Olivia Dish

Archive for the ‘U.S. States & Cities’ Category

Fate and Fried Pies

In Barbecue, Dallas, Local Flavor, Restaurant on June 19, 2011 at 1:14 pm
Fried Pie Window

Pity the poor soul who's never had a fried pie...then buy him one.

You miss out on so much when you don’t spend time in the South. Case in point–fried pies.

I was traveling across Texas with two globe-trotting military experts. Every morning as we drove to a secure location just down the road from Fate, Texas, we saw it: a giant billboard beside the interstate proclaiming “fried pies.”

One of these worldly fellows pondered aloud, “I wonder how they fry the pies. Can you fry a key lime pie?”

Gracious. The man thought you submerged a whole, circular pie into the deep fryer.

Fried pies, y’all, are turnovers, I told them.  Empanadas. “You mean like hot pockets?” the other one asked, eyes wide.  Yessir, I do.  Where’ve you been?

The poor fellows had never had fried pies. They’d never even heard of them.  Might I add, neither of them were that young.  It seemed a shame. And I’d been craving fried pies since the first time I laid eyes on that billboard.

Seemed like fate was directing us to take that exit and dig in.

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Chef & the Farmer

In North Carolina, Restaurant on April 5, 2011 at 10:21 pm
Chef & The Farmer

Even the tulips were from a local farm.

“No reservation? We don’t have a table open until 9:30.”

Not what I expected to hear in Kinston, North Carolina, a place where people wait in line for barbecue but only make reservations at the country club for the Mother’s Day buffet.

That’s when I realized that Chef & the Farmer is like that quirky guy you’re crazy about: you’re shocked to find out that everyone else thinks he’s hot too.

Ever since I heard about it three or so years ago, I’d been reading more about Chef & the Farmer with each month that went by. I’d finally made it in. And now, really, no table?

“We do have open seats at the counter overlooking the kitchen.”

I didn’t even consult my companions.  “Yes, that will be great,” I said.

Like so many restaurants these days, Chef & the Farmer is (no surprise) all about the fancy farm to table thing. But this isn’t Chapel Hill, Raleigh or even Wilmington. This is a small town in eastern North Carolina where you expect to find tobacco auctions, not fine dining.  And I appreciate it even more because this is where I grew up eating farm to table every meal, every day–all the while wishing my godforsaken family could just drive into town and have dinner at Pizza Inn. Read the rest of this entry »

The Cafe on Concourse B

In Georgia, Restaurant on February 25, 2011 at 6:43 pm
Cafe Intermezzo

Really, had I found charm at the Atlanta airport?

I’ve read the articles about good meals that food writers discover in airports, and they make me wonder what’s wrong with me.  Even though I’ve had a few bits of luck (Seattle, Baltimore, D.C.),  it’s not the norm. I assume it’s because I’m just not that clever.

So I didn’t want to get my hopes up when I stepped off the escalator at Concourse B in the Atlanta airport this week. But there it was, looking so gosh darned charming, a “sidewalk” cafe in front of a bookstore. White table cloths. Twinkling lights.  People lingering over glasses of wine and pots of tea as if they were at Laduree in Paris.

I had two hours before my flight might even hope to start boarding. I decided to give this Cafe Intermezzo a try.

I was led to a table inside, not far from the curving bar, a space with warm wood paneling, polished copper accents, and more white linens.  As I balanced my stuff in the spare chair at my table, I looked up to see the guy across from me accepting delivery of a giant piece of red velvet cake. I don’t get the fuss over that particular flavor, but I had to admit to myself: the cake looked pretty good. He swore it was and did an admirable job of polishing it off.
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Why So Crabby?

In Baltimore, Restaurant on February 21, 2011 at 10:02 pm
Luna Del Sea Bistro

Would it be crazy to think they have, say, crab on the menu?

Dear Baltimore, I’m sure your residents don’t eat crab three times a day. Or do they?

I just arrived here for an overnight assignment, after so many delays I feared my return flight might leave before I even landed.  Tired though I was, the prospect of my hotel’s restaurant wasn’t too appealing. I wanted to venture out into Baltimore, if only a half block.  With the concierge’s help, I did.

“I was hoping for some place I can walk to,” I told him.

“Do you like beer?” he asked.

I hesitated. Was this a trick question?

“Yes,” I said.

He handed me a card for a free beer and directed me to Luna Del Sea Bistro.  I admit, I did think he said “lunacy” at first, and that suited me just fine.  “It’s the place with the white lights in the trees,” he instructed me.  A bistro and white lights.

And of course, that was followed by, “They have excellent crab cakes.”

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Out of Teppan, Into the Fire

In Florida, Restaurant on January 22, 2011 at 11:00 pm
Onion volcano

A teppanyaki standard-the onion volcano

“You know it’s bad when we’re excited to eat at a Japanese steakhouse.”

My colleague, Honey Pannacotta, had summed up the situation perfectly. We were on assignment in Orlando, Florida, based in a hotel across from the entrance to Universal Studios. The work had been grueling. We were grateful for any respite, any small comfort. Even a Japanese steakhouse.

The restaurant was chilly, so we asked for a table in a warm spot. The hostess took us literally. We were seated ringside, around a giant hot griddle.

Honey is a former Food Network host who has eaten at many of the nation’s best restaurants. She’s also traveled quite a bit of the world. “Have you ever been to one of these before?” I asked her.

“Once when my daughter was young. How about you?”

I had, when I was a very young 22. A boy took me there on a date. I was appalled.

But tonight, more mature and secure, I was looking forward to some silliness and stir fried vegetables. I hadn’t seen many vegetables in the last 72 hours. And with luck, perhaps there would be a gong.

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Cafe Du Monde Mystery

In Local Flavor, New Orleans, Restaurant, Sweets on November 23, 2010 at 6:58 pm
Cafe Du Monde

What is it about this place?

Cafe Du Monde is a destination for any tourist in New Orleans. And yet, I go there. Keep going there.  I like it. Wouldn’t miss it.  How is that? How can that be?

Mysterious, don’t you think?

I realized on this last visit that I’ve been coming to Cafe Du Monde since I was 14, when I made my first trip to New Orleans with my high school French club. I had chocolate milk and beignets back then.

And I was hooked.

Cafe Du Monde beignet

The classic: cafe au lait and a plate de beignets

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The Bourbon (Street) Cure

In Beverages, Homemade, New Orleans, Restaurant on November 22, 2010 at 11:50 pm
A Gold Rush

DIY Gold Rush: aka "the cure"

I blame my present cold on Bourbon Street. Now bourbon, it seems, will cure me–thanks to a little recipe I happened across in the Wall Street Journal this morning.

The drink that has set my sinuses free: the Gold Rush.

It does all seem just a bit too neat, doesn’t it? (Well, except for the pile of tissues but let’s not dwell on that.) My work took me to New Orleans, where I was assigned to a perfectly fine hotel room with one awful attribute: it was on a third floor overlooking Bourbon Street. The music from the bar across the street was so loud that I had to take my phone into the hallway in order to hear.

Two nights of no sleep had given my tiny sniffle a toehold. So here I sat, back home at my computer, half-working with a head so stuffed it felt it might explode. I saw the wsj.com video of a bartender making a Gold Rush and decided, come evening, that might be just the thing for me.

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Adult Doughnuts

In Portland, Sweets on October 1, 2010 at 4:15 pm
Voodoo Doughnut

Their slogan: The Magic is in the Hole

I once worked with a woman from a conservative “think tank” who was outraged that her children were exposed to Horny Goat Weed at the convenience store checkout counter.  “Why should I have to explain that?” she wanted to know.

I recommend that she never take her darling daughters to Voodoo Doughnut.

Portland Cream Doughnut

The official doughnut of Portland

In case you haven’t heard of it, Voodoo Doughnut is a popular destination in Portland, Oregon. It’s also a great example of how you can take your average doughnut, tart it up with a rude name and junk food toppings, then create a sensation.

My friend Adora Adeel and I were working in Portland. She’d brought her daughters along on the trip.  They, like every other visitor to Portland, had been urged to go to Voodoo Doughnut. So we did, on a Friday night around 8:30.

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So, Farro? So Good.

In Homemade, South Carolina on June 23, 2010 at 8:46 am
piccolo farro

Piccolo Farro

Last Saturday at the farmers’ market, I picked up the bag of piccolo farro as an afterthought.  I’d planned to buy Anson Mills oats and popcorn, both excellent.  The cute 11-year-old girl at the table tried to sell me some grits too, but I have a rather large bag of those in my freezer.

“Maybe I’ll try this,” I said, picking up the white-paper-wrapped package of farro.

“Everyone seems to like it except me,” the girl said, “ but I’m more of a pop tart person.”  Poor little one.  I proceeded to give her detailed instructions for making homemade blueberry tarts that taste even better than pop tarts, I promised.  She listened politely, even thanked me (though I suppose she was mostly just thankful when the spiel ended). So of course, I had to buy the farro.

Good, I suppose, that I am a blueberry-tart-recipe-spouting bore, since farro is fantastic. Who knew?  Maybe you did.  I’m sure plenty of people do.

And yet….try to find consensus on what farro is and you’ll start to wonder what anyone knows about it.  Is it spelt? Something else?

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Escape to Mushroom Mountain

In Fancy Farms, Homemade, South Carolina on June 5, 2010 at 10:21 pm
Mushroom Mountain

The trail at Mushroom Mountain

I want to grow mushrooms. I’ve been thinking about this for a while. Today, I visited Mushroom Mountain near Liberty, SC, and left with baggies of spores and such. Tomorrow morning, my life as a mushroom farmer begins.

Maybe I should’ve seen this coming. My father had this idea, when I was a kid, that he’d take up mushroom hunting and train his four daughters in the foraging arts. My mother, fearing she would lose her entire family in a single afternoon, put her foot down. Absolutely not.  My father’s Field Guide to Mushrooms was shelved.

My relationship with mushrooms is nine parts my dad, one part my mom. I’m entranced, much as my father was, by their mysterious behavior, strange beauty, and of course, unmatchable taste.  But the one part that is my mother fears that mushrooms I forage will kill me.

When my friend Whit DeSpoon first presented me with golden, ruffly chantarelles he’d collected, it was my mother who took over my brain for a bit.

“I can’t eat those! You can’t eat those!” I shrieked.

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