Saturday, February 16, 2013

Eating Our Way Across the South, Part 3; Durham to Nebraska

We left my brother's house just before an ice storm. The highway department had been out for 2 days spraying salt brine on the highways to keep the roads driveable longer. We had planned to pass through Charlotte and see the NASCAR Hall of Fame, but given the direction of the ice we headed straight south of Durham and went through Fayetteville.

We stopped at Darlington, S.C. and went through their small museum at the speedway. For those who are not NASCAR fans, don't admit that when traveling in this area. While we are not die-hard fans, we have watched and enjoyed our share of races. The museum was underneath one of the grandstands and held several notable cars. Most kids will recognize this car, the Fabulous Hudson Hornet. Yes, the Hornet from the "Cars" movie did exist and did win several years on the circuit. They also had one of Richard Petty's cars from '67, along with several others. Lunch was a corned beef and swiss cheese sandwich on Ron's great bread eaten in the parking lot before heading on out.

 Our next stop was in Columbia, S.C., the state capitol. We toured the state museum, located in a former textile mill and the State Capitol. The museum was great and included local civil war history that we don't get up here. There was more than we had time to see, another time we may have to stop again. The State Capitol is beautiful. It was started before the Civil War, but was burned during the war. It was finally finished in 1907.

We stopped for the night in Augusta, Ga., home of the Masters golf tournament. We had supper at Cadwallader's Cafe. Wow. It ranked high on the TripAdvisor list and we know why. It doesn't look like much from the outside, like a strip mall. But the interior was a cozy restaurant perfect for an intimate dinner. I tried the black angus filet mignon, hoping for the best. I generally avoid beef when I am outside of Nebraska because our beef is so good, and most other beef is mediocre. This, however, was perfectly grilled and tasted great. Barb had the risotto with shrimp and scallops. Hers was also great. The owner seated us and checked up on us later. Great service.

In the morning we left for Atlanta. We had been told there is not much to see between Augusta and Atlanta. They were right. Lots of trees, and more trees. All the same kind of trees.

Our hosts in Atlanta were the best man at our wedding and his wife. It had been a few years since we had seen them and a long time since we had been to their home. They live in one of many suburbs of Atlanta. After our visit, I have no idea how anyone got around that town before GPS devices were invented.

John and Miriam liked to cook together and made us just watch while they cooked. We had a variety of meals there including hamburgers, pork loin and breakfast frittata. Sunday noon we ate at TaKorea, a fusion of Korean and Mexican food. Barb had the original bop - beef, spinach, mushrooms, mung beans, and marinated zucchini served over rice topped with a fried egg, Korean red pepper sauce, toasted sesame seeds and scallions. I had the Cubano minis - mini burgers topped with ham, fried egg, Korean pickles, American cheese and chipolte aioli. The flavors worked well together.

Sunday night we ate at Six Feet Under Pub and Fishhouse, named because it is located across the street from Oakland Cemetery. They specialize in seafood. Barb had the shrimp and scallops with basil wrapped in parchment paper and steamed, I had the crab crusted salmon. Once again the food was great.

We got to visit their daughter Angie who is a senior at Georgia Tech in Biomedical Engineering. She lives in a condo a few blocks from campus that used to be a hotel. Miriam's aunt told them when they were looking at it that years ago it used to house "ladies of ill repute." Now it is a wonderful condo complex.

We also visited a friend of Barb's from Meadow Grove, Neb., who is also a cousin of her cousin. Kurtis manages several properties in the area and also sells Amish constructed lawn furniture. It is remarkably comfortable. Too bad the freight from Atlanta is high or Barb would already have some his pieces. Kurtis also lives in a two-bedroom loft that is a renovated car shop.

We left Atlanta to head toward Memphis. Enroute we finally stopped at a Chik-fil-a. This is a southern fast food staple. They offer chicken, lots of chicken. They started serving chicken sandwiches in the 1960's in shopping malls and now have franchises all over with one now located as close as Omaha. I must say the staff was wonderful considering the lunch crowd. We were served quickly and with a smile.

For a break from driving we stopped in Tupelo, Miss., at the birthplace of Elis Presley. The very small two-room house his father built is still standing on the original site. They moved the neighborhood church that the Presley family attended onto the site as well. They have a nice small museum and have a short film about Elvis's early life for free.

Memphis meant barbecue, Memphis style. Barb had asked for recommendations from a friend who recently moved to Memphis for some great barbecue places. His first choice was closed the night we were there so we went to number two, Central Barbecue. Like all great barbecue places, Central is in a older, well loved building, but oh the smells and food. We ordered a rib platter for two. On the recommendation of the guy taking our order we got it half wet and half dry. For those who don't know, Memphis style is cooked with a dry rub. Sauce can be added at the table, but you really don't need to.

We then drove down to Beale Street. This street has great jazz joints, but Monday night in January is pretty dead. Then we went over to Main Street for an ice cream cone. Memphis has been doing a lot of work rehabilitating their downtown. Many buildings have been remodeled for condos on the upper floors and businesses on first floor. They have a trolley that runs up and down Main Street as well. Really a neat development.

Tuesday we drove back to Hartsburg, Mo., to stay our last night out at my sister's. We got a tour of nephew Ben's house and then were treated to a fish fry. Marvin and Ben fried up catfish, crappie and walleye. Side dishes included french fried potatoes, sweet potatoes fries, green been casserole and cole slaw. What a great meal!

Wednesday was the final day of our trip. We left Columbia and heard about a snow storm that closed I-80 between York and Aurora. So we changed our plans, again. First, we went to St. Joseph for dinner. We finally stopped at a Bob Evans Restaurant. We had planned on eating at one on our second day out, but road construction messed that up. Bob Evans is another southern staple, much like a Perkins here.

From St. Joseph we headed west on U.S. Highway 36. We ran into some blowing snow, but by Marysville the roads had cleared. We made it to Arapahoe for supper. I finally got Barb to The Cunningham Feed Store. I had eaten there a couple of times before, but it never worked out for us in our travels before.

Cunningham Feed Store is truly a gem in our area. The building did house the Cunningham Feed Store for over 50 years, selling animal feed. The building was rehabilitated by the owners board by board. The food is excellent and the bread is divine.

Finally we made it home. If you have been traveling with us you have traveled through 12 states and covered over 3,500 miles over 14 days. We enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, many days only driving for 4 hours. We could stop when we wanted and set our schedule. This was quite a stretch for Barb as she likes to have everything planned down to every stop, but even she admitted she had fun.

We managed to avoid fast food restaurants, except for Chik-fil-a, and enjoyed great locally owned restaurants. This is not to be a food snob, but rather a chance to show that there is great food everywhere, you just need to search it out. We eat our share of fast food, especially when we are the run to some meeting. But given the choice, I'll take a Mom and Pop shop anytime.

Happy trails to all of you and hope you can find time to be with a special someone.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Eating our way across the South, Part 2, Durham

We finally reached Durham, N.C., to visit my brother for the first time since he moved there 15 years ago. Durham has changed a lot in the past 35 years. It is a story of how to refocus after losing your two largest industries and become an innovative, thriving city. The multitude of changes were even spotlighted in a recent New York Times article, further driving interest in the area.

For years Durham has been about tobacco, tobacco and more tobacco. Throw in textile mills and blue-collar industry was what drove the city. The Duke family became tobacco tycoons with the formation of the American Tobacco Trust. After the anti-trust legislation passed in 1890 it was broken up into the American Tobacco Co., R.J. Reynolds, Liggett & Meyers and Lorillard.

The Duke family owned the American Tobacco Co. and also owned several textile mills and developed Duke Power to run the cotton mills. In the 1890s they saved the struggling Trinity College in Trinity, N.C., giving them enough money they changed the name of the school to Duke University and moved the campus to Durham.

The textile mills closed in the 1940's and 50's. Several of the mills sat empty for decades and some of the old mill houses became crack houses.

The tobacco plants closed in Durham in the 1980's, laying off thousands of workers. Some long range thinking has saved the area. A large research park was developed between Durham, Chapel Hill and Raleigh called the Research Triangle. IBM was the first tenant and the area now houses many high tech companies, including the company my brother works for, Syngenta.

In Durham the remaining textile mills have become long-term hotels or apartments and condos. The mill houses have been renovated and are now nice family homes.

The latest development is downtown at the former tobacco plants. They are now a mix of small businesses, condos and restaurants. The downtown area is cleaned up and is safe once again for strolling and shopping. The range of eating establishments is wide and the quality is great.

The first night we ate at Rue Cler, a Parisian bistro-style restaurant. We had their Prix Fixe menu, a three course meal that has many choices for each course. My choices were: Belgium Endive, Creamy Bacon Dressing, Garlic Croutons; Sautéed Asparagus, Sunny Side-up Farm Fresh Egg, Sauce Béarnaise; and finally Sliced Flank Steak, Collard Greens, Oignons Aigre- Doux, Veal Jus. Barb also had the endive salad but then went with: Roasted Pork Loin, Spatzel, Spinach, Oyster Mushroom Jus. All was great and we found room for dessert as well (Crème brûlée for me, Terrine au chocolat for her).

Wednesday morning we first toured downtown Durham. First stop was to buy some bread from one of Chris's neighbors. Ron started baking bread in his backyard brick oven. He now has his own store called, "The Loaf." After sampling the bread, baguettes and croissants all I can say is "WOW!" I especially recommend the almond croissants.

Then we got a tour of the Syngenta research facility where my brother works and then had true North Carolina barbecue, both types. We discovered North Carolina has two styles of barbecue, eastern and western. Western is a tomato-based sauce close to what most in the Midwest know as BBQ sauce. Eastern is a vinegar and spice sauce that is mostly clear. We tried both kinds, the eastern on some pulled pork, the western on some ribs. I prefer the western, but not by much.

Chris then took us on a tour of the Duke University campus. It is a very beautiful campus, with three sections, east campus where most freshman live and study, central which is mostly housing and finally the west campus. The west campus is where the Duke Chapel sits and is the campus building most often pictured. The east campus features Georgian style architecture while the west campus features a Gothic style. I almost felt like I was on Hogwarts. The three campuses sit on about 900 acres of land.

We also walked through the Sarah P. Duke Gardens, a magnificent 55-acre garden. Again our timing is wrong to see it in all its glory, but it was beautiful even in January.

That night we cooked in and had corned beef and winter vegetables. Made for a great sandwich on the road later.

Thursday we were on our own as Chris had to work, so we visited my Aunt Laura who lives in nearby New Hill, N.C. Finding her house proved remarkably easy, thanks to the little blue dot on our iPad. The roads in this area have a tendency to change names whenever they feel like it and straight through an intersection means it's generally less than a 30-degree turn. Many intersections have five or more streets coming in at all kinds of angles.

My cousin Sherry also came down to visit from High Point, N.C. and we were able to catch up. This side of my family gets together every two years somewhere in the country and we have always been very close. Laura is my mother's youngest sister and she moved to North Carolina after marrying a pilot who was training in Nebraska during World War II. Laura served us a vegetable beef soup, with zucchini bread and Moravian spice cookies, one of Barb's favorites, for dessert.

That night we walked from Chris's house to the Geer Street Garden. This is a bar/restaurant in a former gas station. The food is simple and down home and the atmosphere is relaxed. I had a bratwurst/sauerkraut sandwich and Barb had an oyster po-boy. Chris opted for butternut squash soup and a spinach salad topped with fried oysters and warm dressing. What a treat to have this kind of food within walking distance of home.

Friday morning we left Durham with an ice storm coming. We left early and went a different route than we had planned. More on this next time.