to separate the real Harry Caray from the outrageous portrayal of him by Will Farrel, given that it’s the only exposure we have.

We arrive at Harry Caray’s and get the traditional steak house experience – decent steaks and sides, albeit some broccoli that’s underdone (better than overdone, though), and good, friendly service.

Harry Caray's on Urbanspoon

But, we are ready to go home. It’s been an eventful two weeks. We’ve covered a lot of ground and New Orleans seems like MONTHS ago. Now to start planning the next one!

 

 

 

RT6: Jackson to Tupelo & More Elvis

We get up early to get a start on Tupelo. We have just one night here and want to have a little time to explore before setting off to Nashville. It is a cool 84 degrees at 9:30. By the time our day ends at 5:00 it will be 106 degrees. I cannot imagine being forced to toil in a field picking cotton in this heat. Brutal! Time to gas up and put some drinks on ice and hit the Trace for the second day. We have planned a few stops today on the Trace: The Reservoir Overlook, Cypress Swamp and the Bynum Mounds.

We encounter the overlook almost immediately and enjoy the pretty view. The reservoir is a sparkling body of water that borders the Trace for a time and breaks up the greenery nicely. There is more traffic on the Trace today and more maintenance workers. We also encounter more animals…deer, horses, herons and wild turkeys.

Our next stop is the Cypress Swamp. The swamp has a trail around it that takes 15 minutes to walk. A couple from Minnesota is just leaving and then we are alone with only trilling insects, birds and gators that are hiding from the heat. The bald cypress and tupelo trees are magnificent, tall and majestic. The swamp water is covered with a plant material, the colour of pale jade that literally illuminates the area. It is quite beautiful.

We continue on our journey, passing well maintained fields, forest and hay bales. The Park Service allows the fields to be cut for hay. Soon we are looking to have lunch as we skipped breakfast to get on the road. Stella 3000 is being a jerk today, trying to get us to turn into a ditch. Every once and awhile she tries to see if we are paying attention. She eventually gets us into Kosciusko, a cute little Mississippi town that barely registers a blip on the map, where we are going to get lunch at Rib Alley Restaurant.

Rib Alley is hosting a Rotary Club meeting in the front so we are directed to the back section near the kitchen. The restaurant is decorated in “early re-purposed rec room bric-a-brac” with crucifixes and mardi gras beads thrown in for good measure. We are offered menus or the buffet, which is comprised of chicken spaghetti, green beans, butter beans, corn, baked ham and vanilla cake. We opt for the menus. We both order from the “Customer Sandwich” list which is favorite sandwiches from certain customers. I can’t resist ordering the Smitty’s Canadian Melo, because it doesn’t sound very Canadian, some half-sweet iced tea, and Rob orders Jay’s Slide.

Lunch takes a moderate amount of time to hit the table as it is being prepared fresh. Both sandwiches arrive with hot, crisp, well made krinkle cut fries. My melo is a fried fillet of chicken with tomato, iceberg lettuce, American cheese, bacon (not Canadian back bacon) and ranch dressing on white bread that is cooked on a flat top in butter. It is grilled dark with a carbon-butter crust that is lightly crispy and buttery but not greasy. It is a great sandwich. Almost like a club/grilled cheese. Rob’s slider, compared  to a patty melt by our server, comes on Texas toast instead of rye, cheese whiz instead of Swiss, onion and a flavourful homemade beef patty. Not really a patty melt but still a really good sandwich. Good, honest, home cooking like your mom would make.

Rib Alley on UrbanspoonBack on the road again we stop at the Bynum Mounds at mile marker 232. These Indian mounds were built during the Woodland Period between BCE 100 and CE 100. Two mounds have been restored. Mound A contained the remains of a woman and the cremated remains of two adults and a child. Mound B housed a log-lined crematorium and the cremated remains and unburned remains of several individuals, along with copper spools and projectile points made with non-native materials, indicating a culture that included long distance travel.

We leave the Trace at mile marker 260 and enter Tupelo, back into fast food strip land. We check in to our home for the evening and head out to explore a little Tupelo. First stop: Elvis Presley’s birthplace, coincidentally located on Elvis Presley Drive. The tiny, two-room, shotgun house built by Vernon Presley is preserved and open to the public for a fee. Elvis was born in the house on January 8th, 1935. The museum on the property has free admission.

…in all its glory. Can’t you just feel the “King of Rock and Roll” vibe emanating from it? Me neither.

Next stop on our mini Elvis tour is Tupelo Hardware Store, “coincidentally” located a few doors from a guitar shop Rob wants to check out. Tupelo Hardware is where Elvis ‘s mother bought his first guitar for his 11th birthday in 1946.

Dinner tonight is also on the Elvis tour. Elvis spent a lot of time in Johnnie’s Drive-In growing up and as a young teen. The drive-in looks pretty much as it must have back in the day. We chose the Elvis Booth as it was unoccupied. This is where he is said to have spent his time. The eatery, decorated in early- and mid-Elvis is small, boasting just ten tables, two counter stools, two tables on the patio and carhop service.

The menu is presented above the kitchen on magnet boards. I spy a pimento cheese on the board. I really want a cheese burger but I am intrigued by this southern specialty. We decide to order one to try and share. I get my cheeseburger and onion rings and Rob orders a BBQ sandwich and rings. The pimento cheese is a satisfying grilled sandwich containing of all things, cheddar cheese with pimento, shredded iceberg lettuce, tomato and mayo.

My cheeseburger is a basic, classic simple homemade beef patty on a soft white bun, with processed cheese, lettuce, onion, and pickles. $1.29. Rob’s BBQ sandwich comes on the same white bun and is filled with house-smoked, coarse-chopped pork shoulder, a small dab of BBQ sauce, mustard, tomato and onions. It’s good pulled pork – a flavourful, substantial, easy-eating sandwich. The rings were decent and the service was awesome and super Southern friendly.

BBQ sandwich from Johnnie’s.
Cheeseburgers for $1.29. Really.

 

Sitting in Elvis’ favourite booth!

Johnnie's Drive In on Urbanspoon