Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Southern fried goodness


It's been a long time since I traveled to the Southland and partook of all the local delicacies. But last week was just such an occasion, and on the eve of my mister becoming a real-life 'murican citizen, I thought it high time we skedaddled down South and got him a taste of what this fine country has to offer, food-wise, outside the Bay Area. I mean, selling citizenship with promises of arugula, truffles and foie gras is pretty disingenuous. If you're going to get sworn in, you ought to know what sort of food we was raised on. And when I say we, I mean folk in the South, cause truth be told, I grew up abroad.

But these days, my folks live in Virginia and way back in the Grunge-y days of yore, I went to college South of the Mason Dixon, so I have a taste for good ole' fashioned home cookin. Or, you know, diner food that is billed as home cookin. So our culinary tour went a little something like this:

Stop 1: D.C.
Hardly the South, but it's where we kicked off the eating adventure. I'll skip the sumptuous sushi and yakatori dinner at Sushi Tarro because you've all had good sushi, but I will send a special thanks to Miz Amy Argetsinger for the reco. What you all haven't had, I reckon, is a latenight visit to Ben's Chili Bowl.
On recommendation of our cheerful and visibly well-fed cabbie, we hit up Ben's after a night of le rock 'n' roll. Said cabbie insisted it was the only place to dine after hours, and it being years since I lived in D.C., we went with it. Besides the obvious charms of a joint that stays open late, and serves every dish battered, smattered, smothered and covered in chili,
there was this: an unassuming little sign, printed on letterhead-sized paper, tucked quietly behind the counter.
And sometimes, little discoveries like this are all you need to make a late night food memory live on. That and a regrettable case of heartburn the next morning.

Stop 2: Blue Ridge Mountains, Virginia
Next stops on the trip were two favorite college haunts of mine nestled up in the Virginia Blue Ridge: The Texas Inn and the Dahlia.
The Texas Inn is home to a famous-among-my friends burger, known as the Cheese Western. It's a cheeseburger with a fried egg, chopped onion and pickle relish, and it's that special brand of delicious you reserve for 2AM feedings when you're 19, starving and too liquored to care about the environs in which you dine. Sadly, the sign of the Texas Inn will have to suffice as I was too scared to snap a picture inside on account of the toothless grill cook who hollered "It's for eatin' not snappin' futtograffy of!"

The Dahlia was our home-away-from-dorm, a local bar, which, back in the day, was a biker bar complete with country jukebox and an unidentifable shrimpy smell (no food served there, btw). These days, it's been sexied up with a new neon light and a faux rococo mirror, but the grizzled and bearded mountain men at booth #1 clued us in that some things never change.

Stop 3: Durham, North Carolina
Next leg of the tour saw us visiting our friends Mark and Kate, they of the fabulous Motor Avenue Guitars, in Durham. A late night guitar hootenanny led to a big morning feed at a local BBQ joint, called Bullocks. It was pretty much what you'd expect: Carolina BBQ with all the fixins and a choice of 4 vegetables from a selection of well-known vegetables like Mac-n-Cheese, Deviled Eggs, Cheese Grits and Macaroni Salad. Mmmmm, vegetables! Sadly, this picture doesn't include the other delights we ordered, including fried chicken, fried okra, fried hushpuppies and fried green tomaters. Did we mention stuff was fried?

STOP 4: Diet detox
Needless to say, we're back in our city by the Bay (whoa ooo whoa whoa ho), trying to clean up our acts before the holiday season sets in, in earnest. This is helped not in the least by the arrival of shortbread treats my sister just sent from her new home in Scotland, or the imminent arrival of our Cheese-of-the-Month selections from Cowgirl Creamery.

Lawd, give me strength.