Southern Fried Road Trip Days 3-4: Did I Mention It Rained a Bit?

I managed to have miraculous timing last night in terms of avoiding the rain.  As I mentioned, it was pouring on the way over here but then broke so I was able to go out for dinner.  Snapped a few pics on the way back.  Pretty churches…

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But then it started raining again and I”m not just talking about a sprinkle here and there I’m talking cataclysmic type rain.  My phone kept going off all night with weather alerts for flash flood warnings.  In the end, parts of Charleston got more than six inches of rain – an all time record – and caused quite a bit of flooding, although not where I am staying.  You can see some pictures here.

It lasted until late morning and then blew out over the ocean, leaving it hot and muggy – hotter and muggier than it normally is this time of year here.

I took the air conditioned Malibu out for lunch at a place called Swig & Swine, because how can you not want to go to a place called Swig & Swine?  Here’s the sign outside the place, which is officially, the Best. Sign. Ever.

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I got a platter with smoked pork belly, burnt ends, Brunswick stew, and baked potato salad.  I urged them to give me small portions of everything because I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all and this is what they delivered to the table, saying “We cut it down for you…”

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Um.  Yeah.  The stew was perfect!  The baked potato salad, amazing.  The pork belly was a little fatty, which it always is, but more so than usual and not fantastic.  The burnt ends were stupid good.  They had four different kinds of sauces – vinegar, sweet, mustard, and white – sort of a horseradish kind of thing going on.  Next time I’m going to go for the sausages, which looked delicious on the plate of the person sitting next to me.

After that it was time to go explore Charleston and I was reminded, yet again, that I am two days shy of my 49th birthday, totally out of shape, and saddled with a gastric system that seems to think that I am its enemy most of the time.    I walked probably 3 miles last night to and from the restaurant and at least another 4 or 5 today and I kind of want to lay down and not get up again for a week.

But I saw and did a pretty fair chunk of what I wanted to do.  I strolled up Meeting Street, also known as the Museum Mile, and stopped first at the Charleston City Market, in business in one form or another since 1804.

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It’s got several blocks worth of vendor stalls selling everything from souvenirs to books to soap to crafts and beyond.  This being a Monday in what they call their slow season, about half of them were empty – mostly where the farmer’s market type food goes on weekends and peak times.  Most of what was there was overpriced tourist trap type stuff, but it’s still a cool facility worth a stroll through.

In the window of a neighboring wine and spirits store, the Second Best. Sign. Ever.

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From there I went to Charleston City Museum and got tickets to both it and the neighboring Joseph Manigault House.  The latter was first on the docket, from the outside looking a bit like Murder House from “American Horror Story” no?

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It was built in 1804 by a guy who had inherited his money from a line of rice field and ship owners and used as the in-city home for entertaining and during the times of year they didn’t want to be at the plantation.  Federal style, about 9,000 square feet, and very well restored with lots of original detail including the beautiful chandelier above the 3-story main entrance.

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The house had an interesting history.  After the Manigault’s sold it, it eventually became a tenement house, had a gas station built on its front lawn, was home of the local USO, and then eventually donated to the Charleston Museum by a princess.

Next door, the actual museum, in a more modern (read: boring) building.

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It offers a pretty comprehensive look at the history of the city, from its founding as a walled fortress through the Civil War (sorry, the “War Between the States”), and into the 1900s.  It was mostly stuff in glass cases with things to read – not much interactivity – so I buzzed through it pretty quickly.

It was right around here that my body started rebelling so I made it back to the hotel and took a break.  I did snap a few more interesting pictures on the way of a pretty street (there are lots of them here), a cool old theater, and the Charleston Bay.

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Eventually I went for dinner at Magnolia’s, a bit of a Charleston institution for the last 25 years.  Upscale low-country is what they call the cuisine.  I started with the Down South Egg Roll – collared greens, chicken, tasso ham, red pepper puree, and spicy mustard all stuffed into a traditional egg roll shell and topped with a peach chutney.  Damn!  That’s about as perfect of a dish as you can get, right there, my friends.

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For the main course I did fried chicken with mashed potatoes, collared greens, and summer corn.  The chicken was good, not great – a little dry – but that corn?  I could’ve eaten that all day.

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Tomorrow is more Charleston only with a LOT less walking and a lot more sitting on my balcony reading a good book.

 

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 2-3: Anybody Got an Ark?

Last night in Atlanta I ventured out for dinner at a place I had heard about that was supposed to have the best fried chicken in the city.  Challenge Accepted!

It’s called Odd Bird, and it’s kind of a pop-up concept in a popular breakfast spot called the West Egg on Howell Mill Rd a few miles west of Midtown.  There were too many good choices.  Chicken and waffles with thyme butter and rosemary infused syrup?  PB&J chicken sandwich (pimento cheese, bacon, and tomato jam)?

In the end I went for the Chicken Biscuit #3, with sharp cheddar and apple butter.  The thing that sold me?  They call them Butterlard Biscuits because they make them with butter and lard.  Can someone please call my cardiologist?  Tell him I also got a side of mac and cheese, please. It looked like this:

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The chicken was perfect, with an extra crunch skin, tangy cheese, and sweet, sweet apple butter that was like the best applesauce I’ve ever had.  And the biscuit melted in my mouth.  Put this on your to-do list the next time you are in Atlanta.

Today, I was going to take a meandering road trip through Georgia on my way to Charleston, stopping in Athens and Augusta and any cute small towns I could find, but it was raining and I decided to skip Athens and take the freeway east to Augusta.  I’m glad I did.

About halfway there it started to rain heavily.  Then it started to pour.  Then it became a deluge.  Then I started collecting two of every animal to put in the trunk of the Malibu.  Most people pulled off to the side of the road and the few of us that kept going were doing maybe 25 miles per hour at best and it was impossible to see more than 10 feet in front of the car.  Scary. It let up and I had just gotten back up to speed when this happened:

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That would be dead stopped traffic on I-20 east of Atlanta.  Turns out a semi carrying a huge tractor decided to take a little detour into the median, taking out several signs, part of a culvert, and most of the front end of the truck.  We sat there for about 20 minutes until they managed to get one lane open and we inched past.

By the time I got to Augusta the rain had let up, which was good because I hadn’t done anything more than plug “Augusta” into Google Maps and let it take me from there, thinking I’d end up in the main part of town.  For the record, if you do that, this is where you will go:

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It’s a condo complex miles from the main downtown area.  I don’t know why. Following the moderately tall buildings I could see in the distance, I made my way to Broad Street, a broad street (hence the name) with a plaza running down the center and lots of shops and restaurants in the old buildings lining both sides.  It’s a neighborhood that looks like it is trying to be nicer than it really is but needs a good scrubbing to be attractive enough to want to spend any time there.

I did, however, stop and snap a picture of two of the Augusta landmarks – the statue of hometown hero James Brown…

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And the Cursed Pillar…

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A farmer’s market used to stand here at the corner of 5th and Broad Streets in the 1800s.   According to the legend, a preacher came to spread the holy word at the market but was denied by authorities.  As he left in a huff, he swore that the market would be destroyed by a mighty wind and all that would remain is one pillar.

Shortly thereafter, a tornado blew through town and took everything of the farmer’s market except for what you see in the picture above.

Supposedly, attempts to remove it over the years have failed, with tales of construction workers killed by equipment malfunctions or crushed by debris.  Now it is said to bring a curse upon anyone who touches it.

No, I didn’t touch it.  I don’t believe in cursed pillars, but why risk it?

Since the rain had let up, I decided to get on the back roads and do a little more exploring.  I have to tell you, if you ever take a road trip and your option is the interstate to get to wherever you’re going quickly or two-lane country highways that may take a while longer, remember that (according to that great Hobo saying), a journey is not about the destination but how far you traveled to get there.

A few things I saw on the wandering roads of Georgia and South Carolina… I spent several miles behind a very large pickup with the license plate “COOTER.”

I saw a woman on the front porch of her house – mid-30s, plus sized, long hair – taking a selfie.  No, let me correct that – she was taking a SELFIE, throwing her hair back and bending over backwards as she held the camera up above her.  Damn girl, you go!

I wondered why Baptists seem to like burying people next to parking lots.  It seemed like every single Baptist church I saw along the way – and there were a LOT of them – had a small cemetery next door next to the parking lot.

I, quite by accident, drove through Bamberg, South Carolina, which has a huge sign at the town limits touting the fact that it is the hometown of Governor Nikki Haley.  So later, when she runs for president (and she will) and tells heartwarming stories of her childhood in Bamberg (and she will), I can say “I’ve been there!”

I got to Charleston about 6pm, staying at the Mills House Wyndham Grand.  It was built in 1853 and at the time was one of the city’s finest hotels.  It managed to survive the Civil War including the burning of Charleston in 1861 that reduced pretty much everything around it to rubble.

It’s a nice place, although it could probably stand some modernization/restoration to get rid of the popcorn ceilings in the rooms and 80s era white marble in the public spaces.  My room has a balcony overlooking Queen Street (shut up), which is cuter than the picture I took of trash cans.

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Because it still hadn’t started raining yet, I took a walk down to my dinner spot for the evening, Hall’s Chophouse.  It’s only been around for a few years but the family it comes from has quite a pedigree, managing restaurants and food operations at ritzy hotels around the southeast for 40 years.

As I walked in, a man walked up to me, extending his hand with a smile and a “how you doing?”  I thought he had mistaken me for someone, but no… that was Billy Hall, Jr., one of the two brothers that run the place now.  He thanked me for coming, took my umbrella, walked me all the way to the back of the place to show me where the bathroom was, and stopped by the table several times to see if everything was all right.  It wasn’t me… he and his brother did that with everyone they didn’t know.  The ones they did know, got a huge “Hey!” and a hug.

Being from Los Angeles and averse to any human contact that doesn’t involve screaming at people who won’t go faster on the freeway, I was immediately suspicious.  I think they’re hiding something.

Anyway, the food… unbelievable.  As y’all probably know, I write about Las Vegas, so I have eaten at more steakhouses than I ever care to think about.  This one could kick the ass of just about all of them.

They had an onion soup that came with gooey gruyere, scallions, and topped with french fried onion straws.  Absolutely the best version of this dish that I have ever tasted.

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For my main course I had a bone-in filet that I would probably rank in my top three of the best steaks I have ever tasted in my life.  Tender, juicy, flavorful – that bone-in thing really added to it I think – with a smoky, vaguely peppery flavor.  Man that was a good steak.

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Sides included pepper jack creamed corn, which is exactly what it sounds like and exactly that amazing, and loaded mashed potatoes.  There was bacon in it. Not cheap but totally worth it.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering… no, I can’t eat anywhere near all of anything that I am taking pictures of.  I managed to get about halfway through the soup, maybe a third of the way through the steak, and was only able to have a few bites of the sides.  And yes, I feel like crap after every meal, but darn it, I’m enjoying them while I eat them!

I wandered down King Street on the way to and from the restaurant, one of the main drags of Charleston.  It’s lined with shops and restaurants and is cute, but a little too mainstream for my tastes.  There are a few indie stores and galleries, but most of it is Urban Outfitters, H&M, and Chipotle.  It’s like those suburban malls that are done to look like an old downtown street scene (The Grove or Americana in LA or The District or Downtown Summerlin in Vegas) only somehow less interesting because they took actual old, interesting buildings and slapped giant GAP signs on the front, covering the interesting architectural detail.  In a way, it has the exact opposite of Broad Street in Augusta.  That one needed a scrubbing, this one was a little too well-scrubbed.

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But that was just one street and there is much more to explore, hopefully tomorrow but we’ll see.  The forecast is calling for severe storms and torrential rains, some of the leftovers of Erika, through tomorrow afternoon so I might be seeing Charleston from my balcony until it clears up.   More tomorrow.

Southern Fried Road Trip Days 1-2: Pork & Pontiacs

The flight in was uneventful, which is always good.  Eventful flights may give you fun stories to tell later but they kind of suck when they are actually happening.

Got the rental car and had a bad feeling about it.  It was a Ford Fusion, which normally would be just fine – they are good cars, generally speaking – but this one had 44,000 miles on it.  I used to work for Avis and I can tell you that 44,000 miles on a rental car is like 132,000 miles in a regular car.  But it wasn’t banged up, seemed to run fine, and had a sunroof, so what the hell.

On the way to the hotel, the radio quit – like, just quit.  No matter how many buttons I pushed, it had decided to not work.  Of course then it decided to start working again, after I had turned the volume all the way up thinking that might help for some reason.  I almost drove into the center divider.  I love Rhianna but nobody sounds good with the sound turned on high in a closed car.

Then it seemed fine.  (insert ominous music for foreshadowing here)

Staying at the Hyatt Midtown, which is a Hyatt in just about every way.  Clean, comfortable, modern, boring as hell, but it works.  If you haven’t been to Midtown Atlanta lately you probably wouldn’t recognize it with all the construction.  There are new buildings everywhere and cranes everywhere else.

082815_01_skylineFor dinner I went back to South City Kitchen just a few blocks away.  I started with the pork BBQ hoecake, with scallions and horseradish slaw.  Sweet and savory and spicy and tangy all in one, with the sweet coming from the hoecake, the savory from the shredded pork, the spicy from the horseradish, and the tangy from the BBQ sauce.  It was perfect.

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Just in case: hoecake – a cornmeal flatbread, often sweetened.  It’s sort of like a flat piece of cornbread.

I followed it up with the pork chop that I have been dreaming about since I ate here last year.  Bone in with a creole-mustard glaze, topped with crispy onions and sitting on a bed of fingerling potatoes cooked in bacon fat.  COME ON!  I will continue dreaming about this until the next time I come back to Atlanta.

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So after dinner, I decide to go out to a couple of fun bars that I go to when I’m in town and I ask for my car from the valet and it takes FOREVER.  Finally the guy comes and tells me the car won’t start.

So I go up into the garage with him and get in the car and it starts just fine – no problem at all.  He swears to me that he turned the key and nothing happened – no sound, no clicking, no lights on the dash, nothing.  I’m concerned, especially after the radio thing, but I really needed a drink so I went on anyway.

Stopped at a bar and came back out later to start the car and it was fine.  Stopped and started the car again and it was fine.  Stopped and went to start the car the third time, now about 1am, and nothing.  Dead.  Zippo. Zilch. Nada.  Complete and utter silence when I turned the key.

I kept trying for about 15 minutes and was about to call the rental company’s roadside service when I decided to turn the key one more time… and it worked as if nothing had happened.

So, this morning I got a later of a start than I intended because I had to drive back to the airport to exchange cars.  Now I have a nearly new Chevy Malibu, which is as boring as the Hyatt, but at least it runs.

After revisiting Hartsfield, I hit the road north to have a bit of a Plucky blast from the past.  Way back in 2008, on my third Plucky Survivors See America trip with my friend Mary, we did 2,400 miles through the deep south round trip from Atlanta.  On our second to last day we stopped at a place called Poole’s BBQ in East Elijay, Georgia.

The place is famous for it’s colorful owner, the (honorary) Colonel Poole who proudly displays his conservative political views on the walls of the restaurant and has become a de facto campaign stop for any Republican candidate who comes through the state.  There are pictures of him, usually wearing the a bright yellow suit and an American Flag top hat, shaking hands with everyone from Pat Buchanan to Mitt Romney.   He looks like this:

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Politics aside, Poole’s a hoot.  The main restaurant is called  the Taj Ma-Hog and behind it is the Pig Hill of Fame, where people can pay a few bucks to have something written on a wood cutout of a pig and placed on a big hill.   Oh, and they have really good BBQ, also.

Mary and I ordered a pig and they were supposed to write Plucky Survivors 3 on it and place it on the hill.

So today, I drove about 90 minutes north of Atlanta back to Poole’s just to see if I could find it seven years later amongst the hundreds of signs on the hill.  I couldn’t, but it was still fun to know that it was there, somewhere.  All I could think is that if Mary she would have been 100% convinced that she would be able to find it and would have stayed until she did.  Damn, I miss her.

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Then I went inside to have me some ‘que.  Got a plate with a quarter-white chicken, pulled pork, mac and cheese, and corn on the cob.  If you look closely, you’ll note that the corn is sitting in a pool of melted butter, none of this hipster crap with the roasted corn and chile powder rub that you find at gastro pubs these days.  Hot damn, y’all, I’m in Georgia!

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And you want to know how else I know I’m in Georgia?  All the confederate flags on people’s cars and signs like these…

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Please note that all of these were within about 1/4 of a mile of each other in the little town of White, Georgia.  Feel free to insert your own eye roll.

Just down the road a piece, was the main event of the day – Old Car City.  This is 34 acres of trails through the woods – about 6 miles if you do them all – that are lined with junk cars.  They range from 50s Cadillacs to 60s Thunderbirds to 70s Pintos to 80s Pontiacs and beyond, over 4,000 of them rotting there in the Georgia countryside.

It sounds like a junkyard, and it is, but it’s also kind of art, and I found it thought-provoking in a way that I hadn’t expected.  As you scroll through the pictures below, remember that every one of these vehicles was built by people and owned by people.  People drove to work in these cars and took vacations in them and maybe slept in them or drove them drunk one night or fought with their wife in them or sang with the kids or got someone pregnant in the backseat or maybe just took a drive through the Georgia countryside for some memories and some really good barbecue.

I’m taking a meandering road trip east tomorrow and will write more when I am settled in to Charleston, South Carolina.  Someday there will be a gold Chevy Malibu sitting in a junkyard somewhere that helped me get there.

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Southern Fried Road Trip Day 0: Erika, Bad You

So the intention was to take a little trip down south for my birthday.  Spend a couple of days in Atlanta, then three nights in Charleston, three nights in my beloved Savannah, and then back to Atlanta for a night, with some good road trip fun along the way. Now some bitch named Erika might be screwing with my plans. Watch this space for deep south roadside photos, food porn, and random pictures of me fleeing. erika