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Friday, December 23, 2011

Odds and Ends: Bone-In Artisan Barbecue on Wheel's Buffet

Heading into Bone-In Artisan Barbecue's buffet, I knew I was in store for something delicious and wonderful with all the hype surrounding it, but I was in no way prepared to discover the awesome insanity that laid ahead. For $12, a mere $3-4 more then your average Bone-In meal, you not only get a full-on assault of their usual menu, but also a plethora of amazing eats and surprises that looks subtle at first glance, but explodes at first bite with bursts of creativity.

Take their mac and cheese for instance. A traditional looking pile of cheesy goodness at first site, a spoonful reveals the amazing Bone-In twist at the bottom - hoisin barbecue, by the heap. The combination of the familiar mac and cheese (which is packed with a variety of cheeses, including blue which is a nice touch) and the smoky barbecue is both amazing and sinister, a force to be reckoned with.

Hog seems to find it's way into most dishes for that matter, whether it's in their meaty hash, their succotash and collards, or in their zany bacon pimento cheese. They also have a pretty wicked lima bean and grape tomato dish that looks bright and innocent on the surface, but is packed with an incredible meaty flavor that would make even the most timid of vegetable eaters want extra. For those looking for a brief intermission, a nice salad of mixed local greens and some pretty darn special mashed sweet potatoes on the side helps keep things going.

And then there's the meats. Their barbecue admittedly somewhat falters in the face of Columbia's best for me. Little Pig's and other South Carolina barbecue joints have a slight edge with their super tender hog and classic South Carolina sauces. Bone-In's secret weapon though is in their ability to rift some pretty edgy concoctions, for me best of all being their sriracha fried chicken; a super moist, flavor bursting hunk of chicken that's just flat out delicious. Not spicy like you'd think something doused in sriracha batter might be, but really spot on and juicy all the way to the bone. A must have.

Desert presents itself in a big way, first with the oh-so-amazing blueberry cobbler. Words fail me on describing how good this is, you just have to be there. The choice of cookie for the day, perhaps not-so-innocent at first glance, was definitely not innocent at first bite either. The kitchen sink of cookies, a brownie blasted concoction filled with everything including macadamia nuts, white and semi-sweet chocolate chips, and some marshmallow-y thing. If you dislike any one of these things, you're still likely be in love with one of these chocolate bombs. Between the chocolate bomb and berry cobbler, it's a heck of a finish to a devastatingly good lunch experience. Make sure you hit up Bone-In on their twitter or facebook to find out when the next buffet is coming to the Apple to get a bite of what may be Cola's best lunch.

Bone-In Artisan Barbecue on Wheels on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Chew on This: "The Jamaican" at The Other Store in Columbia, SC

Tucked away in the back of an old gas station in Forest Acres are some of the best sandwiches in the city, including this sweet and spicy shrimp and chicken sandwich. Piled high on The Other Store's wonderfully soft and chewy sub, it's a surprisingly damn good bite you'll want to check out for lunch while admiring the unusual location. The chicken is tender and well seasoned, and the shrimp is nice and fresh, a great marriage with all the spices packed in. If you can grab the potato salad, do it, but their pasta salad is just as good along with their fruit cup with homemade yogurt drizzled on top.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Odds and Ends: Brunch at Tipsy Teapot in Greenville, NC

Brunch, I hear among chefs is one of the most disliked things a line cook could possibly ever want to do. After a busy day of orders on Saturday night, the last thing that most would want to do with their time is make hollandaise sauce for Benedict eggs or send out fifty omelets early on a Sunday morning. Though the food can be great, even spectacular some places, brunch in reality is generally just a fancy offshoot of what most restaurants do flat out better at any other time of the week.

With that in mind, it is awfully nice to have a place like Tipsy Teapot, who is not really known for being a restaurant location as much as it is a tea shop, and get a really lovingly crafted brunch from scratch, buffet style at that. The fact that on most occasions it is only on the second Sunday of the month makes it an even more sought out meal during the East Carolina school year, a genuinely pleasant event to look forward to and enjoy in a town where few food events tend to go down.

The brunch buffet at Tipsy is somewhat modest, but genuine. Ham, bacon, sausage, eggs scrambled and in a quiche are there along with a few variations on potatoes and a roasted vegetable dish or two. Best of all in the hot section may be the shrimp and grits, a cheesy, creamy, slightly tangy and spicy pile of love that magically brings everything together and makes it all wonderful. Shrimp and grits is hard to find made well and for an affordable price in Greenville, so to have all you can handle for brunch once a month is quite a lovely thing. If one is lucky, they may also find some of Tipsy's special oatmeal, a sweet and cinnamon-y blend that is too die for.

On the pastry side of the counter on the opposite end you can find some real gems including the lightest, fluffiest little muffins you'll ever see and some seriously addicting sweet treats that you'll find yourself quickly piling onto your plate at first sight. Make sure you save room for their trifle though, a sweet and succulent tray of strawberries, cream and cake that is worth going back for second and thirds. Round that out with Tipsy's assortment of tea (usually black current and jasmine) or coffee and you'll find yourself spending a very nice early Sunday afternoon filling up on arguably Greenville's best brunch. If you find yourself free in the Greenville area during the second Sunday of the month, I couldn't think of a better way to spend it then eating yourself silly at Tipsy Teapot.

Acasia's Tipsy Teapot on Urbanspoon

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: Coffee Shack

Tucked away in its
own parallel universe
between Greenville and Winterville, the Coffee Shack is a charming and spacious getaway from the East Carolina University life.
Featuring a small array of sandwiches and deserts, it isn't by any means a giant culinary monster worth jumping into, but as a coffee and desert shop it has it's redeeming qualities that keep it in competition with the much-talked about Scullery in the heart of Greenville.

So... I don't like the sandwiches at Coffee Shack. I hate to be so forward, but it's the honest truth. The sandwiches in principle, like the spicy slider or various panini's, sound enticing, but none of them have been a memorable experience to my knowledge. The slider was kind of this thin, chewy flatbread thing with some overly cooked cheese. The panini's fair slightly better, but usually don't do much for this eater. Their sides are better and more flavorful, but Coffee Shack has other more important offerings to digest for those looking for a small bite, namely the oh-so-sinister line of rotating deserts.

Packed into the cabinet next to the register and the counter in front of the coffee are Coffee Shack's creations. You'll regularly find cupcakes, muffins, and danishes in the glass cabinet, all of which are fine and reliable for a mid-paper break, but on the counter is exciting stuff where their pies and cakes tend to be. With the holiday season recently, they've had a long line of pecan and pumpkin pies, sometimes even both as seen on the left with the "why did I never think of this creation" known as the pumpkin pie with pecan crumble. Topped with a cool dollop of whip cream, it's a lovely way to spend a part of the day. Other pies featured recently include an espresso chocolate pecan pie and deep dish chocolate pecan pie, and more recently a host of cinnamon rolls such as the "chocolate, chocolate cinnamon roll" has made its way to their counter.

Compared to the Scullery, I would say that Coffee Shack trails a bit behind in terms of food and even coffee itself, which doesn't have the kick and quality you'd expect from a coffee shop. The latte's are a bit of a savior though, make sure you are on the lookout for their twisted holiday twists for some devilish drinks. Overall, there's much more refinement in Greenville's Scullery and a host of more exciting eats offered there daily, but for students or anyone looking for a place to work and enjoy some desert in Greenville, I would put the Shack just a notch above the Scullery who just doesn't measure up in terms of baked goods. The Coffee Shack space itself is larger and contains a variety of areas suited to a variety of needs, including a private room often used for small parties and events. And they have a drive-through. How awesome is that?

If you are looking for a fast and quality meal, this is not a recommended location in either Greenville or Winterville, but if you are in search of something sweet to eat and a place to kick back your feet, the Coffee Shack is a tough place to beat.

Coffee Shack on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Free Times Lists Their '11 edition of Best Bites in Columbia, SC

A couple of weeks ago, the Charleston Magazine took a ride around town and toured it's now established food truck scene. This week Cola takes a second to say hello to Columbia's number one food truck, Bone-In Artisan Barbecue in the Free Time's annual best bites article. Not only can you find Bone-In's devastatingly good Brisket-Stuffed Mac and Blue cheese, but also other new and exciting bites in the Capital City like the duck quesadillas at Cellar on Greene or creamy chocolate gelato at Peace, Love and Rocky Roast. Click here to check out the article and start making your list of places to stop in Cola.

A special shoutout also goes to the whole food truck community in Columbia, SC, which won the battle against city council's diabolic plans to shut them down. Here's to more great food on wheels!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Columbia's Food Truck Scene Under Fire

It's no secret to anyone in South Carolina that Columbia's food truck scene has been in an intense battle with city council and local restaurant owners who wish to heavily restrict and ultimately push the mobile food industry out of town. The emergence of food trucks in the past year have been an incredible asset to the community, bringing a host of fresh, culinary ideas to the city and making Columbia's food scene expand in ways never seen before. This whole wave of success, however, may be in for a downward spiral soon as proposed amendments by the city council are currently in the process of being deliberated. Fellow Columbia blogger The Hungry Lady recently posted an excellent summary of the situation at hand. Click here to check out the situation and find out what you can do help save Columbia's food truck scene.

Also check out Bone-in Artisan Barbecue and Columbia's Food Truck Rodeo facebook page to get the latest word on the ongoing battle in Columbia. Good luck to the Food Trucks!

Charleston Magazine Talks Food Trucks

The Charleston Magazine has a great feature out today on their budding Food Truck scene! Learn how these entrepreneurs came into being and find out some fun facts like what inspired Diggity Donuts fiendish, yet somehow healthy creations or how a camper off craigslist became a mound of frozen gold known as Happy Camper Snoballs.

You can find out about all that and more by clicking here.

Also, make sure you check out my Charleston food truck adventures afterwards and taste the good life in part one and part two of my Charleston Food Truck adventures.

Image courtesy of Charleston Magazine.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: aTavola!

aTavola! is for many local Greenvillians the ideal hideaway from the manic college crowd any night of the week. Tucked behind the new Wycked Grill on Red Banks next to Food Lion, most people probably wouldn't figure out that aTavola! was a restaurant from the unassuming looks of it outside, but a step inside reveals a clean, trendy restaurant churning out Italian American eats.

aTavola! is split into two sides: a darker bar side with sports entertainment and the bright restaurant side where artwork is hung on the walls. An open kitchen sits inbetween the two sides, churning out dish after dish from their large and varied menu. Jampacked with choices in the pizza, pasta, and sandwich variety, most of the traditional things you'd expect to find in an Italian menu are there, like spaghetti and Alfredo, various pizzas including pizza margherita and classic sandwiches like the Reuben or Italian Grinder. Some more varied choices may include the tomato, basil tortellini or seafood adventures like crab carbonara. There's really nothing too surprising on the menu at aTavola!, but there's nothing to whine about either.

The appetizer list is perhaps a bit more sophisticated then your normal Italian restaurant, with options such as a refreshing Caprese (cheese and tomato slices with fresh bread), garlic shrimp, a thing called Funky Refried Ravioli, and what our dining group for the night eventually settled for, the dip of the day, this one being a sun-dried tomato, bacon, crap dip. I've had dips at aTavola! before that were pretty dynamite, but for me this one was a bit less appealing due to the sharpness of the sun-dried in contrast to everything else there. The dip was packed in a bread bowl, however, which earned big points.

For the main course I opted for their current special, a meatball ricotta pizza. Packed with huge slices of meatball and dollops of rich ricotta cheese, it was a good pie that was crispy the whole way through and a sight to behold on its own. The only complaint I had was that I wished the meatballs had a bit more meatiness to them to really take the pie to the next level.

Past experiences at aTavola! have been equally as good. The turkey prosciutto sandwich my last outing which was satisfying with the light cuts of turkey, delicate saltiness of the prosciutto and crispy, rich bread. aTavola! offers a variety of sides with their sandwiches, the sweet potato chips perhaps being the standout. Not the thin cut soggy things that you might expect from a sweet potato chip, these were crispy, sweet thick cut potatoes fried to perfection. Less appealing was the Carolina slaw, a lightly vinegar and somewhat un-alive side that I could have done without. That slight misstep aside, dishes coming in and out of the kitchen all look well cared for and attractive to the eye, always a great thing when it comes to Italian food which can easily be turned into an unappealing mess in the wrong hands.

No Reservations, the Final Word on aTavola!
Atmosphere: Clean and contemporary, but still casual.
Mixed crowd, mostly older.
Costs: Reasonable for entrees, ranging from $9-12,
but for appetizers and drinks a bit on the high end.
Try: Sandwiches and traditional pizzas.
Don't: The Naked Greek Pizza. A bit of a salty monstrosity waiting to happen.

The positives of aTavola! definitely come in food and atmosphere. For Italian American in Greenville it definitely ranks as one of the best, if not the best that the city has to offer in this genre. Dinner can get pricey though, especially if you order drinks which are five dollars or more per pop, and lunch does not offer much more of a saving, so if $8-10 is above your range then you'll have to look elsewhere I'm afraid. That being said, aTavola! is one of the better places to dine in the Greenville area, especially if you are looking for a more upscale place to eat and socialize with friends.

Atavola Market Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Columbia Eats: Sakura Japanese Restaurant

I don't know what it was about Sakura Japanese Restaurant, but for some reason I passed off on it during the years I lived in Columbia. Tucked behind Coplon's in Forest Acres, it was a place that almost didn't want to be found, and for the most part hasn't by Columbia's food scene. That's somewhat unfortunately, because this quiet restaurant in the heart of Columbia would become the site of what may be my most memorable meal in Columbia, and anywhere for that matter, in recent memory. And it all began with a salad.

A small, quaint dish of lettuce and carrot, topped by this astoundingly good sweet, sour, luscious miso vinaigrette. Though it was a simple salad, it'll be one that I'll be talking about for days because of the vinaigrette alone - and this is coming from a guy who despises most salads. Things got even better when our appetizers came out. First was a sinisterly fantastic dish of natto and uni. Natto may be something that's not necessarily hitting the mainstream any time soon, but uni is one of the great wonders of the sea, a melt-in-your-mouth piece of urchin roe that tastes like butter with the fresh scent of ocean. Wrapped in surprisingly crispy nori, it was a dynamite bite, in that head-knelt-back, eyes-to-skies sort of way.

Along with the sushi came orders of aged tofu and squid teriyaki. The squid was simply prepared; slightly charred on the broiler and carefully constructed on top a pool of teriyaki. Every once in awhile a dish comes along and changes my perceptions of an item. This may be one of them. The squid was so tender and light that it almost resembled a good quality steak. The teriyaki was warm and sweet, a nice marriage with the squid.

And then there was the aged tofu. When I eat out, I look for things that I personally believe I simply can't do in the kitchen. More often then not in Columbia, that doesn't happen, but this aged tofu is one of the few exceptions. Four beautifully crisp tofu swimming in a stellar dashi and topped by dancing bonito flakes, it was a presentation that was both practical and extraordinary in design with its play on textures and tastes from top to bottom. The tempura on this tofu is so practiced and precise that I don't think I can recall a time I had anything like it. A glorious dish that actually also married well with the squid.

Things were going along swimmingly as we reached the entree portion of our... lunch. Oh man. My lunch companion for the day decided to go with the eel teriyaki, a wonderful dish of lightly grilled eel dropped in teriyaki and served a top rice. Simple, but incredibly comforting.

I went with the katsu don, a chicken and egg thing served on top a bed of sweet roasted onions and rice. Also simple, but devastatingly good; it's a dish that anyone could relate too. Easily recommended for those fearing the unknown in this astonishingly honest Japanese restaurant.

No Reservations, The Lowdown on SakuraAtmosphere: Casual and comforting. Plenty of dining space.
Costs: For lunch, on the money. Prices and food
ranging from $5-12, enough to fit anyone's budget.
Try: Uni, just to say you did at least, and the katsu don for
those looking for something closer to home.
The aged tofu is the quiet champion though.

It will take time for me to get over the fact I ignored Sakura and Forest Acre's other gem, The Other Store, for so long. It's an incredible family restaurant serving remarkably traditional Japanese food - not an easy thing to find to say the least. There is surely more room for exploration in the menu of Sakura, and more than enough combinations of sushi for both newcomers and veterans of sushi and sashimi to be entertained with. If you are in Columbia, take a chance and wander into the depths of Forest Acres for a taste of the good life.

Sakura Japanese Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Columbia Eats: Alfresco Mobilista

I was fortunate enough to have Columbia's food truck rodeo coincide with my fall break this week, which meant I finally had the opportunity to hunt down and tackle Columbia's up-and-coming food truck contender Alfresco Mobilista, or Alf Mob for those in the know. Alfresco's been turning a few heads and proving they are more then just a catchy name with their inventive plays on Mediterranean favorites, giving perhaps not-so-subtle Southern nods to traditional favorites like the gyro and Grandma's meatballs.

I was quite a bit late for the rodeo, but fortunately just in time to catch one of the last chicken meatball gyros and hickory smoked pulled pork quesadillas of the day. The chicken meatball gyro features three deep fried spheres of chicken, coaxed with spices, battered by panko, sat on top of a bed of sweet and sour slaw and dressed with an aioli and stout chili Q-sauce. Whew.

I have to say, if this was how it was served to me, I would have been pretty happy. The chicken meatballs were crisp and flavorful, almost like a meaty falafel. Paired with the slaw, it was a nice duo, one worth revisiting either with the gyro or perhaps better yet with the fried chicken bistro salad which adds fried onions to the mix for more texture. The meatballs were just a touch dry, and this wouldn't be much of an issue in any other case, but the pita, disappointingly, was a bit on the burnt side, slightly dry, and fell apart here and there during the eating process, raising the notice on the dryness of the meatballs a touch. A soft, warm pita would have been pretty spectacular, tying the pieces together into a well-built vessel.

I wasn't sure how to feel about the quesadilla. On paper, it sounded pretty fierce with the slow roasted pork, pesto, jack pepper cheese, and stout chili Q-sauce slathered all over, but the real final result was a bit mixed. At its best, it was a nicely crisp quesadilla packed with flavor, but in it's less exciting moments there were a points where things just got wildly soggy from all the juices and sauces dripping about, which became somewhat unappealing. I think I would unfortunately have to pass on this bite the next time I venture over to Alfresco. On a more upbeat note, a glance at the desert of the day, a chocolate bread pudding, looked amazing. A heaping bowl of chocolate pudding topped with homemade whipped cream, it seemed like a steal for $3. If there is one thing Bone-In and Alf has proven, it's that they can churn out some devastatingly good-lo deserts.
No Reservations, The Dig on Alf Mob
Costs: There's a little less on variety here, expect
upwards of $7-9 for everything outside of dessert.
Try: Either the chicken meatball gyro
or from what I hear the shrimp burger.
Find out where they are at:

My first taste of Alfresco was a bit uneven, but they provide an exciting menu that has the potential to come together wonderfully through time. I did arrive late on the scene this day, so there's a chance I may have just gotten the unlucky end of this, but from what I had Alfresco looks like it has a bit of catching up to do if it wants to match up to the quality of its local competitors Artisan Bone-In and 2 Fat 2 Fly. The creativity is wildly fantastic though; I think it may be what catapults Alfresco above and beyond as word spreads out about their exciting rifts on Mediterranean favorites. A few tweaks, a couple of months and this could be a really amazing truck to be reckoned with. Here's hoping they are up to the challenge.

Alfresco Mobilista on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The Hunter's Manual: A Guide to South Carolina Barbecue

I may not be the foremost expert in South Carolina barbecue, but the general consensus that it's "only" mustard barbecue and more of a younger sister compared to North Carolina's well-known whole hog tradition is one consensus I'd like to put a end to, and fast. The following is a quick and dirty guide to what you'll usually find in your average SC barbecue joint, including a little bit about hash, South Carolina's staple stew.

A Brief Aside on "Barbecue"
Barbecue is a term that's often kind of thrown out there for any form of grilling, but the proper use of the word in the South revolves around not a particular method as commonly used elsewhere, but just to the actual act of roasting specifically pork itself. While it's fine to refer to grilling other meats and fishes as barbecue, it is generally preferred that you refer directly to the meat you barbecue when you are barbecuing a none-pork product, or just label it grilling.

South Carolina Barbecue
Contrary to popular belief, there is not one, but four types of barbecue in South Carolina. The difference around the four is in the basting and finish, namely the sauce. The most well-known to the region is mustard, mostly inspired by the German heritage found in the state thanks to a mass movement during the mid-to-late 1700s. The taste can be described as a sharp sweetness chased by the mellow, meaty pulled pork. There's also a bit of tang from the mustard and vinegar generally found in the sauce, but nowhere as powerful as the most well-known Carolina style barbecue sauce, the vinegar and pepper. On paper, something so wildly sour in principle may seem a bit daunting, but that sharp vinegar flavor becomes surprisingly addicting after a few bites, almost sweet even. Vinegar and pepper is the oldest of barbecues, and the one you'll most likely find anywhere you go in the Carolinas and even Georgia or Virginia. In South Carolina, mustard is generally found in the lowcountry and midlands while vinegar touches more on the NC/SC border and much of the northeast region of the state.

The other two forms of barbecue that can be found in South Carolina are the light and heavy tomato versions. Located mostly in south, southwest portion of the state, light tomato sauces are essentially vinegar and pepper sauces doused with ketchup for a slightly sweeter sauce. Heavy tomato sauce is predominantly a west SC thing, and what people generally attribute barbecue sauce to be with it's thick, smoky, molasses flavor.

The Mysterious Goop Known as "Hash"
South Carolina's response to North Carolina and Virginia's brunswick stew, hash is basically leftover barbecue pieces finely chopped and cooked to death with potatoes, onions, maybe some carrot and spices. The name "hash" most likely arose from it's similarity to a corn beef hash with all the ingredients thrown in. It's consistency, however, is what separates it from the well known breakfast favorite. You'll generally find a thick, stew-like version in most restaurants, but there are also looser versions that exist that have more of a soup-like consistency. It often has a sharp, sour kick, a touch of spice, and some sweet and meatiness from the pulled pork. Served with or on rice, hash is a great side unique to South Carolina.

To learn more about South Carolina's barbecue history, check out

For a few restaurants to check out in the Columbia area, check out:
Little Pigs
Doc's Barbecue

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

On the Prowl: Charleston Food Truck Rodeo, Take Two

It was take two for me this past weekend in Charleston for their food truck rodeo. This time located close to the downtown area at Post and Courier, the rodeo saw double, some places even triple the number of people, meaning some long waits at a few of the popular stops, but with more trucks and food to take in, it was worth the wait.

Before the rodeo, however, I made a stop earlier at the day at Charleston's farmers market in Marion Square. Many food truck vendors were there booth style, but one stand in particular stood out for me - Street Food Hero, a banh mi station. They had several varieties of banh mi (a Vietnamese sandwich) available, including lemongrass chicken and five spiced pork. Grabbing the last banh mi of the day (score!), I tried their take on the classic banh mi with pate and Vietnamese meats. The sandwich definitely had a more modern spin to it with all the ingredients and the consistency of the pate, but at the heart of the sandwich was a very good banh mi that I'd love to tackle again any time of the week.

After a brief rest and some shopping, it was time to move up King St. to Post and Courier for the rodeo. With the goal of a five buck max/min at every food truck, I embarked on my second excursion into the slightly more but still relatively unknown, starting with Roti Rolls. An eclectic truck serving up a variety of local rolls on roti, a South Asian bread similar to Indian naan but a bit flakier like filo dough, Roti serves up a pretty interesting menu ranging from more conservative choices like the curry vegetable roti roll to the more sinister with the Thurman Murman, a dangerous concoction involving creole mac and cheese and braised short ribs. Being on the $5-per-truck rampage though, I opted for their ceviche. Fresh jack fish hit with citrus and heirloom peppers, the ceviche was a nice, cool refreshing start to the trip. The ceviche also came with a piece of roti. Hot, flaky, and a little buttery, it was a great compliment to the cold, tangy ceviche. For four bucks, this was a steal.

Next, I hit up a familiar face from my last trip, the Happy Camper Snoball truck to pick up a luscious lemon lime snoball, the perfect snack to have in hand while waiting for my "Holy City Brewing Porter braised barbecue sandwich with pickled onions on brioche" at Hello My Name is Barbecue. Unfortunately, the six degrees of Kevin Bacon, a barbecue sandwich with six slices of beer braised bacon (!) was out of my budget, but the porter braised barbecue sandwich was good and hefty on its own. It was a bit on the dry side with the giant brioche and sauceless bbq, but a choice of five homemade sauces on the side changed that quickly. Butternut squash barbecue sauce? Hello indeed! They also served taco versions of the sandwich, which may be the better bet to cut the dry factor.

After a small break, a friend arrived in time to check out PotKettleBlack. On my last trip there, they had a pretty devilish bacon theme going on, but this time they had a light and had an apple-inspired menu up. My friend opted for the curry apple squash soup, which was topped with bacon. It makes everything better doesn't it? Mild, with a bit of spice from that curry, it was a good buy for $4. I decided to move my day into desert, grabbing some fresh apple slices topped with their homemade caramel. Pretty much fail proof in design. A smattering of toppings were left on the side for anyone to play with, keeping things fun and interesting. Just don't touch those red hots.

Sensing a crash about to occur, we decided to go out with a bang and tackle the most popular truck at the rodeo the day, Diggity Donuts. I already loved the heck out of this place the first time around, so I was pretty excited and willing to wait in the gargantuan line for this one. Unfortunately, a chunk of the menu had been slashed by the time we made it to their window (hour wait!), but we managed to gather up what was left, including the peanut butter sriracha, classic cinnamon sugar, two butternutmeg squash, and a minty moijito. I have some slight reservations about the squash, but the moijito was a sinister pleasure. You could really taste the mint in this one, and a sour spike of the moijito hits you like a train on first bite - in a very, very good way. Not a bad way to end a long and delicious day.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: Dickinson Fried Chicken

"No, it's Dickinson Fried Chickenson, not Dickinson Fried Chickenson... I mean CHICKEN, Dickinson Fried CHICKEN!" I exclaimed to my friend as we made plans to check out the new eatery in Greenville. My peers and I had been glaring with great curiosity at this new establishment on Dickinson Rd. since its opening late this summer. There is certainly nothing glorious about it on the surface, but all one needs to know is that this was a fried chicken joint, and from our experience, not a bad one either.

The interior isn't much to talk about. Maybe eight tables and the front counter were all that was really going on. And that's okay with me. The bright menu displaying all the food provided pictures of what was in store, ranging from sandwiches, the usual assortment of fried things including fried fish, fried livers and gizzards and of course fried chicken. Being at Dickinson Fried Chicken, there was no doubt that we had to tackle the namesake, so an eight piece box, an small assortment of fries and some gizzards for good measure were quickly ordered up. After a brief wait, our food was ready, piping hot from the fryer.

So, the fried chicken was good. Not in a life-altering, mind-shattering, "only chicken you'll ever have again" good kind of way, but completely satisfying in its own right. The meat was juicy, and the dry batter was light and crispy. The seasonings were simple (salt and pepper really), but packed with enough flavor to keep you wanting more. This was actually one of the least greasy fried chicken's I've had that turned out this well, and that made me eat a lot more then I would have elsewhere, making the shared eight piece box well worth the price. If I were craving fried chicken again, I would not hesitate to go back for more.

Everything else was on average or slightly above. The fries were your typical, store bought stuff, unseasoned but a little crispy. The rolls were warm, but nothing special. The gizzards are good for anyone who craves it; crispy, battered a little different from the fried chicken to give it an edge and cooked to the right doneness so it wasn't chewy, but honestly it was a little much as an individual meal. If you can order it as a small side, then it's totally worth a shot, but I would aim for the fried chicken any day of the week instead and save a few bucks.

No Reservations, The 411 on Dickinson Fried Chicken
Atmosphere: Clean facility, don't let the bars worry you.
Costs: Most specials ranged between $5-7 with taxes.
The eight piece was $9.99. About on par with most fast food.
Eat: The Fried Chicken. Of Course.

This is kind of like, guilty pleasure without having to resort to a chain. For some odd reason, my past year in Greenville has had a severe lack of fried chicken, preposterous thinking about my weekly doses of it back in Columbia during undergrad, but Dickinson certainly gives me a reason to have a lot more of it in my life, and for that I'll be coming in and out of Dickinson frequently as long as it is around. As far as fried chicken goes, this may be your best bet in a town where fried chicken is surprising hard to come by outside of a chain.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

On the Prowl: The Charleston Food Truck Rodeo

Fate brought me Charleston this past week, just in time for Holy City's monthly Charleston Food Truck rodeo. Charleston, like Columbia, has become a hot spot for food trucks, supporting young local gourmet chefs looking to offer high-end food at affordable prices. Armed with a cold, crisp pilsner from Holy City Brewing - the host for September's rodeo and hopefully many more - I embarked on my perilous journey into the beast, starting with the oh so sinister Diggity Donuts.

Diggity Donuts is a vegan (!) food truck serving outrageous fried donut concoctions such as green pea and dates, mango, and other fruity, sweet, savory, maniacal creations. There were some incredible looking options available during the rodeo, but my eyes immediately wandered to two choices: the pluff mud porter and chocolate donut and the nefarious, wicked, sinfully brilliant peanut butter and sriracha donut. The porter and chocolate donut was more on the chocolate side - a good thing - but had a nice velvety touch thanks to the porter. You know, I would have been totally happy with just that. Crispy, sweet, chewy, and oh-so-chocolaty, it was knockout in its own right. The peanut butter and sriracha, however; that was f@#%ing amazing. The spicy sriracha, whipped with either peanut butter or frosting and lightly sweetened, worked beautifully with the creamy, savory peanut butter we all know and love dearly. This isn't just a donut, it's a revelation.

Next was the PotKettleBlack Wayward Bistro, which specialized in taking twists on the favorites. There's really no way to intro what I attempted this day. First off was an innocent jalapeno popper wrapped in bacon. Simple. Delicious.

Next was something perhaps on par with the peanut butter and sriracha donut in creativity and sheer ballsiness; a bacon wrapped crabcake stuffed shrimp with a sriracha aioli. Crazy. For a midday appetizer, this was fantastic. A little sloppy, but the weight of the idea itself was worth the trip. I want to critique this bad boy, but I just have to let it go. Easily worth a moment of your time if you have the opportunity.

While waiting in line at PKB, I ran into the owner of the neighboring truck, Carolina Creole. Hearing opportunity knock, I immediately threw down an order of their duck gumbo, their special of the day. The gumbo was a little thick for my taste, but chock full of rich duck with a nice burst of heat. Served on rice, this was definitely a solid, warm meal and good middle-of-the-road snack during my food truck run. Best of all was the heaping cornbread served atop the gumbo. It was beautifully crumbly, crispy, and just the right amount of sweetness to marry with the gumbo. Exactly the right contrast you want in a dish like this. Nice.

Feeling the food wall starting to creep my way, I decided to start moving towards desert. Tokyo Crepes has a bit of a nontraditional look to it with its very own platform, but their usually location at Folly Beach puts two-and-two together. While Tokyo serves up traditional sweet crepes like the ever popular banana and nutella and fruit rolls, they also serve a host of lunch and dinner crepes like the Spicy Corn Cheese and Teriyaki. Pretty cool.

I went the traditional route this day though, opting for The Dream, which contained fresh fruit of my choice, homemade pudding, and fresh whipped cream. The wrapping was a little clumsy, coming out in kind of a ice cream cone shape, but man alive, Tokyo Crepe's definitely knows their way around crepes, whipped cream and homemade pudding. The difference between store bought and homemade never was more apparent. Wildly fantastic. My only complaint that the crepe was tougher to gnaw on the deeper I went, with the folds become thicker and chewier as a whole. It was definitely a sloppy affair past the midway point, but one I was willing to tackle.

Feeling myself reaching a state of near coma, I dangerously decided to embark on one more culinary adventure at Happy Camper Snoballs. Verdict? Worth it. With the arrival of fall, Happy Camper decided to offer a new flavor for the season, the Fall Harvest, an apple cider thing full of spices. Lightly sweet, a little tart and slightly spicy from the spices and touch of ginger, the Harvest was a cool and pleasant way to cap off a frantic afternoon of good eats. The visual touch was great as well with the Chinese to go box, slightly creepy alien spoon, and straw for sucking up all those sweet juices drip to the bottom of all the shaved ice.

I had an excellent time at the rodeo, and hope to return for the remaining food trucks I missed out on. The whole event itself was a great time, filled with music, tours of the Holy City Brewery, and a little shopping on the side with some street vendors. Definitely a worthwhile event to check out if you are in the Holy City, for both foodies and families on the prowl for a good time.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: El Azador

As far as I know, you can't really get more out of the way for a meal in Greenville, NC than El Azador. Located down the street from the airport, it may be the only reason outside of flying for anyone to be across the Tar River on any given day of the week. El Azador is by no means a sexy place to take a date or have a party being located in a relatively old building next to a laundry mat across the street and some warehouses. You may not even know this is a restaurant driving by if you didn't take a hard look at the sign on the side of building. It's almost as if they don't want anyone to know they are there, and for the most part it almost is as if no one does with its mostly Mexican clientale. So why should you give a damn about a place that doesn't seem like it gives a damn about you you ask? Well, because it's damn good of course.

Authentic Mexican cooking is the name of the game here, and El Azador features a few things that definitely sets it apart from its local competitor, Super Mercado El Rancho. Before we talk about all that though, we first must talk tacos. Compared to the competition, I think this is where El Azador falters for me. The portions aren't that generous, and although its nice they provide the appropriate custom sauce to each of their tacos, a few of these bad boys will not leave you filled. The chiccarron (pork skin) taco is half the weight of El Rancho, and doesn't have any real texture or bite to it that makes it stand out. The asada and pollo feel average. I think El Rancho's Moe's-esque bar of condiments is what really puts it over the top for me in the fight between Azador and Rancho, and Azador is definitely lacking there. They make up for it in so many different ways, however, that this lost is something I'm willing to part with.

While their tacos may be tame, specials are certainly their game. Weekends are pretty terrific at El Azador when their soups and whole grilled chicken are available. And they are great. I had the menudo this past week, a mild soup filled to the brim with beef tripe. Okay, that might not sound appealing to a lot of people, but I certainly enjoyed it. It had a little spice, some freshness from the onions and herbs, and a ton of tripe to gnaw through. My only complaint was that I wish there was a little more diversity in the soup, a little beef or something to give it more range. Compared to the pozole I had at El Rancho, however, the broth and dish had a lot more umph to it that I liked.

Other specials I've had at El Azador, particularly the grilled whole or half chicken, are just awesome. Sopas, a kind of corn cake thing piled high with a meat of your choice, beans, lettuce, avocado, herbs, and quesa fresco are savory and fun. Their tamales are flavorful and worth coming back for. If these are not things that sound appealing to you, that needs to change, right now.

No Reservations, The 411 on El Azador
Atmosphere: A bit challenging. It's actually very clean and inviting inside, with a fully translated menu available. There's definitely some confusion for newcomers though when it comes to ordering, so here's basically what you need to know: you go in and order, you wait and either they'll call your food for you to get. If it looks like you are lost though, they'll bring it out to you. Pay after. You may get a few glances from the local crowd,
but do not fear, it'll be okay.
Costs: While there are things that are $1.50-3 a piece, I think $6-8 worth of those are what it takes to fill up. Specials range from $7-11.
Try: The whole chicken for sure.

For tacos, I'm still going to wander into Super Mercado El Rancho any day of the week, but if I'm looking for something bigger, I'm definitely venturing over Tar River and checking out El Azador. It's not the most inviting place at first, but a couple of adventures there and you'll feel at home in no time. Definitely worth the trouble for a taste of the real deal in the Greenville area.

El Azador Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Monday, August 29, 2011

Greenville (NC) Eats: Sakura Asian Express

If looks can be deceiving, Sakura Asian Express may be the most deceiving of them all in the Greenville area. Instead of the Chinese fast food joint you'd maybe expect the place to be from the outside, Sakura is a remarkably honest restaurant serving anything but Chinese, including a wide variety of Asian cult classics such as Vietnamese Pho, Japanese Soba, Thai Pad Thai (Ha.), Korean bibimbap, and even Malaysian curry. Malaysian curry!

With such an eclectic menu though, Sakura has to take a few strange twists and turns, crafting interesting riffs on traditional dishes that both excite and impress. Take the bibimbap for instance, a classic Korean dish of mixed vegetables and grilled meat with rice. Sakura gives this traditional dish a very American spin, using a blend of American-friendly vegetables like carrots, peppers, and onions instead of the usual Korean fixings, but with the classic bibimbap sauce and korean grilled steak to make a familial, yet distinctly Asian dish. For an even more American twist, look no further then the hibachi sandwich; a simple, but clever hibachi stir fry served on a grilled kaiser roll and topped with an Asian slaw. How have we missed the boat on crisp, buttery bread with stir-fry, I do not know.

On more foreign dishes like Vietnamese "bun," which on the surface has little room for creativity, Sakura still manages to add their own subtle spin by swapping the traditionally light, sweet fish sauce with a beautiful sweet and spicy concoction that really elevates the dish in a surprising way. People familiar with Vietnamese bun might go what the heck!? on first bite, but the dizzying array of tastes and textures begin to mesh and make sense after a few more bites, be brilliant even.

In some cases, it's not creativity that stands out at Sakura, but the willingness to go the extra mile to make a dish better. The eggroll, for example, isn't that cheap knockoff found at other Asian restaurants and to-go places. It's a quality eggroll wrap often used at home rather than restaurants because of its high costs. The extra buck or so is worth the bite; the crispiness and light texture of the wrap really trancends the cheap knockoffs so popular in Chinese fast food. The list only goes on for Sakura. Kim chi is often made fresh in the facility or by local residents. Appetizers aren't frozen boxes, but freshly handcrafted and hot out of the kitchen. Herbs are fresh from local gardens. Vegetables such as daikon and carrots are pickled in house. For a growing menu that stretches from Korea to Vietnam, it's downright amazing the extent they are willing to go for customers.

No Reservations, the downlow on Sakura
Atmosphere: Clean, comfortable, and inviting.
Costs: A touch high at around $8-10 for entrees and $3-5 for appetizers.
There plenty of budget bites though that don't hurt the wallet.
Try: The "bun", pho, and really any noodle dish.

Most ethnic restaurants aim to serve dishes at their most authentic. I think Sakura's bravery for exploring new directions makes them one of the most exciting places to venture to in the Greenville area. They pride themselves on bringing authentic Asian flavors to town, and they absolutely do, but at the same time they also bring something that is uniquely themselves, and for that reason I have to call it one of my favorite places in Greenville, NC. The owners are incredibly sweet as well and greet all customers warmly as if they'd known each other all their lives. Ignore what you see outside and check out one of Greenville's best.

A Word to the Wise
Heat is usually a funny business in Greenville when it comes to Thai food. From 1-20 scales to unreliable alphabetic combinations, Greenville's got a lot of strange options at Thai restaurants that often result in disappointment. Not for Sakura though: the food is not only spicy at times here, it's almost volcanic. The kim chi stew for example, though a wonderfully hearty and vibrant dish, is near impossible to finish with the heat resonating from the kim chi and added spices, and the heavy glass noodles only provide a dangerous vehicle for it. The spicy basil isn't just a quaint name; it's a flat out threat.

Lassiez-faire, as they say. Sakura's heat scale is no joke and they are proud to tell you that. On a simple one-to-four scale, stick to two if you want a nice hot and spicy dish. Three or four will leave you stitches if you are not ready for it.

Sakura Asian Express on Urbanspoon