Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Adventures in Deep South

One of the reasons that we made the somewhat-puzzling decision to drive the Hackknife progeny (now 4 yrs. old and 17 months old, respectively) to the Carolina Coast instead of flying (about 1,000 miles each way) was the opportunity to sample some regional American cuisine that we don't normally get around here. After stalking several on-line foodie blogs/websites before the trip, we left the commissary a few weeks ago armed with a long list of recommended down-home eateries from Muncie to Myrtle Beach.

Our first culinary stop (not counting the Bob Evans on the south side of Indianapolis) was basically a shack next to a gas station on a bluff overlooking I-75 in Mt. Vernon, KY - Jean's Restaurant, known worldwide (or at least in one blog) for its fried chicken. Mrs. Hackknife and I both got the fried chicken platter with mashed potatoes/gravy and what the waitress called fried cornbread, which came out like a cornbread pancake. The chicken was very good, the gravy on the potatoes probably the best I've ever had (no gravy master used here), and the corn cakes were delicious as well.

Continuing along, we survived all the way through lunch the next day without killing either the children or ourselves (God was clearly with us) as we rolled to a stop in the parking lot at Roger's Bar-B-Que in Florence, SC. $10 a head (cheaper for the kids) bought us all of the Southern BBQ delicacies (maybe "stuff" would be more appropriate - nothing delicate about this joint) we could eat, some of which included the standard Carolina pulled pork in a mustard/vinegar sauce, hush puppies, ribs, fried okra, chicken & rice, biscuits, and cole slaw, plus some more-obscure pig parts such as deep-fried pig's ear (really good), fried pork cracklings (skin), and something that resembled an oversized french fry, but was actually some type of pig meat/fat fried on the bone (tail? backbone? I have no earthly idea. Please clue me in if you know what this might be). We managed to get Hackknife Jr. to try and even admit liking the pig's ear (although I don't think we actually told him what it was). Dessert in the form of peach cobbler and banana pudding was also included in the buffet price. Had we turned around at this point and headed 14 hours straight back home, I would have deemed this whole endeavor a successful trip.

On to the family portion of the trip - 6 days spent with the Hackknife extended family in a beachhouse on Ocean Isle Beach. As one would expect during an ocean vacation, there was much seafood consumed. Local blue crabs, red snapper, grouper, grouper cheeks (i.e., jaw muscle), and shrimp were all expertly prepared by my aunts and downed in large quantities by the 30-odd relatives in attendance (of course, hardly any of it was downed by my kids, who continued to prefer peanut butter and hot dogs for the duration). One afternoon we ventured out on our own to find lunch at a local restaurant - Suzanne's Southern Cafe. Mrs. Hackknife had the sausage dog, while I had a lunch platter of chicken bog (chicken and rice w/sausage pieces mixed in, apparently a low country specialty), fried green tomatoes (mmmmmm), and butter beans. I was hoping to venture further afield at some point during the trip to find a nice restaurant serving upscale low country food, but with the kids antsy for sun and surf most days, it wasn't in the cards this time.

Last but not least on our culinary tour is a place that barely qualifies as Southern due to its location just on the Dixie side of the Ohio River in Louisville - Lynn's Paradise Cafe. This was easily the most kid-friendly, casual, and colorful (think John Waters-garage sale decor wacky) venue we visited, but the food alone qualifies for a side trip. We enjoyed a special appetizer of fried cheese/red pepper (sort of like a jalapeno popper) before the entrees: hot brown for me (an unholy pairing of open-faced turkey sandwich on sourdough bread smothered in cheesy mornay sauce and topped with tomato and bacon - this is a Kentucky specialty started at the Brown Hotel in Louisville in 1926 and it tastes better than it looks in the photo above) and pan-fried pecan chicken in a bourbon-mustard maple cream sauce for the missus, both of which were outstanding and, um, amply-sized. Being in Kentucky, I had to wash mine down with a local beer (Bluegrass Brewing Co. altbier) in a probably-futile attempt to keep my arteries flowing normally.

Will we drive next year? Who knows? There are still many other restaurants on the list to visit.....

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