Tag Archives: road trip

Pulled Ham – Sandwiches for Days!

Maureen’s a creature of habit. Same thing for breakfast and lunch for months at a time. So you can imagine my surprise when she asks for something different. Of course my surprise turns to nodding approval when I find out what it is.

On One of our monster road trips, this one from New Orleans to Chicago, we took a 440-mile stretch from Natchez, Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee on a National Park road called the Natchez Trace. Because it’s a National park, there’s no where to eat on it.

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One day we pulled int the only nearby dot on the map — Hohenwald, TN, to grab lunch and we were resigned to breaking a road trip rule and to eat at any fast food chain by the highway. On the main 3 block-long drag, we found Big John’s Pit BBQ (no web link, no website) and discovered a plethora of pulled, smoked meats, including pork, ham and turkey. Our favourite was the ham — moist, lightly sauced and perfectly smoked. It made an amazing sandwich.

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When we discovered one of our local butcher smoked their own hams and then cut chunks off of them to sell as “nuggets”, we started smoking and pulling our own ham, whenever we felt like something different for lunches.

I start the BBQ on low and slow – about 250°F with cherry wood in the smoker drawer, and then I set to make a slather for the ham. It’s a small piece, weighing a few pounds. But it’s real. It’s not the molded ex-liquid meat of the commercial hams. It used to be a chunk of a pig leg. That’s important if you want to pull it later.

Then I rub the ham with a good pork or rib rub and put it on the smoker, replenishing the smoke wood for the first 90 minutes (after that the bark is formed and there’s no point doing any more because the smoke won’t penetrate.

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After about 5-6 hours I take the ham off and pull it with bear claws. You can use large forks, too. Once pulled I place it in a bowl and add a couple tablespoons of rustic mustard, hot sauce and BBQ sauce and mix well. Then I place in a large plastic bag to keep in the fridge. I don’t know how long it keeps as it’s always gone in a couple days.

I make one of these every month or so. It’s easy to do, even on a busy day — the ham just sits in the smoker for 4-6 hours. It takes about 10 minutes to prep and another 10 to shred the ham and sauce it.

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Road Trip 2014 Wrap-up

So another road trip is in the books.  This year’s was marked with genteel Southern towns and the heat. My goodness, the heat. All the places we visited declared their summer to be temperate with the heat really only coming on in the last couple weeks — OUR weeks. As usual, we didn’t stay in any one place to form an accurate impression of the place. We just formed impressions based on our short experience there. Here they are:

Atlanta happily traded in their part in Southern history for urban sprawl and crazy traffic. We got a sense of the tremendously storied history from our visit to Oakland Cemetery — a cemetery different than any other we had been to or heard of. It’s a gathering place, a place to celebrate and a place to soak in the beautiful gardens. Our most memorable meal was at Daddy D’z BBQ, festooned with spray paint art and great messy ‘cue. Another amazing thing was picking up a peach at a roadside stand in Geogia. Such peachiness. Much juicy.

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Savannah, GA was the most picturesque stop on our road trip. Each of its 24 downtown squares were showcases for Southern charm. It’s historic houses were pristine and it was a joy to walk through it’s downtown, despite the heat. One of our favourite meals there was at Vic’s on the River. A mix of elegant and old school, we’re still talking about it.

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Hilton Head, SC was the odd one out for this trip. It was a pure beach-sun-and-fun stop and we embraced it. We originally wanted to soak up some of the Gullah history but it’s really only alive in the stories of those who grew up there before the island opened up as a resort area. This happened in the 80s and beyond, so everything had that kind of corporate-ish feel, but once you got beyond the bad architecture, the places were great. We loved the Low Country Backyard restaurant so much we went there twice!

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Charleston, SC was another beautiful, genteel Southern city like Savannah. It was a holiday weekend and was quite crowded when we were there and its was crazy hot, but the town’s charm still shone through. We loved dinner at the Craftsmen Tap Room and Kitchen, and the Tomato Pie at the Dixie Supply Bakery and revisited our affection for Cheerwine, the Carolinas’ own softdrink.

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Wilmington, NC really didn’t see us for long. We had a nice breakfast the morning we left but the real highlight of the day was whole hog BBQ at the Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC. They had chopped whole hog on a bun, or on a paper plate, cole slaw and cornbread and that was it. When you’ve reached perfection, do you really need anything else on the menu?

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Norfolk, VA was another quick in-and-out stop on the road trip. We had a fun breakfast at Doumar’s, one of the oldest drive-in restaurants in the US, then it was on to Washington via the Virgina Byway.

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Washington, DC saw us in traditional decompression mode as the last stop in our road trip. There was, of course, lots to see and do in DC, but not the energy to blog it every day. Highlights included seeing the DC landmarks and taking a side trip to Jefferson’s Monticello.

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Here are our “Trippys” for this journey:

Best meals:
Dinner: Vic’s on the River in Savannah, GA
Best Lunch: Skylight Inn in Ayden, NC for whole hog BBQ
Best Breakfast: Ria’s Bluebird in Atlanta

Nicest Drive:
Virginia Byway from Charlottesville to DC

Gotta-go-back-to:
Charleston & Savannah when it’s not so hot.

Food Discovery: Last road trip we discovered Bourbon. This one had a serendipitous drop-in to the Savannah Honey Company that had a lasting impression. We had already been deeply impressed by this article in Afar magazine, about how single-source honey is a perfect reflection of the land of which it comes. And tasting the various single-source honeys fills your head with pictures of where the honey comes from. We’ll definitely follow this revelation up with a honey tasting of some sort.

Parting thought: America wears its history on its sleeve. Every location and story is celebrated. We need to do more to connect Canadians, especially Ottawans to their local and very rich history.

Dinner Party: Southern Classics

Rob and I wanted to share some of the great southern food we have experienced on our road trips and so we sent out an open invite to fans of Happy Mouth via our Facebook page. We have done this once before and it was a great success and this time was no different. Seems people who enjoy good food and travel just naturally fit together.

Tonight’s menu did not come together until the very last minute. Here’s the menu we arrived at:

Southern Classics menu:
Sazerac
Lee Brother’s Pimento Cheese Dip with Stoned Wheat Crackers
Bonefish Grill’s Bang Bang Shrimp
Dr. Pepper-Braised Rib Tips in on Cheesy Grits
Green Beans sauteed with Onion, Bacon and Pecans
Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chili Pepper and Apple Cobbler with Vanilla Ice Cream

We wanted to share our new-found love of grits and what better to serve on grits than rib tips. Oh, but try and find these little scrumptious morsels in Ottawa. A call out to several area butchers was fruitless. They simply do not cut pork that way here. Then Rob got the brilliant idea to try T&T, an Asian grocer, and we lucked out. So, rib tips in hand we decided to serve rib tips braised in a Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce over cheesy grits. Southern sides present a bit of a problem because they tend to serve two or three starches and meat. Rob managed to find some inspiration on the web and come up with something greener and crunchier to serve but still with an eye to the south, green beans sauteed with bacon and pecans.

The evening began around 4 pm when our guest began to arrive. Rob prepared sazeracs as a starter cocktail while guests nibbled on pimento cheese dip and crackers and I prepared bang bang shrimp. The sazerac is a New Orleans institution and bars, establishments, restaurants and foodies argue over who makes the best one, same as they do over the po’boy sandwich,or almost any famous New Orleans dish. The first time we visited NOLA we were informed that Clancy’s had the best sazerac. Clancy’s closes (smartly) during the heat of a New Orleans summer, so we didn’t have one. This past trip I was determined and so I ordered one at the Rib Room.

Making a sazerac is a ritual. The glass is chilled with ice. The ice is dumped out and the glass is seasoned with a swirl of absinthe which then too is dumped out. In another glass, a sugar cube is muddled with Peychaud bitters. Whiskey is added and then that is strained into the seasoned glass and a twist of lemon is tossed in. Peychaud bitters are apparently essential but are utterly unavailable in Canada. We substituted angostura bitters which are a bit more spicy. The drink is a softened slightly sweet whiskey with a hint of lemon, cinnamon and clove. Our sazeracs didn’t taste as I remembered them in the Big Easy, but part of that may have been the missing French Quarter view.

With our drinks we served a couple of appetizers, pimento cheese and bang band shrimp. Pimento cheese is a simple and thrifty dip that can also be used as a spread for sandwiches. It’s essentially a mixture of roasted red peppers, mayonnaise, cream cheese and sharp cheddar, along with some chile flakes and salt and pepper to taste. It’s very good with come simple crackers.

Our other app, bang bang shrimp is an intriguing Southern take on an Asian dish. It’s a cornstarch battered, deep-fried shrimp in a spicy, sweet chili sauce with the mandatory Southern addition of mayonnaise. It’s all tossed together and served as toothpick food. We’ve had this as the centerpiece of an main meal at Myrtle Beach’s excellent Mr. Fish.

For the Rib tips, we didn’t really follow a recipe, but here’s the basic blow-by-blow description:

  • Dredge the tips (we used about 4 pounds of these) in seasoned flour (add your favourite BBQ rub and black pepper, the rub is salty enough) and brown tips all sides in a hot braising pot with a couple tablespoons of oil. Do this in batches until complete. Set aside in a bowl.
  • In the pot with the leftover oil, sauté a chopped onion. When translucent, add about a litre of Dr. Pepper (not DIET Dr. Pepper), about 1/2  a bottle of your favourite non-smoky BBQ sauce and a teaspoon each of dried thyme, oregano, pepper, chili powder and about 1/2 tsp of cayenne pepper. Stir, bring to a boil, add the rib tips (they should be almost covered by the liquid), reduce heat and simmer for 3 hours. The cartilage in the rib tips will dissolve into the liquid and thicken it, and you’ll be left with tangy, sweet, saucy morsels that are perfect to sit upon rice, potatoes or in this case, beautiful, creamy, cheesy grits.

And then we come to the raison d’être of the evening’s meal – to introduce frost-bitten Canadians to a true treasured staple of the South, grits. Most Canadian’s who have tried grits, have tried bad grits, usually lukewarm, unseasoned, clumpy grits at a breakfast buffet when they were vacationing in Florida. Those grits are to real grits like a McRib is real BBQ.

Dessert on this crisp fall evening was the Homesick Texan’s Hatch Chile Pepper and Apple cobbler, with vanilla ice cream. I’ve made this before and it is  sweet and spicy and different. Once again, an essential ingredient was unavailable to us. Hatch chillies are grown in New Mexico and are the most famous chili in the Southern US. We substituted poblano peppers, which are nice and provide a little green zing. The only problem using poblanos is that the heat level is unreliable. They can be mild to medium in heat.

All in all the recreations worked and we had a great evening entertaining our friends, reminiscing about our travels, and despite several major and minor kitchen disasters, including a pitcher of boiling water for iced tea exploding and the resultant flow shutting down our electric starters on the gas stove (blow dryer to the rescue!) and a broken wine glass, and forgetting the awesome, flaky, cheesy biscuits in the microwave, the night was a great success. Thanks to Barry, Terry, Brad and Carole!

 

RT 16: Road Trip 2011 Wrap-up

Another monster road trip is in the books. Now we move our attention to planning next year’s extravaganza. But first we’d like to take some time to reflect on the places we visited, the people we met, and the food we ate.

New Orleans
Such a rich, cultural history. There really is no place like New Orleans – it wears its influences and its survival instincts on its sleeve. This is our second visit to the city and we still feel like there is so much more to see. This time around we got to visit a wider range of locations, from the soul food shack to the fine dining establishment, and each still conveyed the indomitable spirit and culinary history of the city.

  • Coolest experience: having fried chicken at Willie Mae’s Scotch House. It’s such a symbol of hope for post-Katrina recovery.
  • Most memorable character: The three-legged, battle-scarred bulldog we met outside a tavern in the French Market area.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme District
Met this guy walking back to the car. We hope he’s in retirement from his career as “dog put through the wringer”. He seemed content to hang outside a bar and enjoy the breeze.

Natchez, MS
Our last trip through Mississippi left a terrible impression: A soulless interstate and stops that were fairly devoid of charm. This time around, the “No interstates” rule worked in Mississippi’s favour and Natchez was a tremendous start. A colourful, picturesque town in the mighty Mississippi river with a very clear sense of its history and cultural roots. In addition to its quaint tradition, its people were very friendly and welcoming.

  • Coolest experience: A horse-drawn carriage tour of the historical downtown district with Mike (the guide) and Mack (the horse).

Natchez Trace
We have to mention the Trace. It was really a feature player in our road trip. It’s a beautiful parkway, peppered by historic sites and things to see along it’s 445 mile length. There were moments where we felt truly connected to its past travelers. For this trip, it connected Natchez, Jackson, Tupelo and Nashville.

  • Coolest experience: It’s a tie — The graves of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers buried along the Old Trace in the woods and the Windsor Mansion Ruins.
This is along the “Old Trace” a path through the woods that was THE road for almost 1000 years.
Only the columns and some metalwork remain…in the middle of nowhere.

Jackson, MS
Jackson is a hurting city, with sections of the city just outside its downtown core being burned out, boarded up and abandoned. But we so looked forward to reprising our E&L BBQ experience, that it was a “must stop” anyway.

Tupelo, MS
Visiting Elvis’ birthplace was a stop was a sequel to last year’s stop at Graceland in Memphis. People were nice and they were clearly very proud of their native son.

  • Coolest experience: sitting in the “Elvis booth” at Johnnie’s Drive-in for dinner.
Sitting in Elvis’ favourite booth!


Nashville, TN

Nashville was treat for us because, not only is a great and vibrant city, but the company was so darn good! Tennessee was the prettiest state to drive through, based on our last two Southern excursions.

  • Coolest experience: Rob got to jam with Trevor Finlay and some great Nashville players.
  • Most memorable character: “Papa” Boudreaux, our dinner host at his small Cajun restaurant in the backwoods of Tennessee, pouring sugar in his wine and yelling at the LSU game on the big-screen. But, boy, could he serve a mean etouffee.

St. Louis, MO
We had an all-too-brief time in St. Louis, and would have loved to explore it more. It was clearly a diverse city with tremendous civic pride. We stayed in the West End, a university district that definitely deserved another look.

  • Coolest experience: SNOOTS!

Chicago, IL
Shopping! Photos! Boots! Guitars! Food! River! Tall buildings! We LOVED Chicago. It has its own deeply-rooted food traditions to explore. As well, we got to eat in the flagship restaurant of a chef we admire. It was a welcome change of pace for the previous several days of cornfields and country roads. We got in such shopping – Maureen finally got her cowboy boots and Rob got his guitar, which makes it the most expensive stop on the tour by far.

  • Coolest experience: Getting to try the famous Chicago hot dog and real deep-dish pizza.
  • Most memorable character: The amazing Chicago-style architecture!

The “Trippy Awards”

Best Meal: It’s a toss-up: Papa Boudreaux’s Cajun Kitchen in Santa Fe, TN and Frontera Grille in Chicago, IL

Biggest Surprise: The BBQ sandwiches at Big John’s Smokehouse in Hohenwald, TN.

Nicest Drive: Natchez Trace from Natchez, MS to Jackson, MS.

Gotta-go-back-to: Chicago, Nashville, St. Louis, New Orleans

Best supporting role: “Stella 3000”, our Garmin 3790LMT

 

 

 

 

 

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!