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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