When traveling, it’s nice to afford yourself one or two “luxurious” meals at a high-end restaurant, to be sure. But more and more, when I eat at those types of places, I find myself thinking how I could get the same kind of food in Detroit, and wishing I had opted instead for something more casual that offers the kind of experience unique to that city or area.
When visiting my mom in Bluffton, SC over the holidays, we spent a day walking around Savannah, just 30 minutes away. I had wanted to eat at the famous Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, but apparently you need to line up HOURS beforehand to get in, so that was scratched. We wandered around near the market trying to find somewhere decent to eat and it seemed that there was a wait everywhere. Then I spotted a little hole-in-the-wall diner serving burgers, hot dogs, and… beer! Just the thing after a morning’s walking. My mom looked a bit skeptical but everyone else was hungry enough to agree.
The diner, called Sweet Melissa’s, had a vibe that was sort of a cross between an arty dive bar and the Coneys in Detroit… maybe that’s what drew me in? I ordered a hot dog with sauerkraut and tomato, and Marvin and I shared a cup of chili. The dog was large and good-quality, but the chili was the real standout. I didn’t ask, but it definitely tasted like it was made in-house rather than chili from a can like some diners. Others ordered burgers and BBQ pork and everyone seemed pretty happy- especially Marvin, upon being told he could take his beer to go and drink it while walking.
My quest for regional food also led me to Sgt. White’s Diner in Beaufort (pronounced “Buford”, not “Bow-forr”, much to the chagrin of my French-speaking brain). I read about this gem in Jane & Michael Stern’s book Roadfood, and I’m glad I did because it’s a mile or so outside the downtown area and I don’t think we would have run across it by chance alone. We got there late (they close at 3:00 and we arrived at about 2:45) so many of the side dishes were depleted, but we managed to do just fine. For $7.99, you get a plate heaped with your choice of meat and two sides- I had BBQ pork with collards and okra gumbo (okra stewed with tomatoes and corn), and my mom had fried chicken with fried okra and huge, creamy butter beans. The food was as good as barbecue gets, and I especially liked the condiments on each table- a spicy and slightly sweet hot sauce, and a bottle of white vinegar filled with peppers and other vegetables.
After we ate, I chatted with the Sarge (that’s him in my masthead photo) and snapped a few shots of the restaurant, which is decorated with lots of colorful pig paraphernalia as well as military memorabilia. Sarge is obviously deeply patriotic and proud of his military service! He and his cook were both very friendly and amenable to my picture-taking and questions. I can’t wait to get back down South and try some more regional specialties, and will definitely head back to Sgt. White’s next time we’re in Beaufort. Cheers, y’all!
After this year’s unusually long, cold winter, I couldn’t be happier that grilling season is upon us once again. As usual, my pals Steve and Sarah were leading the pack, hosting the first barbecue of the year a month or so ago at their beautiful Woodbridge home. Being the type of person who has to plan 3 weeks in advance even to invite people over for burritos, they never cease to amaze me with their ability to nonchalantly throw together a spur-of-the-moment party when the weather is nice and invite 20 or so people on a day or two’s notice.
Part of the key to these last-minute get-togethers (besides having a perpetually clean house, which I will probably NEVER achieve) is having a repertoire of simple, popular dishes up your sleeve so that you don’t have to put much thought into a menu, and shopping/ prepping for the party can almost be done on autopilot. Steve and Sarah’s repertoire usually includes barbecued chicken, grilled asparagus, marinated tofu, and a warm grilled cabbage salad which I wrote about here. Steve is a vegan, so he usually has some veggie dogs or burgers hanging around as well. Guests contribute additional side dishes (like the carrot-peanut salad I brought) and/ or beverages. The whole thing is extremely casual and always a ton of fun.
At their barbecue a few weeks ago, we actually got rained on, but it didn’t stop these grill-masters from getting the job done. The ever-unflappable Sarah just grabbed an umbrella and they got right back out there. We sat on their covered back porch drinking beer and watching the skies turn colors as we patiently waited for dinner to be ready (OK, I say patiently, but I did see several people sticking their fingers in the potato salad to grab a chunk to tide them over!)
This particular barbecue was on the small side compared to their usual parties, but it gave everyone a chance to actually sit down and eat together at the table, which was nice. Here’s a pic of Steve’s plate, which included everything but the bird:
Marvin and I grilled a couple weeks later, just for the two of us. Again, simplicity is key in order for us to enjoy it. I have to remind myself not to try to make too many different things, or we both just end up more stressed out by trying to time everything so it’s all ready at once! This time we did Italian sausages and a simple grilled salmon, with grilled peppers and onions to go with the sausage, and a couple of salads; a plain green salad with vinaigrette, and a tomato salad made with grape tomatoes and a creamy, garlicky dressing. Accompanied by some freshly made bread and washed down with a cold Strohs, it hit the spot. I hope we get lots of opportunites to fire up the grill this summer, and am particularly looking forward to pizza on the grill, which is one of my all-time favorite foods. If I can remind myself that entertaining doesn’t have to be fancy or involve complex preparations, perhaps I can become more spontaneous about hosting my own last-minute get-togethers.