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Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

This week’s roundup:

1) At a local Wendy’s I ordered my usual (baked potato with margarine, small chili, no cheese, medium unsweet tea) and got a bonus. It was 5 cents less than what I’d been used to paying. I realized that on July 1 North Carolina’s sales tax had gone down 1 percent, thanks to the Legislature’s budget for 2011-12 (the Governor’s budget veto, the first in NC history, was overridden).

2) UNC Wilmington announced that it’s losing almost $17 million in state funding, which will result in a loss of 147 staff positions, plus fewer courses and larger class sizes. Overall the UNC system, historically one of the best in the South (and beyond), will lose $414 million, affecting every campus.

3) An item from Radio Sales Today (“Affluent Americans More Optimistic, Within Reason“) quotes Stephen Kraus, VP and chief research and insights officer at Ipsos Mendelsohn. Their new study that shows that this segment (household income over $100,000, about 20% of the U.S. population) is slowly regaining confidence in the economy, after reaching a low point in April 2011. Here’s the quote that caught my eye:

The study also found a big behavioral difference between people making less than and those making more than a quarter million dollars a year. … Kraus says that difference reflects something else about the U.S. economy that has been in process since the middle of the last century: The rich are getting richer and the middle and upper-middle class are disappearing.

Interesting matter-of-fact tone there. Kind of reminds me of Emily Dickinson’s description of seeing a snake and feeling

a tighter breathing,
And zero at the bone.

On the plus side, I saved that nickel.

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I realized that after an enjoyable weekend at the Spoleto Festival, I would normally post something on this blog. Instead I worked on material for the WHQR website and for use on air. So here’s a link to that material.

I mentioned in the piece we ran on air that one of the pleasures of a city like Charleston and a Festival like Spoleto is just walking around, absorbing the sights and sounds, and finding interesting places to eat. Here is a highly personal list of places that I enjoyed on this trip. Some of these were familiar to me, others not:

Gaulart & Maliclet, 98 Broad Street — One place I always try to visit in Charleston. I’ve always wondered why we have both fancy and plain-but-good Italian restaurants in this country, and we we have some very fancy French restaurants (many over-rated), but we don’t have many simple places serving bistro-type French food. This is one. At one time they had a sister restaurant in Cary, NC, but now this is the only one. Great for a lunch stop as well as a late-night restorative.

Hominy Grill, 207 Rutledge Avenue — My son Brooks’ favorite breakfast spot when he lived just around the corner. Traditional Southern breakfasts made with flair in a very attractive old building. It must serve the Medical University crowd primarily; unlike the others here, it’s not downtown, and it’s closed on weekends. Get there by 8 am for best results.

Fleet Landing, 186 Concord Street — A great location in a restored Navy building. Spectacular views of the Cooper River, especially from their outside tables, really good seafood, and easy-on-the-wallet happy hour specials at the bar.

Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe, 62 State Street — Another good breakfast place. Not at all fancy (the tables you see here are in the parking lot of a Li’l Cricket convenience store next door), but very cheery and great food. It’s been written up in a lot of places, so it can be crowded, with few tables.

Toast, 155 Meeting Street — Another good place for breakfast (do you notice kind of a theme here?), though it’s more. It probably greatly benefits from its location on Meeting Street near the Market. Good food, but my sister and I found the service a bit spotty. They were very crowded, as would be expected in Charleston, on Meeting Street, during Spoleto. Best overheard conversation: at lunch on Sunday, the sidewalk was jam-packed with people waiting for a table. I heard a passerby say to his companion, “Man, they must have REALLY good toast.”

East Bay Meeting House, 160 East Bay Street — I didn’t know anything about this place except that it had a vacant table right next to an open window and I really needed to stop for lunch. Very nice ambience and bar, and I had a really fine panini. Unfortunately right after I got there they closed up the windows (to be fair, it was getting hot), but still a nice treat.

Noisy Oyster, East Bay and North Market — Ya know, sometimes you just gotta visit a tacky Tiki bar that plays a lot of Jimmy Buffet and has gallons of fried seafood and cheap happy hour drinks. You could do a lot worse than this one, which to this weary and thirsty traveler was touristy but not tourist-trappy. On a hot day with a lot of walking behind you, this begins to look like an oasis.

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Whitey's (Google Street View)

I’ve been searching for the best Southern breakfast in Wilmington, NC. My standard is two eggs, grits, country ham and biscuit. I could get something like this in Cincinnati, but usually only by going over the Ohio into Kentucky. So far I’ve found several I can recommend:

  • Salt Works (the original, 6301 Oleander Drive)
  • Salt Works II (4001 Wrightsville Avenue)
  • Causeway Cafe (114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach)
  • K&W Cafeteria (various locations)
  • Whitey’s (4501 Market Street)

Whitey’s has the most traditional old-timey feel, and Michael Jordan earned his first paycheck working here. However I understand it may be closing soon in favor of another cookie-cutter Walgreen’s. More’s the pity.

If you’ve live in North Carolina you know about K&W. Traditional Southern food that horrifies visitors from Up Nawth. Immensely popular regional chain, especially for post-church Sunday dinner, but their excellent breakfasts don’t seem to draw as much.

Causeway Cafe is popular with locals in the off-season and tourists at other times. It smells terrific because of their specialty Belgian waffles. This is a good choice for entertaining visitors, and of course it’s at Wrightsville.

Several people and sources recommended the Dixie Grill downtown, which has the right old-time + downtown hip vibe. But I was disappointed. The grits were Adluh (right choice), but were cooked thin. Portions were small, especially for the somewhat higher prices. Some people say it depends on who the chef is at a given time. I should give them another chance, I suppose.

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We’re number 1!

Cincinnati's favorite son

Yes, it’s true. After years of languishing in the middle of just about every index, Cincinnati has clawed its way to the top. We’ve officially been declared (by the Daily Beast) “America’s Craziest City.”

It’s a badge we’ll probably wear with typical Midwestern modesty. Not to put on airs or anything, but any city which can boast Pete Rose, Marge Schott, chili that isn’t really chili*, Jerry Springer, a skyscraper with a tiara and award-winning bathrooms can’t be all sane.

*Full disclosure: I love Cincinnati chili, but it isn’t what most people think of as chili. Jenny and I prefer to call it Macedonian spaghetti.

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From January 5th-10th we made a trip across a good bit of the country so we could take our daughter to El Paso for grad school (UTEP). EP is about 1,500 miles from Cincinnati, just about half of which is in Texas. Dang, Texas is big. The Google Maps image shows the route we took. Two days to get there, two days to recover, and two days to get back.

Here, in no particular order, are some impressions from the trip:

1. Wind farms near Sweetwater, TX. I wrote about this in a separate post, which I filed from my Blackberry on the road after taking a photo from the moving van.

2. Almost all the Arkansas towns you’ve ever heard of are on the same stretch of road. That would be Interstate 30. There’s Little Rock, Benton, Hope, Hot Springs, and of course Texarkana.

3. Best meal: gorditas from The Little Diner in El Paso (actually in Canutillo, just northwest of the city). An undistinguished building in an undistinguished block, but it’s been written up in Gourmet magazine and others. And well worth a detour. Runner-up: cowboy-cut pork ends at 11 pm from Randy’s Smokehouse in New Boston, TX.

4. Radio stations: Ugh. I plan to do a separate post about this. Not much of interest anywhere, unless you like smarmy preachers and country music. Because of my professional background in radio, I was looking for public stations. I heard Morning Edition in a few places, and Diane Rehm (mercifully), but very little classical. The iPod got a workout. However . . .

5. Best country lyric: “Been workin’ hard all week to put beer on the table.” Runner-up (from the same song): “This job’s killin’ me, but at least it’s keepin’ me alive.”

6. Worst roads, overall: I-30 from Texarkana to Dallas. Fast traffic, very short entrance and exit ramps, with strip malls and tiny little businesses right up to the roadway. Southwest from Dallas the road is better, but not the ramps. None of the roads we saw had fences running alongside. Judging from tire tracks, people don’t use ramps to get on and off the highway anyway – they just drive across the berms, it seems. Runner-up: short stretch of I-40 in Arkansas just across the Mississippi from Memphis. However, most of I-40 runs past extensive wetlands, which is pretty cool. Lots of waterfowl everywhere. I-40 east of Memphis is pleasant, also.

7. Most directionally-challenged employee encountered: the otherwise very friendly young lady who tried to direct us to the Days Inn in Texarkana. Bless her heart, she didn’t know the number of the exit where it was located, and she couldn’t say for sure whether they were north or south of I-30. The highway travel circular where we found their $49 coupon also got it wrong, compounding our confusion.

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Our daily bread

baguettes

Imagine these piping hot

One thing I’m finally getting pretty good at is baking bread — specifically, baguettes. Good friends of ours gave me a baguette pan a few years ago after we returned from my first trip to France and began raving about the baguettes.

If you have been to France you know what I mean; if not, you don’t. There is something mystical about a daily trip to the boulangerie for fresh baguettes. Once we were picked up at a Parisian train station by our hostess, who made a mad dash through Parisian traffic to get to her favorite shop before dinner. They were out of baguettes and she had to settle for Italian bread. What to do for dinner? What kind of leftovers would there be at breakfast? Quel horreur!

On that same trip we stayed in a gite (rural guest house) in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Probably fewer than 200 people lived there, but their bakery opened early each morning with fresh-baked loaves. The aroma was intoxicating, and the daily trip quickly became part of my routine.

There’s something about these loaves that speaks to the sense of community French people feel. You can buy cheap baguettes at a French super market, but for heaven’s sake why would you? Supporting neighborhood bakeries (and subsidizing wheat) is intimately tied up with the French identity in ways we just don’t understand here. After all a companion is literally “someone you share bread with.”

The best baguette I have ever made is inferior to the simple ones churned out by thousands of little shops across France. (Those buttery crusts! Those gossamer insides!) Maybe I just don’t have the right flour. Or the humidity isn’t right, or I’m not wearing a beret. Or something. But I like to do it. It connects me, if only briefly, to the shops and smells of France.

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Clafouti

Our French meal, part 5:

img00032

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