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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Got R Dun

Greetings Lovers of Pork;

Or pork-related products;

Or pigs in general;

Or not.

We landed at SFO last Saturday and boy are my arms tired. I'm not joking: carrying luggage for what seemed like 5 miles through the mega-sprawl that is ATL can be exhausting, especially when you get stuck finding a gate that isn't accessible by people mover or by tram. In addition, the whole trip back I had a freakin' killer headache, my stomach felt like shit, and it felt like someone smacked my ears with the palm of their hands.

I was beat.

And going through pork withdrawal.

I'm better now and once I get into the hang of actually writing again, I'll be posting each and every glorious detail of Bacon Press's Southern-Fried Bar-B-Q Roadtrip 2007. Even though I'm a little out of practice with this writing thing and it feels like there's way too much information swimming around in my head, I feel inspired by my trip and hope to share some of the food and places I enjoyed while careening in an economy rental car through the South with Bruce, a plastic pig hanging from our rear-view mirror, and a Piggly Wiggly potholder beaming out our rear window to those people I cut off outside of the Asheville Mall parking lot.

Before I start with the food, some observations:

1. The flying experience:
Okay: I just hate flying. I also hate hospitals. Flying is like the equivalent to being stuck in a hospital where upon arrival some orderly sticks a finger up your butt and rushes you through the door before you've had a chance to regain your composure. As with hospitals, I'm eternally grateful that the people with whom you most often come in contact with also happen to be the most disgruntled, lowest paid, and with the biggest fucking chip on their shoulders both sides of the Mississippi. That said, at least we're "safe" – the elimination of the customary airplane meal alone has saved countless lives from food poisoning.

2. The Dirty South:
My KINGDOM for one simple, ordinary PAPER towel in the men's bathroom in South Carolina and Georgia! Instead, I get these infernal electric blow dryers. Guess what? I frickin' hate those things! I know it seems more environmentally friendly to do away with paper towels, but those dryers drive me bat-shit crazy! It's not like I use a whole lot. Just one (1) to dry my hands – and with that one (1), I use to open the door with, promptly throwing in the closest trash receptacle as the door is closing behind me. I never get my hands dry using electric dryers, no matter how fast or how hard I rub them. I just end up wiping them on my clothes. And then I have to touch, with my freshly clean and bare hands, the same door handle someone who just left without washing his nasty-ass greasy grubby paws after God-knows-what business he's been up to, thereby contaminating MY hands with billions of virulent, microscopic germs...!!!

(Please Jesus make it stop.)

God help me, I will mow down a pristine old-growth wilderness corridor just to avoid having to touch that goddamn door handle after washing my hands!

3. Pawn Shops and Liquor Stores:
People of the South: What is your obsession with pawn shops? And really – how many do you actually need in one square mile? Is 5 enough? How about 10? Are your asses really that broke that you speak with more regularity to the pawn shop owner than to your own baby's mama? I have seen more pawn shops on one small stretch of highway to last me for the rest of my life. "Mega Pawn", "Patriot Pawn", "Beach Pawn", "Everyday Pawn", "Pawn Pawn": Please, give it a rest and just keep your stuff. What gets me is that you guys advertise your dirty laundry with all of the pawn shops…and then try to hide the words "liquor store" from public view. But every Bub from the lowcountry to the high knows what "ABC" stands for and if he can't read, South Carolina makes it easy with those big-ass red dots covering the building. Why, that aint nothing but a booze bulls-eye!

4. "Git R Dun"
Actually, I kinda like it – and my cousin Joey cracked me up saying it. But it doesn't look as cool on your truck's rearview window as you think it does.

Especially parked outside of a pawn shop.

5. Total miles driven:


6. Total number of Waffle Houses actually seen from the road (not counting how many off-ramp locations actually passed):


7. Rough number of pounds gained by Kevin, mostly from sweet tea and biscuits:

3 - 4


Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Tour Diary - Wilmington, NC


We are moving really fast through the South, but not so fast that I feel like we're missing a whole lot. First, I'd like to take back what I said about Southern drivers. They're not slow or bad. I think that was just a bad experience in Atlanta. If anyone is slow, it's Bruce and I. We've been following the letter of the law when it comes to driving since we'd hate for the pork wagon to land n hot water. Speaking of, we'll be in barbecue country tomorrow and if you see this vehicle parked in the area -find us and chat us up.

I should start off by saying that there's no way I can do justice writing about any of the places we've eaten or been while I'm on vacation. It will have to wait so that I have time to think about the places and write about them fairly and in my usual style. As it is now, we're staying at lot of places without wi-fi and we're going at line the various cafes we can find with free wi-fi. By the way, thanks to Port City Java in Wilmington for letting us use the wi-fi!

I want the whole country to have free wi-fi NOW! Come on already! Instead, Bruce and I are braving hurricane-like weather to bring you this check-in...which shows you how dedicated I am to my readership.

I love yall!!

Speaking of hurricanes, we've had weird weather ever since we arrived on the coast but it has made for some interesting adventures. Today we went hunting for carnivorous plants deep in the Carolina State Beach preserve and literally had to run from the middle of a savannah back to the visitor parking lot before we were caught in the middle of a heavy thunderstorm. And while Charleston was GORGEOUS, it was also windy as hell and colder than a witches tit.

By the way, Charleston *is all that* - and a bowl of grits.

It's a beautiful old city with tons of character and friendly locals, like Sean at City Lights Cafe on George Street. Stop by if you're in town and grab a cup of java - you'll be glad you did!

Also, Bruce and I have decided that we're to fly to Charleston each day from San Francisco to have dinner at the Hominy Grill. Despite eating phenomenal food since we've landed at ATL, the Hominy Grill really stands out as one of the best places we've eaten thus far. This place rocks!

Shrimp Purloo at Hominy Grill

But besides the excellent Lowcountry cuisine to be had at the Hominy Grill, we've eaten high and mighty on the hog at:

= The Silver Skillet in Atlanta - awesome grits, country ham with red-eye gravy, gooey good pecan pie, and biscuits so sinfully delicious one bite will make your head spin and say things to a priest that'd make Linda Blair blush.

= Bobby's Bar-B-Q - We stumble onto this place outside of Aiken, SC after we got all the way to Hot Foods by Calvin in Augusta and found it closed for renovations...Ahhh! Nevertheless, I'm sorta glad it was since Bobby's was truly a unique experience. The short and skinny: actually no one was skinny in that place - this was South Carolina mustard-based barbecue buffet heaven. Highlights include pulled and chopped bbq pork, kickin' hushpuppies, banana pudding, cracklins, Brunswick stew, soft-serve ice cream, and fried pork chops.

= Nana's boiled p-nuts stand - side of the road Highway 78 outside of Summerville: Say hi to nana and her daughter in Bakersfield, CA. Stop by and get some hot boiled peanuts in 3 different flavors: regular (just salt), cajun, and ham. By the way, all you Californians could stand saying "yes sir" and "yes mam" a little more often in Nana's opinion. Just sayin'....

= Hanks Seafood in Charleston - Yummy she-crab soup, tasty shrimp and grits, roasted grouper on lobster/rock shrimp/leeks/sweet corn risotto, fried shrimp and calamari.

= Hominy Grill - Love this place! High, high, highlights include fried green tomatoes, rockshrimp and okra beignets, shrimp, chicken and sausage purloo, country captain(!), and the best slices of coconut cake I've ever had and the best slice of buttermilk pie I've never had.

Oh yeah: and I'm sweating sweet tea at this very moment. I think I've finished off 3 gallons so far. In fact, we stopped by Piggly Wiggly and you can buy sweet tea by the gallon there.

= Gullah Cuisine in Mt. Pleasant - A very cool place with a very friendly waiter; definitely a place to visit if you're ever in the area. Bruce had the crab cakes with gullah rice and fried okra and I had the BEST friend soft-shell blue crab with succotash and Hoppin John. At this point, I think I'd kindly trade the citizens of Charleston/Mt. Pleasant our dungeness crab for some of their blue crab...at least for a little while.

= Calabash Seafood Hut in Calabash, NC - Crisp and lightly breaded fresh and fried seafood at its best! Shrimp, oysters, sea scallops, whiting, and deviled crab to die for; all made the better with a basket of hot fried hushpuppies and homemade seafood cocktail sauce with a great horseradish bite. Loved this place!

Deviled Crab and friends at the Calabash Seafood Hut.

= Bowman's Seafood in Carolina Beach - Fish...again! We're going seafood crazy while we're here on the coast, but that's (mostly) why we're here. Bowman's was recommended by our motel manager and it was a great choice. Not as great as the Calabash Seafood Hut, but then those are pretty high standards to live up to. By the way, I think Bruce is hooked on deviled crab. I don't blame him - it's always been my favorite as well.

= A&G Barbecue in Carolina Beach - Okay, so I lied. We're here at the beach and we had to have barbecue. A&G is near where we're staying and it's a great local barbecue spot. Straight forward Eastern Carolina style barbecue, although not cooked over wood on a spit as some of the better places do. Nevertheless, it's the beach and this is probably the best place for barbecue in the area. Great Brunswick Stew, cole slaw (made with sweet pickles as an ingredient), fried yellow squash and okra, and chopped and sliced barbecue.

Okay! Does it seem like we've gone hungry?!

Yeah, we basically are rolling from one town to another on our full bellies. We're leaving the Wilmington area tomorrow and we're not sure where we're going tonight. Probably seafood...although there are lots of interesting restaurants in Wilmington.

I'll try to check in sometime this weekend or perhaps next week. Stay posted and I promise I'll do a proper review slash write-up slash blog post when I get back to the bay area.

In the meantime, can someone please hand me a paper towel?

I haven't seen one in the men's room since we landed!

(I guess I should be more eco-friendly - but I'm a total germphobe.)

Over and out.


Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Dirty Dirty South

Okay, so the plane ride wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

It's late here in Atlanta so I won't go through all of the stuff about the airport other than it was disturbing. We have a very disturbed method of transportation via air in this country and I don't doubt people are noticing and flying less...which is why my roundtrip fare on United from SFO to ATL was roughly $250.

As soon as we left the airport in our rental car (newly christened the "pork wagon" until we come up with something wittier) the level of nervousness and stress diminished as we headed through downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street. First of all, Wow! Everything is green here!

Summers in the South are green, which I forgot after so many summers in dry, yellow California. And there are lots of trees in Hotlanta, which is actually mild and warm-lanta today. The air is balmy here and electrified with far off thunderstorms. People drive slow...but bad, like California on Xanax. Are the buildings taller than in SF? Or do they just appear that way from being more spread out?

Well, enough chitter chatter...I'm hungry!

We're off to the Varsity!

This place was better than I expected. Okay, let me rephrase that: the food is just okay, but the atmosphere is great and the constant sing-song call of "what'ya have, next please, what'ya have??!!" was more classic than the Coke signs that tower over this part of town.

I knew the Varsity restaurant would be big, but they could erect a movie screen in their parking lot and show double-features on this lot. It, weirdly enough, also seems to be quite the Saturday night hangout spot for horny white teenage couples and the odd shitkicker looking for a staredown contest.

The thing about Atlanta is that there is room to spread, and the Varsity spreads its customer seating out in huge rooms here and there. There's a cool section of the dining room built over the parking lot that harkens back to 60s moderne (don't quote me on that).

This place does bill itself as the world's largest drive-in and they could very well be right. I've been to a lot of drive-ins and nothing I've been to until now has been this stadium-like. Things in America are bigger as a matter of virtue, but this is just reeedickulus. This place has the staff of, like, 20,000 or something.

On the flip side, the actual portions aren't that large. I started off with a chili cheese slaw dog, a cheeseburger, and a large sweet tea. First of all, I loved how the sweet tea was so sweet it was just...just...SWEET. No tea about it, just sugary sweet - which actually was what was needed to cut through some of the grease of Bruce's onion rings that I kept stealing. In addition to the onion rings, he had a double bacon cheeseburger. At one point, still giddy from the sugar rush and being here at the Varsity, we both decided that this wasn't enough, so I went back to get more.

Varsity Round Two: Barbecue pork sandwiches. At $2.80 each, these were a little too small and the pork wasn't especially interesting. Kind of like the stuff I remember from High School. Of course, I went to high school in North Carolina so I'm not sure if that's a good thing or bad thing. I think as long as you have a cigarette afterwards anything's good in NC. Oh, did I mention the onion rings and hot fried apple pie? These were the (greasy) bomb!

BTW, the pork wagon smells like a damn dirty ashtray and I'm waking up at the buttcrack of dawn tomorrow and spending as much of my vacation money on whatever amount of Febreeze it takes to exterminate that god-awful stench.

After the Varsity, we headed over to Krispy Kreme on Ponce de Leon Street which was totally happening at 10:30 on a Saturday night. Lately I've been running into a lot of Californians who say they don't like Krispy Kreme. Maybe this is a regional thing. The people in Atlanta: they like Krispy Kreme.

When I was a teenager, Scott, Tony, Patches and me would lay out of school, bring along a cold 12, fire up a J, grab a dozen glazed Krispy Kreme donuts and innertube down the Swannanoa.

At this Atlanta Krispy Kreme, I have no reason to believe these folks aren't blitzed out of their freakin' minds.