Friday, June 28, 2019

Eats & Treats in SC

While on a (mostly) southern states road trip traveling from New Hampshire to Florida, we're sampling foods along the way. It's part of the road trip fun for us. Here's some recent dining experiences in Charleston, SC.

Hyman’s Seafood on Meeting Street is a family-owned seafood spot, deli, general store spread over most of a city block in buildings dating to the late 1890s. The popular eatery has been at the same location for nearly 130 years. Dining here is casual place; prices are lower, than other city seafood restaurants. The signature dish is crispy flounder, which we didn't try as it's not our favorite fish, but there's plenty of other seafood choices on the menu. If you like seafood, as we do  you won’t be disappointed.

Seating is on a first-come, first-served basis, no advance reservations. We joined others out front to wait for our chance to dine at this tourist favorite. While waiting, we chatted with a local couple who said they dined here often, but avoided the busiest times, which seem to be any night. Once seated, we checked out plaques that showed famous folks who had dined at the same table. Ours featured NFL player Tony Dorsett, former SC Senator Fritz Hollings, and talk show host Oprah Winfrey. If you go, be sure to try the hush puppies, which were the best we've ever had (see Grenville's smile below). Notice the two spoons as we shared that key lime pie dessert!
Hyman’s is open 360 days a year, 7 days a week, closed only for Jewish holidays, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. The restaurant has been voted best seafood by Southern Living Magazine’s reader’s poll for several years. There may be another reason too as a prominent sign boasts two rules: Rule #1 the customer is always right and Rule # 2 when in doubt, refer back to Rule #1. 

Pane e Vino on Warren Street, is a downtown trattoria, located just off Charleston’s busy King Street on a much quieter, off-the-beaten street. Entering the restaurant, we passed by a large patio hidden behind an ivy-covered wrought-iron fence. It’s larger than the restaurant’s main dining room. The interior was very comfortable on a warm SC evening with a dimly lit and cozy atmosphere.

For a restaurant with pane (bread) in its name, there was a lack of Italian breads in the basket, exactly one type. Our dinner choices were stuffed ravioli; mine was stuffed with a pureed spinach and ricotta blend in a light smoked prosciutto and asparagus cream sauce. Grenville chose a lobster-stuffed version.  Both were good, but no side salads were included with dinner, which was disappointing. The restaurant was near our hotel. We should have walked further along to nearby King Street which offered more dining choices.

Smoke BBQ on upper King Street started with a food truck business that's expanded to two Charleston storefront locations. We had read that the chef-owner treats smoked meats as gourmet-level fare, and we believe it after eating here. Apparently so do others as it was very crowded the afternoon we were there. 

The menu is simply printed on a single page with several sandwich choices, some wings, meat platters, and a salad. Food is served on small metal trays (easy cleanup). The BBQ was served between the sides in the above photos. My choice was pulled pork and Grenville had house-smoked pastrami. Our meal choices came with two sides as we both selected the slaw, which as more of a salad. It was lightly dressed and included shredded carrots, apples, and pickled red cabbage and pecans. Fresh and crunchy, it was a welcome break from mayo-based slaws. Service was fast and so friendly (it's a Southern "thing"). Every employee stopped by to see if everything was to our liking, which it was and very good as well. 

Brown Dog Deli on Broad Street is a traditional deli, surrounded by attorney and real estate offices and art galleries. This small unassuming restaurant was very busy the afternoon we ate there. There's a  bench where folks can wait for take out. Indoor and outdoor seating is available. While waiting for lunch, it was fun looking at the inside wall art which had musical memorabilia and a selection of albums. The outdoor patio has open air and covered tables and is decorated with hanging lights, a bubbling fountain, and colorful plants. (We didn't know about the patio until after being seated.)

The menu features traditional deli favorites, like hot and cold sandwiches, wraps, salads and hot dogs. The hot dog menu has basics like traditional Chicago dogs, chili dogs and pastrami dogs in addition to some Brown Dog Deli specialties. There's also a build-your-own hot dog option which lets diners start with a plain hot dog and top it however they like.
Grenville’s gourmet lunch choice was called The Fab Four and included pastrami, Swiss, provolone, kraut, spicy brown mustard, Russian dressing, horseradish pickles, pressed baguette, au jus. I opted for a traditional Reuben of corned beef, kraut, Russian dressing, Swiss, rye.

Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream on King Street features artisan ice creams using whole ingredients and dairy from grass-pastured cows vs. synthetic flavorings, emulsifiers, and stabilizers. The company is headquartered in Columbus, OH, home of its founder, Jeni Britton Bauer for whom the company is named. Currently, Ms. Britton is possibly the most notable ice cream authority in the world. The Wall Street Journal has called her cookbook “the homemade-ice cream-making Bible.” 

Jeni’s operates 33 “scoop shops” in 10 cities, but there’s only one in SC. Lucky for us, it's in Charleston. A first taste of these rich, creamy flavors convinced us that the lines we had seen the night before were worth the wait. We returned the next night at an earlier hour with no lines and could “sample” before making our choices.

The ice cream has unique flavor and unique names as well, including: Sun-Popped Corn, Blackout Chocolate Cake, Strawberry Buttermilk, Sweet Cream Biscuits and Peach Jam, Wildberry Lavender, Pistachio & Honey, Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks, Darkest Chocolate, Salted Caramel, Brambleberry Crisp, Coffee with Cream and Sugar, Cream Puff, Texas Sheet Cake, Roasted Peanut Butter and Strawberry Jam, Lemon & Blueberries. Which flavors do you think we enjoyed?

But, if there’s no Jeni's Splendid Ice Cream shop near your location, don't worry as the company distributes pre-packed pints to over 3,000 grocery stores across the country, and also ships anywhere in the U.S. via an online e-commerce shop.

(Here's what we selected —  Salted Caramel and Salted Peanut Butter with Chocolate Flecks for myself and Green Mint Chip and Blackout Chocolate Cake for Grenville.)

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Suitcase Living, Family & Friends

We're currently on a "southern" U.S. road trip from NH to FL and posting about sites seen & foods sampled along the way. This post provides some info on our road trip.

Living on the road for several consecutive weeks can be challenging. This current southern U.S. jaunt is our second 6-week road trip within a year. Last July to August we traveled from NH to OR within the same time period.
My single large purple suitcase

These extended trips have taught me that (1) we almost always carry more things with us than needed, mostly in terms of clothing and (2) it's entirely possible to live out of a suitcase the entire trip. Of course, that excludes toiletries which are always set up in the bathroom within 10 minutes of our arrival at a new lodging. We've become quick at setting up in hotel rooms (lots of experience lately).

Most importantly, we know that we can travel as a couple and still be on talking terms at the end of our travels.This post tells more about trip "essentials" rather than sites and foods along the way. There will be more of those as our adventures are not quite done yet, but this is a break (for you and me).

Grenville's 2004 Jeep Cherokee
Transportation: We travel in our personal vehicle vs. a rental and this year we're using Grenville's 2004 Grand Cherokee. Last year we used my 2007 Jeep Liberty. We had checked into car rental costs and after rental, mileage and gas costs (even with discounts), it would have been more costly than using our personal vehicle. 

Also, we would have needed to bring many of our own items, including a GPS, so it's easier to use vehicles we're familiar with and that already have "stuff".

Navigation: We have a dash-mounted GPS with satellite navigation vs. the using cell phone travel apps that are popular with many folks. These could be problematic when there's no cell service as in some areas we travelled. And, I also have maps provided by AAA and a large U.S. road atlas which is well marked from last year's travels. (After cataract surgery to correct for distance vision, reading glasses have become a necessity for close-up map reading and a highlighter is always useful.)

Hampton Inn
Lodging: Since we don't follow a "set" schedule, our next-stop reservations are generally madras soon as we arrive at a destination. Hotel stays have ranged from 1 to 4 nights in the same location. Accommodations are (nearly) always at this well-known hotel chain. We haven't used the popular "air bnb's"  favored by many others, including folks we know. 

Generally, we stick to one specific hotel chain as we always know the level of service to expect. Also as "Rewards Members" we receive bonus points which have been used for lodgings a couple of times on this trip; it's a nice "perk."

Laundry: We've been able to do it on-the-road, not literally of course, but nearly every hotel has a guest coin laundry. However, we were surprised to find that a couple didn't have a guest laundry, so now we check beforehand. Our usual practice has been to do laundry every 3-4 night, depending on how long we're staying. 

Speaking of doing laundry on trips, did you ever wonder HOW astronauts aboard the International Space Station do laundry? The answer is they can't as there's no washing machine on board. Astronauts stretch out how long they can wear clothes, including underwear. That's not quite as bad as it sounds since clothes don't get dirty in space like on earth. Fresh clothes are delivered several times during their stay. Dirty clothes are put in a non-reusable spacecraft that burns up in the earth's atmosphere. Now you know that despite their mother's advice, astronauts don't always wear clean underwear.

Food: None of the places we stay have kitchen facilities, aside from a microwave and small refrigerator, which means we're dining out every day. Breakfast is included at the hotels with  a variety of hot and cold choices. We limit meals to only 2 per day, which for us is breakfast at the hotel, then a late lunch or early dinner while out. Yes, we've had a few frozen "treats" along the way (isn't that what folks do on vacation?) Of course, we've gained some unwelcome pounds. I'm already planning a return to the South Beach plan, most likely for life!

Folks Along the Way: We've gotten together with so many family and friends on this trip. Pat's reunited with cousins in AL and FL, who he hadn't seen in 30-40 years. We visited a couple of my cousins in GA and VA who I have seen within the past 5 years.
Pat (Grenville) with cousins Rob (AL) and Patti Ann (FL)

Dorothy (Beatrice) with cousins John (VA) and Kathie (GA)

We met up again with blogger friends, Denise & Gregg, who we first met several years ago on a weekend trip to their area. We also met fellow blogger, Ludwig, for the first time. Since he lives in the same lovely GA town as my cousin, we look forward to a future meet-up. We had hoped to be able to meet up with other bloggers along the route, but weren't always close to where they live without going too far off our route. (Perhaps, on a future road trip.)
Blog friends Denise & Gregg (VA) and Ludwig (GA)

Friends we've re-connected on our travels are ones we've seen more often than than some family members. Several of these friends still live in our native NJ; some are former NJ residents like ourselves.
Top: Pat & Gary (FL), Mary (VA) Dorothy & Martha (NJ), Susan & Dorothy (NJ)
Bottom: Jill & Dorothy (NJ), Dorothy & Jean (GA), Margaret (NJ)

This trip has been so different from last year's in that we've visited time with so many folks. That's the great thing about road trips — we never know what adventures lie ahead. While our travels aren't quite over, we're getting closer to home in NH. Yes, it will be nice.

Thanks for coming along on the trip and leaving the driving to Grenville.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Charleston is Charming

We're currently on a "southern" U.S. road trip from NH to FL and posting about sites seen & foods sampled along the way. This post describes a stop in Charleston, SC.

Charleston, SC, is not only one of America's most historic cities, it's the state's oldest and largest city. This port city was founded in 1670 and is full of antebellum grandeur, historic churches, cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, and pastel buildings. It's home to Fort Sumter, the site where the first shots of the Civil War were fired. Charleston is known for its history, architecture, eateries, and friendly residents and has become a very popular tourist destination as we found out first-hand. (City highlights will be shared in this, be forewarned, lengthy post.)

Despite its popularly today, Charleston has its very dark side too. It's been estimated that nearly half of all Africans brought to America arrived in Charleston, which was controlled by white planters and merchants. It became the only major antebellum (pre-Civil War) American city with a majority-enslaved population. By 1770, it was the fourth largest port in the colonies, after only Boston, New York, and Philadelphia, with a population of 11,000 of which slightly more than half were slaves. Founded in 1670 as Charles Town, in honor of King Charles II of England, Charleston adopted its current spelling in 1783 when it was incorporated at the end of the Revolutionary War. In May 1788, SC was the eighth state to join the union. 

The Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon (also called the Custom House) at East Bay and Broad Streets is a landmark and the site of some of the state’s most important historical events. When the Exchange was built in 1767, Charleston was the most prosperous port in the South. The Palladian style building was constructed to house the city’s growing commercial import and export trade. During the Revolutionary, confiscated tea was stored here in 1774. When British forces captured the city, the bottom floor became a military prison known as the “Provost dungeon” where American prisoners of war, British soldiers, private citizens, and enslaved people all endured harsh conditions. In 1788, it housed the SC convention to ratify the Constitution. The second floor ballroom was used for entertainment venues. 

In the 19th century, it also served as a Confederate post office. In WW I, the building served as the army headquarters of the U.S. Lighthouse Service. In WW II, it served as a USO facility and troop canteen. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1972 and is now a museum operated by the Daughters of the American Revolution. (This was the only site in this post that cost $ to tour; happily there was a senior discount.)

Charleston’s City Hall was once the site of a public market within the civic square of the Grand Model (“Grand Modell”), a 17th century plan for the city. Fire destroyed the market in 1796, and in 1800 the city transferred the property to the Federal government for the purpose of erecting “an elegant building” that would serve as a branch of The First Bank of the United States. Charleston's branch was one of eight in the country, serving as the “Office of Discount and Deposit.” The contract between the city and the government dictated that in 1818 the U.S. would convey the property back to the city, after which the building became City Hall. The former bank teller windows remain on the first floor. white marble trim is thought to have been from Italy before it was cut in Philadelphia. The original red brick walls were covered with stucco in 1882. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988 and has some of the city’s most important collections of portrait art, including John Trumbull’s 1791 painting of President George Washington (no photographs were allowed.) The walk around was FREE.

The Charleston City Market is recognized as one of the oldest in the country. (It’s even part of a permanent exhibit, “Life in Coastal South Carolina c. 1840” at the American History Museum of the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.) The Market Hall complex is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as “Market Hall and Sheds” and has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

This historic market complex in downtown Charleston, SC was established in the 1790s and stretches for four city blocks. First called the Centre Market, it was developed as a replacement for the city's beef market (now site of City Hall) which burned in 1796. Charles Pinckney (SC statesman, Revolutionary War veteran, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, and 37th governor) ceded the land to the City of Charleston for a public market; it was stipulated that the land must remain in such use for “perpetuity” (forever). Throughout the 19th century, the market was where area farms and plantations sold meat, fish and produce, and was a local gathering spot. Meat scraps thrown into the street were gobbled up by local buzzards, nicknamed “Charleston Eagles.” Coincidentally, the University of Charleston’s athletic teams are known as the Golden Eagles. The original sheds include vendors selling souvenirs, jewelry and other items. City Market is also the center of sweetgrass basketry, one of the nation's oldest handicrafts of African origin. 

The market sheds have survived fires, tornadoes, earthquakes, and hurricanes. The afternoon we visited, many vendors had left or were in the process of closing up. Heavy morning downpours had flooded the market earlier and there were concerns that the afternoon’s tides would do the same.

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is on the southeast corner of Meeting and Broad Streets in an area known as the "Four Corners of Law" (more info below)The building and its annexes serve the federal court for the Charleston Division of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.

This location was the site of the gallows for public executions during British rule. After the Revolutionary War, the site was a police guardhouse and armory destroyed during a 1886 earthquake. A decade later, the site was redeveloped as a new post office and courthouse. The building, completed in 1896 at a cost of $500,000, was designed in the Renaissance Revival style and clad in granite quarried from Winnsboro, SC. The design includes a square tower, balustraded balconies, large enormous double doors, and high broad steps like those of an Italian palace. 

The Charleston Post Office is one of the oldest in the U.S. It was established by George III in 1740. Its interior has magnificent public spaces, restored in 2002. This splendor reflects the importance of public buildings at the end of the 19th century. The postal lobby on the first floor looks like it did when the building opened in 1896. Rich interior finishes include red Brazilian marble and mahogany walls at the sales and box areas. The ornate grand staircase is finished with brass newel posts. Brass designs with geometric, curvilinear patterns and rosettes are beneath the railings. Massive plaster columns are painted in a faux marble style. The effect of these high-quality finishes is distinctive to the Victorian era. (They just don't build post office like this any more, and the walk around was FREE.)

We found a bonus (not mentioned many places) inside — The Postal Museum. This room-sized (small) and FREE museum focuses on the history of the postal service in Charleston and features old stamps, post office memorabilia and newspaper clippings. The museum is open during normal P.O. business hours. (The current price of a U.S. first-class stamp is 55 cents, so free is always nice.)

The U.S. Post Office and Courthouse is at a Charleston intersection called the "Four Corners of Law.” (This phrase was coined in the 1930s by Robert Ripley, creator of Ripley's Believe it or Not! and so I believed it.) On the NW corner, a 1792 courthouse represents the role of county government in Charleston. City Hall on the NE corner, symbolized the presence of municipal government. St. Michael's Episcopal Church signifies divine law as a component in community life when the Anglican Church was the established church of the community. 

Rainbow Row is the collective name of 13 brightly-colored historic houses that represent the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the U.S. They are located on East Bay Street near the waterfront and, while you can't tour these private residences, looking at the exteriors is FREE. The name was coined after the houses were repainted in pastel colors following 1030s and 1940s restoration. This very popular tourist attraction is one of Charleston’s most photographed areas. Visit this area any day to see photos being taken for special occasions, along with tourists, like us, trying to get an unobstructed photo of the colorful residences. Which, by the way is difficult given the street-parked cars and other sidewalk photo-takers. 

The Rainbow Row homes are privately owned, and there’s no chance of the color schemes being changed. WHY? Because city ordinances ensure that the pastel colors remain.The city wouldn’t want to lose a tourist draw that costs it no maintenance dollars.

As with most historic buildings in Charleston, the homes have a backstory and it's just as colorful. First constructed about 1740, the owners were merchants who ran a business on the ground floor and lived on the top floor. Over the years, houses were damaged or destroyed by fire and suffered damage by Union artillery during the Civil War. After the war and decades of neglect, the buildings had badly deteriorated. In 1920, the Founder of the Society for the Preservation of Old Dwellings (now the Preservation Society of Charleston) purchased six of them, but lacked funds to restore them right away. In 1931, a Charleston couple purchased several more properties and began to renovate them and drawing on Charleston’s Caribbean roots, painted the first house a shade of pastel pink.

Other owners also painted their homes various pastel shades and so began Rainbow Row. Aside from the eye-appeal factor, there’s various theories as to WHY the homes were painted lighter colors — to cool them during hot summers, so drunk sailors could find their way home, or for merchants to indicate items they were selling.

Whatever the reasons, they're now a colorful city attraction and, did I mention, a FREE one as well. And, if you're patient enough, you may (finally) be able to get a photo with no one else on the sidewalk !

Thanks, as always, for virtually traveling along with us. We've been reading and appreciating all your comments, while reading your blogs has fallen somewhat behind, I'm catching up when possible.  We've been having a great time seeing more of the U.S. on this trip and meeting friends and family and hope that you're enjoying it as well.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Eats & Treats, TN and GA (Again)

While on a (mostly) southern states road trip traveling from New Hampshire to Florida, we're sampling foods along the way. It's part of the road trip fun for us. Here's some (more) recent dining experiences in Loganville and Norcross, GA.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store, Inc. on Interstate 24, near Chattanooga, TN was an evening dinner stop. While we've passed a few on this trip, this was our first (and
only) stop at one. Most U.S. highway travelers will recognize this chain of restaurant/gift stores with a Southern country theme. The company was founded in 1969 by a sales rep for Shell Oil, who developed the concept to attract highway travelers. The first store opened in 1969 in Lebanon, TN, close to Interstate 40. Stores were placed near Interstate exits in the Southeastern and Midwestern U.S., but expanded countrywide in the 1990s. As of September 2018, there are 645 stores in 44 states. Despite our extended road trips, this was only our third or fourth stop at one.

The menu is based on Southern cuisine and biscuits, fried chicken  grits, country ham, and turnip greens, are always seen on the menu. We didn't eat the biscuits. I shared some of the chicken with Grenville. Restaurant entry is always though decor designed to look like a country store and everything shown is for sale. Each restaurant has a front porch lined with wooden rocking chairs, also for sale.

A previous post described a lunch met-up with fellow blogger Ludwig at Mojito's in Norcross. This wasn't our only dining experience in town. 
Paizanos in Norcross, GA is on the corners of Jones and Wingo Streets and lists its address as Historic Norcross. The restaurant's name is a variant spelling of the Italian paisano, translated as "brother" and often used by Italians toward their fellow Italians.

Downtown Norcross has a small town appeal. There's an old train depot (now a restaurant) and several historic buildings which have converted to other uses, but with small plaques describing their previous use.

The interior of Paizanos is geared toward an old-school New York restaurant feel according to it owners, Chuck Conrose and Craig Pittman. As noted earlier, we visited my cousin, who lives in nearby Peachtree Corners. She suggested we dine here and it was a great choice. 

The menu is varied from pizza to pasta and other entrees, and salads. Diners are greeted by a wraparound solid wood bar that evokes the feel of an old New York City pub or saloon with a large mirror behind wine racks on the wall behind the bar. There’s also a nod to New York baseball in the form of a framed Wheaties ad with Yankee legend Joe DiMaggio. Seating is at the bar or a table in one of two dining areas. Counter seating includes views out the front window across downtown Norcross. Paizanos is open for lunch and dinner, Monday thru Sunday and it's a casual dining place with customers in jeans, shorts, and T-shirts. 

The menu features 14 different specialty pizzas with New York themed names like Hell’s Kitchen Sink, Bronx Bomber, Greenwich Village, Penn Station, Bensonhurst and Staten Island Ferry, Park Avenue. 

All of those sounded delicious, but we opted for more sensible (?)dinner items. My choice was a Caesar salad (wins out every time for me) and grilled chicken breast over sautéed spinach. Both were very good. We all choose to forgo an Italian speciality dessert, but easily caved when the waitress suggested we could split a cannoli three ways. After all there's far less calories in doing that...right?

Journey’s End Restaurant in Loganville, GA, certainly isn't the place you would easily find unless, of course, you're a "local." And that's exactly HOW we dined there when we visited a former co-worker of mine, Jean. She had relocated to GA a few years after we were both downsized from our last positions in a NJ tech firm in 2011.

Journey's End Restaurant is a mid-priced restaurant that is definitely a no-frills place. It's a buffet-style eatery, but with a smaller and more limited selection than many larger buffets-style places. By comparison, this restaurant has a limited selection of Southern buffet foods. Jean was very insistent that we try the catfish, and I did

There were a lot of local folks here when we dined on a Friday night. It's open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner from 11 am to 9 p.m. Southern comfort food is featured including black eyed peas, cheese grits, hushpuppies, corn on the cob, bbq pork ribs, fried chicken, fried oyster, baked rolls and of course fried catfish - fried whole, bones and all.

We enjoyed suppertime (Southern for "evening meal") with our friend and thanked her for selecting this restaurant which we definitely never have found on our own. Although, admittedly, catfish won't become my favorite seafood.