Foodie Travels: Saw’s BBQ, Birmingham, Ala.

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White barbecue sauce.

At tables throughout the pillar cities of the mainstream barbecue world—Memphis, Kansas City, Austin, et al—using those three words together will lead to confusing looks or sneering comments. Folks will either turn their nose at the notion out of offense that their barbecue style is the only way, or they’ll claim they’ve never heard tell of it.

But in Alabama, particularly the northern barbecue communities, white barbecue sauce is a historic mainstay, highly regarded on its own foodie throne. The condiment, often some mixture of mayonnaise, vinegar, pepper and other special ingredients, is the go-to traditional choice for many in the state.

I discovered white barbecue sauce while living in Alabama and working at Huntsville Hospital in 2011. A few of my colleagues at the time discovered my love for food and made it their mission to baptize me in appropriate local cuisine. (I never repented of my native North Carolinian ways, but I am thankful for their acceptance and food evangelism.) Coworkers shuttled me around to barbecue restaurants like Lawler’s and Little Paul’s (sadly now closed). I enjoyed each stop, but nothing wowed me as much as the food—and the white sauce—at Big Bob Gibson’s down in Decatur. (If you can say down, as Decatur is still in North Alabama.) My experiences at Gibson’s were among the best in my barbecue life, and I’m sure it helps, from a food history standpoint, that they draw credit for originally launching the white sauce movement.

When I moved back to North Carolina, I carried the Alabama barbecue experiences with me and shared them with others. I can’t remember a time when my talk of white barbecue sauce was met with anything but disregard here in my home state, until I told my wife, Molly, who has family connections to Alabama, about the stuff that’s odd to most and second nature to those living in “Sweet Home.” Molly seemed game to try Alabama white sauce, and she got her opportunity on a recent road trip that took us through the central portions of the state.

We had several solid choices for barbecue as we passed through Birmingham, and we decided on Saw’s BBQ in the Homewood community on the southeast side of the city. We’d never been to Homewood before, but it quickly gave us a small-town Main Street feel as we parked and walked up the street to Saw’s.

Inside the restaurant, it was clear most folks were regulars, meeting their friends and family for dinner, sitting in their usual spots inside and outside (where there are quite a few patio-style tables), ordering their favorites. The joint had the feel of a place that would be an ideal spot to chow down before or after an Alabama or Auburn (or both) football game on a fall Saturday. The familiar and comfortable qualities had me into the place before even seeing any food.

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For my dinner, I ordered a plate of the barbecue ribs, macaroni and cheese, and potato salad. The sides were both creamy and robust, wonderful deals for the price, The ribs were incredibly meaty (always a value question when trying ribs in a place you haven’t before), generously sauced (with a more universal-style barbecue sauce, though white sauce is available by request, which I heard several times) and wonderfully flavorful. I also love that they came in what I call “Alabama fashion,” with two pieces of plain, white sandwich bread, perfect for “sopping” the plate clean afterward. (If you haven’t tried soaking bread with barbecue sauce on your plate, you’re missing out.)

And of course, as this tale about white barbecue sauce leads you to believe, Molly and I sampled Saw’s Roasted Chicken Sandwich with White Barbecue Sauce. Molly often prefers chicken to pork at barbecue restaurants, and that desire was perfectly matched by Saw’s serving its chicken with the legendary white sauce.

The sauce was as flavorful and as unique as I remembered it at barbecue restaurants in North Alabama. You can tell the influence of mayonnaise, and I picked up a slight peppery quality, yet different from what you’d expect of a white pepper gravy. Quite honestly, Alabama white barbecue sauce is something you have to try for yourself to understand and appreciate. It’s unlike most anything else you’ll ever eat, so it’s hard to compare it to much. Molly enjoyed the sauce at Saw’s as much as I did, saying it was a great accompaniment to the chicken.

Saw’s impressed us with its homey, small-town feel, its delicious barbecue and sides, and its well-matched quality and cost. And I can say that all of my efforts in sharing the legend of Alabama white barbecue sauce finally netted a positive response from someone even game enough to seek it out and try it. I’m lucky that the willing participant is my wife, and I’m lucky that I got to further expand my barbecue horizons by enjoying Saw’s, a great spot in suburban Birmingham.

Saw’s Barbecue, 1008 Oxmoor Road, Homewood, Alabama

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Corny Cornbread

Corny Cornbread

Cornbread has occupied a regular spot on Southern dinner tables for centuries now. It’s normally an inexpensive bready staple that’s traditionally been bred to crackle and crumble its way into soupy sides like beans and potatoes. While there’s incredible satisfaction in using many iterations of cornbread to add flavor and texture to a plate, or to help clean the plate itself at the end of a meal, cornbread can be so much more.

I learned how to easily take cornbread to another level while visiting in the kitchen with an old friend, Martha Hall, during my days living in North Carolina’s colonial capital, New Bern. Martha made a more delicious cornbread that paired great with homemade chili beans. She called it “Corny Cornbread.”

While at first it sounds quite redundant, let’s think about the name. Most cornbread I’ve eaten includes the “corn” part more because of the cornmeal than actual kernels. Not so with Corny Cornbread. Kernels are baked right in, hence the “Corny part,” and the result is an extra burst of flavor and texture in each and every bite.

Perhaps even more importantly there’s one extra ingredient that gives this higher breed of bread an edge over its crumbly ancestors, and that’s sour cream. The dish could just as easily be called “Creamy Corny Cornbread,” because this method makes a cornbread so buttery and non-crumbly that you almost don’t recognize it as, well, cornbread. (In fact, cornbread purists will scoff at it entirely. And that’s fine. I like a creative kitchen where new concepts are embraced. You aren’t required to do the same.)

So, how is this Corny Cornbread assembled? Well, I’ll take liberties with Martha’s recipe by adding my own twist. I suggest you start with whatever cornbread recipe you prefer. You can mix from scratch with cornmeal, or you can do what we like in our house: Use a box of Jiffy. We love Jiffy’s sweetness and simplicity, so we start with the mix, needing only to add a third of a cup of milk and one egg. Then, you can add one cup of whole kernel corn (fresh is, of course, is the very best, and you can actually use cream corn if you really want to be bold, but you might need to alter the cooking time and methods due to the extra soupiness), and be sure to include a third of a cup of sour cream. Blend all of that together and pour into your cast iron skillet or baking dish and follow the time and temperature instructions of your recipe.

As usual, I suggest you take liberties with this #FoodieScore recipe, ensuring you create a plate to suit your tastes and make you happy. And as always, be sure to let us know what you think of your Corny Cornbread. Thank you, Martha Hall, for making cornbread cornier and better than ever. We believe these tricks can take cornbread quite literally from a side dish to the star of your meal.

Foodie Travels: Snappy Lunch, Mount Airy, N.C.

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Our State magazine proclaims it’s the one sandwich every North Carolinian must try.

The restaurant where it’s served owns the distinction of being the only local restaurant mentioned during The Andy Griffith Show, the now-legendary television program that stars one of North Carolina’s all-time most famous residents.

Those are pretty stellar credentials for the Pork Chop Sandwich at Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy, N.C., a.k.a. Mayberry.  And every bit of that praise is deserved.

Located a few miles off Interstate 77 near the Virginia border, Mount Airy flows a genuine small-town charm to its visitors through a variety of Andy Griffith Show-themed shops and restaurants. That warm and familiar hospitality extends to guests of Snappy Lunch, which will celebrate its 100th birthday in just a few years.

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Snappy is a local kind of place, where you can walk in, seat yourself, expect friendly table service and order your “usual” off the menu, whether you’re a common patron or not. Molly and I had never been to Mount Airy before, but on our recent first visit I already felt like I had a usual favorite after hearing all the talk about the Pork Chop Sandwich, so that’s what I got. And…

Mmm mmm,” that’s mighty good eatin’. (Say that in your best Andy Taylor voice.)

The pork chop is plump and juicy with a thick, crunchy fried crust to boot. I could taste the sweet milk batter I’ve heard they’re bathed in. And that flavorful meat balances with a fireworks show of toppings, including cool coleslaw, mustard, chili, onion and fresh tomato, all on a simple bun.

You’ll need to pull plenty of napkins from the tabletop dispenser. (And if you’re fussy about your meal being neat and tidy, you might want to just go ahead and let the rest of us eat your sandwich for you. Only serious foodies need apply for the job of tackling this masterpiece sandwich!) I also suggest you have a good drink to wash it down with. And if you’ve let lunch slide to about 1 o’clock in the afternoon, I suggest you consider ordering two sandwiches. They’re mighty good.

Now, Molly spotted a breaded hamburger on the menu. I could tell it roused her curiosity. So she tried it, and she loved it. The soft breaded meat sandwiched between a fresh bun, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise tickled her fancy quite nicely, and she said it even reminded her a bit of the Bready Burgers her great-grandmother used to make. (We’ll have to share more on those another day.)

The food at Snappy Lunch was excellent, but just how “snappy” was it?

Five minutes flat. Not a second more, from the time we sat down and ordered to the time we were eating lunch.

That’s pretty snappy, and it’s also pretty affordable! Molly and I had two filling sandwiches, two bags of chips, two small drinks (but with plenty of refills before they ever ran dry) and included a nice tip for $13. For lunch for two people, you won’t beat that too many places.

We suggest you head off to Mount Airy as soon as you can and try this legendary Pork Chop Sandwich (or whatever menu item catches your eye). And make it Snappy.

Snappy Lunch, 125 North Main St., Mount Airy, N.C.

Midnight Cherry Pie

Cherry Pie Insta

Matthew has been begging lately for a fruit pie, and while I love baking pie, to be honest, fruit pies kind of intimidate me. This makes no sense, I admit, because fruit pies are usually some kind of stir, throw in a shell, and bake routine. The old fashioned pies I love best are often more complicated beasts. Still, something about fruit pies worries me. Is it the added second crust on the top, worked into a lattice or perfectly-slotted top crust? Is it the question of whether the fruit needs to be cooked before entering the crust? Is it the worry of too much juice or water? Or is it the ever-confusing problem of whether to use canned, fresh, or frozen fruit? Maybe the real reason fruit pies are so daunting is that there are so many questions and so many ways to make them! Nevertheless, I accepted the challenge to make a new fruit pie. And now that I have, it was totally worth it. This marks the third type of fruit pie I’ve made, after blueberry and apple. For this one, we used fresh dark cherries (with pits), and we amended a recipe we found online to suit our purposes. It resulted in a deliciously sweet, luscious cherry pie with full, round cherries; a flavorful, juicy filling; and a sugary, golden crust. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

 

A few tips to make your baking easier:

-To pit cherries, we took a tip from a recipe we found on Inspired Taste. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use a chopstick. Matthew was quite adept at this! And it kept our cherries mostly intact.

-Use the two-crust roll-out pie crusts you can buy in any well-stocked grocery store. It should be a 9-inch crust, and my suggestion is to keep it refrigerated before use, not frozen, as it can be tough to defrost these.

-I left out a few ingredients, including 1/4 tsp. of almond extract. Almond extract just isn’t something I use in a lot of recipes, so it’s an added expense to buy for such a small amount in one recipe. I also left out 1 tbsp. of unsalted butter, because the pie didn’t need the extra fat, and also because unsalted butter is more expensive than the kind I buy. Totally up to you if you’d like to add both!

 

Ingredients:

1 box of 2 roll-out pie crusts (keep refrigerated)

4 cups of fresh cherries (with pits removed, if applicable)

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 tbsp. lemon juice

1/8 tsp. salt

For crust topping: 1 egg yolk; 1 tbsp. heavy whipping cream; 1 tbsp. sugar

Cherry Pie Prebaked

Directions:

  1. Pit the cherries. This is best done at a table where you can sit down and work easily. Use your cherry pitter or a chopstick to push the pit out. You will need 4 cups of fresh cherries, which for us equated to about 1 pound. Put them in a bowl and set aside for now.
  2. In another bowl, stir together the cornstarch, sugar, vanilla, lemon juice, and salt. Add the cherries and toss carefully. (I used a soft plastic spatula for this.) Be careful not to pour all the extra cherry juice in when you add the cherries.
  3. Remove your 2 pie crusts from the box and unwrap one, then carefully roll it out onto a glass or metal pie pan. Press it gently into the pan.
  4. Pour the cherry filling into the crust.
  5. Roll out the second pie crust on top of the first. Use your kitchen scissors or a knife to trim excess pie shell off the sides. Fold the top crust’s edges under the bottom crust and press together, then use your fingers to create a fluted crust edge. (The original recipe suggested using your index finger to press the dough in between the first two knuckles of your other hand, all the way around the edges. This worked alright for me, but was a little tough to master.)
  6. Pop in the freezer for 5 minutes. Go ahead and preheat your oven at this time to 400.
  7. Prepare a quick egg wash for the topping: Mix the egg yolk with the heavy whipping cream, then use a pastry brush to spread it over the top crust of the pie. (If you don’t have a pastry brush, which many people don’t, you can use a spoon to carefully sprinkle it all over the pie, then spread it a little with the back of the spoon.) One important note: you will NOT need all the egg wash. If you use too much of it, it will start to pool in certain spots on your pie which will make it less attractive. This wasn’t mentioned in the original recipe, so I was concerned I was supposed to use it all, but I learned the pie didn’t need it.
  8. Sprinkle the top of the pie with the 1 tbsp. of sugar, then cut four slits in the top as shown. Place the pie on a baking sheet so that any juices won’t boil over into your oven.
  9. Bake at 400 for 20 minutes, then reduce heat to 350, and bake for another 40 minutes. The crust should be a beautiful gold color and the filling should be bubbling out of the top a bit. I recommend baking for an extra 5-10 minutes if you’re willing to try, because my bottom crust could have used a little more time to cook, but that’s my personal preference.
  10. Cool for 2-3 hours, or preferably overnight, before cutting. Enjoy!

Serves: 7-8

Cherry Pie Fini

#FoodieScore Recommends: Cleveland County (N.C.) Eats!

In Shelby, N.C., for the American Legion World Series baseball tournament? You’re sure to get hungry after all that baseball! Well, Shelby-based blog #FoodieScore’s got you covered with great local recommendations for where to eat while you’re here in Cleveland County, N.C. This list is just a small sampling of our favorite spots, and it is by no means a full list of all the amazing restaurants our county has to offer. We hope you enjoy!

Red Bridges BBQ

BBQ

Red Bridges Barbecue Lodge, 2000 E. Dixon Blvd., Shelby

Red Bridges is arguably one of the most popular barbecue joints in our area, as it is a two-time national award winner for barbecue. It has won Thrillist’s “Best BBQ in America” March Madness bracket competition, as well as the Garden and Gun Ultimate Barbecue Bracket. We won’t waste any more your time on reading, other than to tell you this barbecue is worth the acclaim.

Alston Bridges Barbecue, 620 E. Grover St., Shelby 

Alston Bridges offers up fast service and fantastic barbecue on the northern side of Shelby. This place has a ton of regulars that you can see filling up the parking lot at all hours of the day. (It is not affiliated with Red Bridges across town.) Its barbecue is more vinegar-based and less sauce-focused, which gives it a completely different flavor and a wonderful texture.

The Flying Pig, 901 College Ave., Shelby/Boiling Springs

Matthew is a huge fan of the barbecue (and the friendly staff!) at Flying Pig. It’s a little more off the beaten path, a true old-fashioned barbecue joint. The Q is delicious and Flying Pig offers three different barbecue sauces for your fancy.

Jammin J's

Pepperoni pizza from Jammin J’s Pizza Factory.

Pizza & Italian

Jammin J’s Pizza Factory, 1011 Grove St., Shelby

Jammin J’s is our personal favorite for delicious, inexpensive, endless pizza. Did we say endless? Jammin J’s offers buffet pizza with a range of flavors. They’ll ask when you come in what kind you’d like and immediately get it started for you. (Molly always asks for bacon, tomato, mushroom.) A few favorites are fiesta chicken and livermush pizza. (Livermush is a Southern specialty made from similar ingredients as sausage, but it has cornmeal mixed in, so the texture is a little different.) You won’t break the bank at Jammin J’s either, which is another reason it’s one of our favorites.

Pleasant City Wood Fired Grille, 233 S. Lafayette St., Shelby

You usually see wood-fired pizza grilles in larger cities, and they’re usually part of a chain. Not so here. Pleasant City is a local delight that many in our county can’t get enough of. Their pizza and beer game is strong, and it’s a great local hangout.

Toscanos Bistro, 5 E. Marion St., Shelby

If you’re looking for an Italian option, the relatively new Toscano’s is a great pick. Their pita gyros are delicious and fresh, their pizza is amazing, and their pasta plates are quite tasty.

Shelby Cafe

Cheeseburger and fries at Shelby Cafe.

American

Shelby Cafe, 220 S. Lafayette St., Shelby

You can’t come to Shelby without going to the Shelby Café. Their menu says it best: “Home Cooking Since 1922.” One of Molly’s personal favorite dishes: the Mayor’s Special, a pita bread breakfast burrito with eggs, cheese, and livermush.

Snack Shop Family Restaurant, 103 S. Main St., Boiling Springs

A great diner option near Gardner-Webb University, the Snack Shop is a near-daily favorite for many locals in Boiling Springs. They have excellent home-style food, as well as diner food such as burgers, hotdogs, and milkshakes.

238 Cherokee Grill, 222 S. Railroad Ave., Kings Mountain

One of the best restaurants around if you’re looking for something a little more fancy. Cherokee has wonderful steaks, Greek chicken dishes, killer sandwiches, delicious desserts, and more. They also have a well-stocked bar area.

The Local Market, 4629 Fallston Rd., Fallston

If you’re looking for farm to table in Cleveland County, look no further. The Local Market’s burgers and chicken dishes are fabulous, and the locals rave about their cheese curds made from locally-sourced cheese. It’s in an old house, which houses both the restaurant and a gift shop with tons of local goods.

Sweet House Bakery

Coconut Cream Cupcake at Sweet House Bakery

Coffee & Dessert

Sweet House Bakery, 304 E. Kings St., Kings Mountain

Sweet House has a delectable assortment of cupcakes (filled, iced, however you like), cookies, and dessert bars. It’s Molly’s go-to place for dessert anywhere in Cleveland County.

Uptown Sweets & Treats, 221 S. Lafayette St., Shelby

Uptown offers not only cool, refreshing frozen yogurt, they also sell local donuts made by Forest City-based Davis Donuts. We hear they also have some pretty tasty gourmet popcorn, although we haven’t laid our hands on it yet.

Swooger’s, 1016 Shelby Rd., Kings Mountain

Want to enjoy a fantastic, fresh-scooped milkshake in a retro, 1950s-themed diner? Swooger’s is your place. They also have great diner food, including a solid cheeseburger.

Hannah’s Coffee House, 1024 E. Marion St., Shelby

This coffee shop situated in a quiet area of Marion Street is the perfect place for a variety of sweet treats, as well as great coffee. The service is impeccable! You can also pull up a few chairs and play Scrabble if you like.

Broad River Co., 105 S. Main St., Boiling Springs

Over in college-town Boiling Springs, Broad River is everything you can ask for in a coffee shop. It has plenty of space and little nooks for studying, reading, relaxing, listening to music, or hanging with friends. They offer bagels and sweet treats, in addition to coffee and mouthwatering smoothies.

The (Disappearing) Beef Dog Tradition

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Here’s a beef dog with a missing bite at our family get-together a few years ago. You could say the shredded beef looks a bit like pulled pork, but it’s actually beef.

If you type “beef dog” into a search engine, it’s likely you’ll find both pictures and recipes for traditional American hot dogs and beef diets for canines. That’s not at all what you’d find if you time-traveled back to the 20th century and asked for a “beef dog” in Rutherford County, North Carolina, where my mom grew up.

For folks like my maternal great-grandmother Hassie Quinn (1911-1999), the beef dog was a favorite sandwich, usually consisting of pulled beef on a bun. No frankfurters or dog food would be delivered upon request of a beef dog then and there.

Great-grandma Hassie’s son, Lee, my maternal grandfather, served up beef dogs when he worked at a restaurant and store operated by longtime community fixture Windy Powell in the Caroleen community of Rutherford County. Locals referred to the eatery as Windy’s which, like the beef dog itself, would confuse anyone in a different place and time. (Absolutely no association with Wendy’s, square hamburgers or Dave Thomas.)

Several years ago at a summertime Quinn family gathering in Caroleen, we enjoyed beef dogs. You can still find the local delicacy in a few spots, like The Fountain restaurant at Smith’s Drugs on the main stretch of Forest City, North Carolina. Diners at Smith’s, which now serves more of a cubed-style beef on a hot dog bun, like hot dog-type toppings on their beef dogs these days, a restaurant server told me recently.

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A beef dog at Smith’s in Forest City, N.C.

Despite the deep familiarity and nostalgia of the sandwich for my family and its presence at the occasional family gathering and restaurant or two in this western section of North Carolina, I’m not sure the beef dog is known at all elsewhere.

I’d love to know if you’ve ever had a beef dog, or if you’d try one with the opportunity. Let us know in the comments section of this post, email us at mmfoodiescore@gmail.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Foodie Travels: Doughlicious Yummy’s, Mount Holly, N.C.

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What makes cookie dough so addictive? Is it the sugary crunch in every bite? The chocolate chips or macadamia nuts in the mix? The sweet, buttery, smooth flavor? Or is it the fact that it’s a specialty, because you can’t eat much without worrying about getting sick? (Cue those obnoxious warnings on every refrigerated cookie dough packet: “DO NOT CONSUME RAW COOKIE DOUGH.”)

Well, folks, there’s a solution that’ll let you enjoy the specialty and joy of cookie dough without the worry. Doughlicious Yummy’s in Mount Holly, N.C., offers edible cookie dough in a scoop or a cone, unlimited free toppings, a variety of flavors, and no limit to how much you can eat. It’s a can’t-miss chance to treat your inner child, or your actual child, to edible, safe-to-consume cookie dough.

On a recent trip to Mount Holly, my husband and I checked it out. The interior is painted in soft pastels and you are immediately greeted as you enter, and I don’t just mean by the staff.

Walk in and feast your eyes on a huge variety of cookie dough flavors, ready to be scooped out of rectangular containers. Don’t be shy – ask if you can try a few! The regular chocolate chip is perfection, the sugar is a simple classic, the chocolate chocolate chip (I said that twice) is a brownie-like heaven. My husband also tried s’mores and oatmeal. We ultimately decided on chocolate chip and the chocolate chocolate chip, and we were not disappointed.

In addition, the pricing is perfect for a gourmet dessert option such as edible cookie dough, which costs more to make and keep than ice cream, AND you can get unlimited free toppings (things like M&Ms, sprinkles, marshmallows, etc.). A scoop will only cost you $4.75 and fills the cup. One scoop will take you at least two days to finish. No problem there, just refrigerate it when you get home and finish the rest later. If you can’t decide on one flavor, get two mini scoops ($2 each). They are small, but they’ll give you multiple options and you won’t feel like you’ve eaten too much. You may have trouble picking a flavor; we noticed at least all of these: chocolate chip (and the double one); peanut butter; sugar; oatmeal; s’mores; banana pudding; and birthday cake.

But wait. What if you’ve got a friend who doesn’t want cookie dough? (I mean, this shouldn’t be a problem. The horror!) They can grab any one of the gelato flavors DY also offers.
Sidenote: I think the gelato is a new thing, and I’m glad to see DY trying out even more options to satisfy their customers. The mini $2 scoop was a customer request they fulfilled quickly, and they always respond to any criticism or requests by trying to make their products and service better. This impressed me from the get-go, and was one of the many reasons I had to check this place out. I can support a place that supports its customers!

To wrap it all up, from the variety of flavors and the free toppings, to the reasonable prices and the exceptional quality of the cookie dough – I can’t say I have any suggestions for improvement. My only request? Bring some dough to my town!

Doughlicious Yummy’s, 114 E. Central Ave., Mount Holly, N.C.