Banny’s Famous Chocolate Pie

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What’s in a name? The name of this post might have drawn you to this recipe, wondering who someone named “Banny” was. Or maybe it was the pictures, worth a thousand words. Either way, you’re going to get the story, as every good recipe should have a story behind it. Banny was my great-grandmother, a tough, outspoken, petite woman of the South. You know, the type to fuss at the preacher man for not getting by to see her more often. Banny was also a dedicated woman, loyal to her faith and her family, even when it wasn’t easy. I have few things of hers today, a few jewelry pieces my mother gave me, a pair of fancy red gloves. I will probably inherit some of her old clothes my mom keeps in a cedar chest. And I still have her smell. Smells are easy memories. But perhaps the thing I have the most is her recipe for chocolate pie.

It was one of the first pies I made, and it is, at the same time, both one of the best and one of the most difficult. Perhaps that’s what family gives us: delight and joy in the midst of serious effort. Her chocolate pie takes time to cook – the pudding filling is real, not some jello-based faux pas. The pie shell must be baked ahead. The meringue must be whipped, perfectly, and remember, Banny would have made meringue with a true hand mixer, an old-timey metal contraption with a crank and two mix-hands that whirred into each other, slowly. And then it must be baked again to seal the meringue on top and finish the perfect, beautiful topping that is a chocolate meringue pie. I am proud of this pie, each time I make it, because it is a piece of my past, a piece of a strong woman who knew what it took to create something beautiful. I hope you do, too. Enjoy.

 

Ingredients

Pie filling:

2 1/2 tbsp. flour (all purpose)

2 egg yolks

3 tbsp. cocoa

2 cups milk

1 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

1 deep dish pie shell

Topping:

2 egg whites

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

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Directions:

1. Pre-cook pie shell at 350 degrees for about 10 minutes, or until golden.

2. Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites, putting the whites into a small bowl, and the yolks into a nonstick pot (or the top of a double boiler; I find either works).

3. Add the rest of the pie ingredients to the pot (the flour, cocoa, milk, sugar and vanilla). Cook on medium heat until pudding “consists.” (These are the original directions; this word mainly means until the pudding starts to thicken.)

4. Pour the chocolate pudding into the cooked pie shell.

5. Prepare the topping by beating the egg whites until stiff, then adding the sugar and vanilla. Pour the meringue topping over the chocolate pudding layer and spread evenly.

6. Cook on 350 for about 10 minutes or until the meringue is golden brown.

7. Allow to cool, then refrigerate to make sure it solidifies well. Keep refrigerated. Best enjoyed either slightly warmed or cold.

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Matthew’s Take: The chocolate pudding portion of Banny’s pie is the best I’ve ever eaten. What makes it even better: This pie is part of our family history. When you combine the chocolate pudding with a golden crust and the creamy, slightly crunchy meringue, you get one of the best desserts you’ll put in your mouth. This recipe gets my highest marks for taste. I will warn you that it’s not the simplest of pies to make, but just take that as an opportunity to bake and enjoy something uniquely special.

Molly’s Take: Clearly, this pie is one of my favorites. The strategy of baking the pie shell first, as well as the limited amount of time the pie actually spends in the oven, ensures that the shell itself doesn’t burn as easily as it tends to do in many pies. So you end up with a perfectly done pie shell, a creamy, chocolate pudding center, and a toasted, sweet meringue topping. I like this pie warmed or cold. It’s truly a treat.

Foodie Travels: Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream, Angier, N.C.

f4daf9ed20558c50ec3c10eeb341907eIf you haven’t yet discovered Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream in the North Carolina community of Angier (between Raleigh and Fayetteville), you’re missing out. Dozens of flavors await you, including some very creative options that you likely wouldn’t expect.

My first experience with Sunni Sky’s came about a dozen years ago while visiting a friend at nearby Campbell University. A group of us drove along the country roads of central North Carolina and over to the ice cream shop, where I had my first taste of pumpkin pie ice cream. And, boy, was it good!

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Photo: Sunni Sky’s Facebook page

That’s a pretty tame flavor compared to one of the shop’s most adventurous selections. How about ice cream with hot peppers and other sizzling ingredients? That’s the aptly named cold sweat, and it’s so fire-like that you can expect to sign a waiver if you want to consume a serving. The flavor is so “hot” that it’s garnered attention near and far for Sunni Sky’s.

Sunni Sky’s draws customers by the droves in the spring and summer months, so don’t expect to have this place all to yourself, especially on the busiest days. But while there’s not much standing room inside when the counter’s full, there are options to sit outside, or you can roll down the windows and take a seat in your car in the parking lot.

v67DMubcwVWAnzJMtqWmg_UQtkYpRC7VSx47f-gWCTcWhat makes an ice cream shop a winner for you? Maybe it’s the reasonable prices, the flavor selection, the consistency of the treat, or the small-town, family-friendly atmosphere. Or perhaps you like the opportunity to try as many flavors as you like to decide what you want to purchase. You’ll find all of those at Sunni Sky’s, which the owner named after his two children, Sunni and Skylar.

Take cash with you to Sunni Sky’s, and prepare your tastebuds. You’re in for quite an ice cream ride!

 

Sunni Sky’s Homemade Ice Cream

8617 State Highway 55, Angier, N.C.

Foodie Travels: Kim’s Kitchen, Stanley, N.C.

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Remember a time in your life when something you loved suddenly was gone? What if, one day, it came back?

That’s the experience I’ve had with Kim’s Kitchen Family Restaurant in Stanley, N.C. I grew up eating Kim’s Kitchen food with my family. Mom and Dad even delivered my favorite meal, the Kim’s cheeseburger basket, to me in Alabama, South Carolina and other parts of North Carolina. Then, in 2013, Kim’s Kitchen closed, as owners Kim and Clyde Millman pursued retirement and opportunities to travel together.

Four long years passed without a delicious Kim’s cheeseburger, the best burger I’ve ever had because of its fresh, hand-pattied beef, melted cheese and soft bun. It’s a generous sandwich, with one juicy patty and any toppings you like. I’ve talked up the Kim’s burger everywhere I’ve lived, and any other cheeseburger I’ve eaten has come with a side comparison to the measuring stick that I enjoyed at her restaurant.

Earlier this year, my family heard that Kim’s would reopen in the coming months. It felt like a dream, but not as much of a dream as actually visiting and enjoying a cheeseburger on day one of the renewed Kim’s Kitchen.

 

We’re so glad you’re back

It was almost surreal for this foodie to watch Kim greet her loyal customers as they streamed through the doors on re-opening day. My parents and I walked to a corner table and pulled up three chairs in what felt like a flashback to 1997 or 2007. But it was 2017, and it was real.

Not much has changed as far as décor goes. The wood-colored walls, the tables and chairs, the front counter, the kitchen window, the swinging doors to the dining area. All just as we left them several years ago.

Kim always walked around the restaurant to visit with her diners, and that hasn’t changed either. She stopped at our table and hugged me as we awaited our lunch, and then she proceeded to give out hugs all around the restaurant. “We’re so glad you’re back,” customers kept saying. Kim and her staff shared the same sincere sentiment in each conversation. If the first day of a new era of Kim’s Kitchen was an indication, the revived local dining icon hasn’t missed a beat.

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That’s the taste

When our order came to the table, the anticipation reached its highest peak. I ordered the sandwich I enjoyed so many times in the past: cheeseburger with lettuce and mayonnaise and a side of fries. In fact, that exact order with those toppings has become my standard test of the cheeseburger a restaurant makes, anywhere I go. I figure if they can’t make a solid basic cheeseburger, there’s not much hope for the remainder of the menu.

Dad ordered his favorite cheeseburger toppings, too: chili, mustard and onions, with a side of broccoli casserole (you can get fries, or you can enjoy one of the restaurant’s other side items with your sandwich). Mom had her customary chicken filet sandwich with fries.

Dad took a bite. “That’s the taste.” Those were the first words out of his mouth after tasting his first Kim’s burger in several years. Well said, Dad. Soon afterward, I took my first bite and felt the same way. The cheeseburger was just as delicious as I remembered.

Mom said later that she could’ve accompanied me and Dad and just watched us enjoy our meal. It would have been worth it, she said, just to see the smiles on our faces. We were home because Kim is home.

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What you’ll find at Kim’s

Kim’s is about the cheeseburger for me, but there’s so much more on the menu. You can enjoy a wide variety of sandwiches with accompanying sides of fries, onion rings, potato salad and more. There are also salads and daily specials of meat-and-three-style plates. And ask about the dessert specials that are available.

Just as important as the food, though, is the hospitality and tradition at Kim’s Kitchen. The Millman family has invested more than a quarter of a century in the Stanley-area community. For that reason, walking into Kim’s feels like walking into a dear friend’s house. And now it feels like that good friend has come home after moving away for several years.

I can’t wait to enjoy my next cheeseburger, and I hope to see you there. After all, it takes both outstanding restaurateurs and outstanding customers to build a legendary #FoodieScore spot, and that’s just what Kim’s Kitchen has become over all these years.

 

Kim’s Kitchen

106 Mariposa Road, Stanley, N.C.

Foodie Travels: Alcenia’s, Memphis, Tenn.

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Along with some of the very best Southern soul food you’ll ever eat, you’ll get at least one hug when you dine at Alcenia’s in Memphis, Tenn. And that’s just one of the many things that makes Alcenia’s stand out in a city known for a plethora of great restaurants.

A former employee of Memphis-headquartered FedEx, BJ Chester-Tamayo opened the eatery following her son’s sudden passing. Not an experienced cook, she drew on the culinary traditions of her mother Alcenia (the restaurant’s namesake) to stock her menu with Southern favorites that will please any foodie. Actually, “pleased” doesn’t even begin to describe how Molly and I felt after eating at Alcenia’s.

While visiting Memphis a few months back, we chose Alcenia’s for lunch on a day when we visited both the National Civil Rights Museum and Sun Studio. So we had been walking around quite a bit and arrived for lunch with quite the appetites. About an hour later, we left with full stomachs, warm hearts and smiles on our faces.

Chester-Tamayo greeted me with a kiss on the forehead when we arrived in the restaurant that’s decked out in bright colors that instantly brighten your mood. That was followed with a plate of the best meatloaf I’ve ever had (flavorful and melt-in-your-mouth good), perfectly-seasoned green beans, decadent yams, and a hearty cornbread cake. Molly enjoyed a pork chop she described as perfectly crispy outside and juicy inside, and sides of delightfully flavorful macaroni and cheese and cabbage.

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Molly was also excited that she could enjoy super-sweet Kool-Aid – known as Ghetto-Aid – as her drink at Alcenia’s, one of the few restaurants that serve Kool-Aid these days.

We finished our meal so stuffed that we had to get our sweet potato pie dessert to go – and it was so difficult to choose which Alcenia’s dessert to try first – and we enjoyed it later on in the day.

Before we left Alcenia’s, she gave us one of her trademark hugs, and she obliged our request to take a selfie together. She told us she loved us, and she invited us to come back the next time we visit Memphis.

Chester-Tamayo serves up some of the best home-cooked food you’ll eat anywhere. More importantly, she serves up a genuine love for people that we so desperately need in our world today. Visiting Alcenia’s, even the first time, is like making a familiar weekly visit to your grandmother’s house for Sunday lunch with the family. And with that kind of feeling, how could you possibly enjoy a meal more?

We’ll be back, and we hope to see you there as a member of the Alcenia’s family.

Foodie Travels: Cindy’s Starlite Café, Catawba, N.C.

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I’m a retired competitive eater now (Molly rejoices for that), but at one time I had eyes far larger than my belly, as the Southern saying goes.

I once ate more than 100 fried shrimp in one sitting. I could knock down a couple dozen Taco Bell tacos, no problem. I’d devour more than 20 pieces of buffet pizza. If it was a challenge, either officially or informally and no matter how unhealthy, I was game.

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One of my bites into the Wicked Willy Challenge in 2012.

So when my newsroom colleagues and I heard about “The Wicked Willy Challenge” at Cindy’s Starlite Café back in 2012, I was naturally intrigued. The Catawba, N.C., restaurant offered a two-pound cheeseburger with chili and slaw, a large side of chili-cheese fries and a 32-ounce drink. If you could stomach it in 20 minutes or less, it was free. If not, you paid the price. And let me tell you, there was a price to pay either way.

My news publisher at the time, Michael Willard, took the challenge – health waiver and all – alongside me. And we both failed…miserably. Michael made more of a “dent” in his plate than I did, but both of our names went on a failures list on the restaurant menu board behind the cash register.

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This is the Wicked Willy Challenge plate in 2012.

One of my many sensory memories of that day has been the appetizing-looking “normal” cheeseburgers on the plates of other people dining in the restaurant at the time of our demising challenge. A group of firefighters and residents watched as we succumbed to the Wicked Willy, and I’ve wondered since that day what it would be like to actually enjoy my visit to Cindy’s, with no pressure and at least a pound less of food sitting in front of me.

Well, I wonder no more. Almost five years to the day of my Wicked Willy challenge, I took Molly to Cindy’s on the main street in the small eastern Catawba County community to try out a normal meal. She enjoyed a delicious Chicken Philly and Potato Wedges, and I calmly savored a basic Cheeseburger and Fries. Both plates were flavorful, freshly made and just the right amount of filling.

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The Chicken Philly and Potato Wedges at Cindy’s

The service at Cindy’s was just what you’d hope for in a Southern hometown-friendly restaurant. You’ll get great attention and care whether you’re a regular or a visitor, like we were.

You’ll find lots of your favorite diner-style food at Cindy’s, both breakfast and lunch/dinner favorites. You will even spot a framed copy of the article about our food challenge on the wall.

But what you won’t find: my name on the failures board as it was back in 2012, or my Wicked Willy plate sitting in front of me ever again.

The Wicked Willy challenge was the effective end of my competitive eating career. But it wasn’t the end of my love for a great regular-people-sized cheeseburger, or my support for the wonderful local restaurant and staff at Cindy’s Starlite Café.

 

Cindy’s Starlite Café

110 S. Main St., Catawba, N.C.

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Nutritious & Flavorful Two-Ingredient Pancakes

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These are the most flavorful pancakes I’ve ever eaten. That includes homemade and restaurant varieties…and I’ve enjoyed more than my share of “flapjacks.”

I’ve been seeing a lot of recipes for simple, flourless pancakes lately. We’re not really the most healthy-recipe conscious household, but I was intrigued by this two-ingredient option.

It’s so simple that there’s not really a recipe. You mash up a banana, and you whisk it well into two eggs. Then you pour it into a skillet and resume the normal pancake-making process.

That’s it.

No flours or oils or other ingredients. Simple pancakes. (Though I will say that I started with a small banana and found I needed an additional small banana to get the right “batter” consistency, so watch for that.)

You might say, “Are these going to taste too much like bananas?” That was my concern, too, but I found they were not overly banana at all. Just enough, and just the right moist texture.

I was also worried this would turn out like some kind of horrible banana scrambled egg, omelet or frittata dish. Not in the least. Wowed by the results, I topped a short stack with a few blueberries and a little syrup, and I had a delicious breakfast. For people on the go, I could see topping a pancake with a little peanut butter, rolling it up and taking care of breakfast on a busy morning.

A lot of recipes sell “simple” and “healthy,” and many don’t deliver. This one does. For their simplicity, their nutrition and their delightful flavor and texture, I highly recommend trying banana pancakes.

Foodie Travels: Webb Custom Kitchen, Gastonia, N.C.

Like many cities across North Carolina, Gastonia has seen the center of its activity move away from its downtown area over the decades. The older west side of town used to be the lifeblood of the community, but over time much of that vitality moved east, closer to the Charlotte metro. Growing up in Gaston County, I watched the economy and entertainment move along Franklin Boulevard, seeing longtime businesses close in the west/downtown and new shops pop up by the dozens toward the east side.

But following and coinciding with all of that movement in Gastonia and other cities throughout the state, there has been a trend toward downtown revitalization. Many cities have made concerted efforts to bring back the importance, the interest and the people to downtown areas and main streets, and that’s certainly been no exception in Gastonia.

Perhaps the grandest example of a desire to revive Gastonia’s downtown is Webb Custom Kitchen, a longtime former theatre that now operates as a first-class American restaurant that beautifully partners the past with the present and the future.

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Stepping inside Webb Custom Kitchen is almost like being in two places at once. You get the feel of the old theatre, with camera and projection equipment throughout the space. Much of the music is from decades past, and you can enjoy Turner Classic Movies films on a large screen viewable from all of the seats. At the same time, there’s a fresh and modern feel to the accents of the place, from the chic dinnerware to the updated lighting to the opportunity to watch all the action in the kitchen. These pieces come together in a classy way that almost makes you feel like you’re dining in a scene straight out of The Great Gatsby.

Of course, we’re talking about a restaurant here, and despite the A+ grade we’d give Webb Custom Kitchen for everything from atmosphere to service, the highest marks of all go to the menu and the food itself. We visited for an early dinner on a Saturday afternoon, and we experienced what was quite possibly the best three-course meal we’ve ever enjoyed anywhere. (And particularly across the South, we’ve sampled our share of fare.)

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For starters, we sampled the Duck Cigar, a spring roll with light and flaky pastry containing savory duck cooked in its own fat and a mixture of fresh vegetables, all served with three flavor-packed, house-made dipping sauces. Molly told me after our dinner that she’s never had a better spring/egg roll. I just wish it was a bottomless appetizer; it’s that good!

Then came the main course. For me, I couldn’t stay away from the cheeseburger on the menu, and that led me to enjoy one of the best gourmet burgers anywhere. The beef was light, juicy, cooked to perfection, and surrounded by mushrooms, bacon, fresh lettuce and tomato, all on a hearty and flavorful brioche bun. I chose to enjoy it with a side of creamy, buttery country potato cakes. (Think mashed potatoes in a compact pancake form.)

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Molly decided to sample a chicken dish (containing three juicy cuts of charbroiled chicken), served alongside a fresh salad of spinach, tomatoes and goat cheese, and drizzled with a delicious sweet sauce with a hint of red-wine vinegar. She’s a big fan of Greek-style chicken dishes, and this one ranked among the best she’s had. For her side, she chose the stone-ground cheese grits, which offered a hearty and creamy accompaniment.

Dessert’s not often on our priority list after a sit-down restaurant meal, but after the first two courses were so grand, how could we not at least hear the options? Just about the time we made that decision, one of Webb Custom Kitchen’s managers stopped by our table to check on our meal experience. He shared some suggestions of his favorite dessert creations– including our eventual choice, a Chocolate Mousse Cake with mousse, chocolate cake, chocolate cheesecake and hints of cocoa. That was the winner, and it was a scrumptious, surprisingly light and not-too-rich closer to a phenomenal meal.

As we soaked in our evening visit to Webb Custom Kitchen, it was fun to imagine the past life of the Webb Theatre. The classic movies on the screen in the restaurant certainly aided that reflection, as did the camera equipment on the steps leading from the upstairs dining area to the front entrance. Webb Custom Kitchen wonderfully incorporates so many pieces of the past in its presence, and in doing so it has brought a vibrant life back to the western end of Gastonia.

 

Webb Custom Kitchen

182 S. South St., Gastonia, N.C.

WebbCustomKitchen.com

Foodie Travels: Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, NC

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The more I travel this amazing country of ours, I can picture the evolution of the American restaurant, living out the timeline of growth through my own eating stops.

In the past year especially, I’ve noticed a specific trend from the past that’s getting harder to find — the country grocery and diner. From Texas to Mississippi to my home state of North Carolina, I’ve experienced the wonderfully familiar feeling of walking into a longtime business that houses both convenience items, groceries and a restaurant. Or, in some cases, these places used to offer all of those goods and services. Many of the former “grocery” spots that also serve made-to-order food have turned into one or the other — but not all have changed completely.

A visit to Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill is a blissful step back in Southern time.

The roadside corner shop is a convenience and home goods store in the front and a meat counter and grill in the back. You can pick up fresh meat, hand-canned goods, a made-to-order cheeseburger or meat-and-vegetable plate and a snack for on down the road, all in one place.

“Speak up, or you’ll be hungry.”

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Photo Credit: @hamricksgrillandstore on Facebook

When you step to the back grill counter, the wait and cook staff exudes familiarity. Even if they don’t know you, they’ll welcome your order and bring it out to you. If they do know you, expect to be greeted by name. And either way, don’t be shy, or you might hear the prodding statement above.

I’ve known people who’ve eaten for many years at Hamrick’s, which as the crow flies is just a couple of miles from where my Dad grew up here in western North Carolina. Most repeat diners I’ve known are fans of the burger off the Hamrick’s grill, and so am I.

It’s like unwrapping a homemade burger, right off the grill. You can get other toppings, but I like mine with what I call the basics: lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. The tomato is like a thick cut you’d slice yourself, and the hearty bun aptly houses the whole sandwich.

“Anything else I can get for you today, hon?”

When you step toward the front register to pay, the friendly experience comes full circle. There are plenty of options to take with you from the country store. On a recent visit, I spotted a handmade book shelf, cookbooks from a nearby church, jars of home-canned food, and plenty of convenience items like bottled drinks, snacks and more.

What Hamrick’s offers in hometown gusto, it lacks in frilly and impersonal modern commercial culture. And that makes it a good place to pick up a biscuit for breakfast, pause for lunch, gather the family for supper, stop to stock up for the road, or even make a few new friends.

It’s places like Hamrick’s that connect our fond memories of the past with the lives we lead in the present.

Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, 3142 Cliffside Road, Shelby

Phone: (704) 313-7270

Fresh and Flavorful Huevos Rancheros

I love having breakfast for dinner. It’s a nice change of pace to mix in from time to time, and I enjoy breakfast foods more when I don’t have to prepare and eat them quickly before heading out the door.

To literally spice up the breakfast-for-dinner fun even more, we recently tried Rick Bayless’ recipe for Huevos Rancheros, or Rancher’s Eggs, as described in his “Mexican Everyday” cookbook.

The dish offers an authentic Mexican take on the “simple” breakfast, but it’s filling enough to feed a heavy appetite such as that of a hard-working farmer or rancher, as the name suggests.

Fresh ingredients create a rush of flavor in the sauce for these Huevos Rancheros, but for those who don’t enjoy much “heat” in food, it’s not too spicy.

Here’s how it’s done. (And we’ve cut down the recipe’s yield for two people.)

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Ingredients

4 corn tortillas

4 eggs

1 jalapeno (or chile of your choice)

5 tomatillos

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

1 ½ tablespoons olive oil

1 cup chicken broth

2 small garlic cloves

1 ½ tablespoons heavy cream

½ teaspoon salt

queso fresco

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Instructions

1. Chop garlic, chile, tomatillos and cilantro.

2. Heat oil in a medium saucepan.

3. Add chopped ingredients to pan and cook on medium-high heat for 7 minutes until sauce thickens.

4. Add chicken broth and simmer over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

5. Stir in heavy cream. Taste and season with salt.

6. Cook four sunny-side-up eggs. Leave yolks exposed if prettier presentation is desired.

7. Heat four corn tortillas. (For fresher tortillas, wrap them in about six damp paper towels. Insert into a large plastic zip-closing bag. Fold over, but do not seal. Microwave on defrost setting for 4 minutes. This is Rick Bayless’ trick for freshening your store-bought tortillas, and we very much approve after trying it!)

8. Place 2 tortillas on each plate. Top each tortilla with an egg. Spoon sauce over everything. Sprinkle with cilantro and queso fresco. (We bought a block of queso fresco and grated it ourselves.)

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Matthew’s Take: Before trying this recipe, we had never before cooked with tomatillos or cilantro. Along with all of the other ingredients, those two items added so much flavor to this dish. And I highly recommend freshly grating queso fresco to sprinkle on top. Yolk-exposed sunny-side-up eggs are not my forte, so that was perhaps my greatest challenge with putting together this plate. It takes some practice to get the eggs done enough for our taste, while still acing presentation. This isn’t your fastest breakfast-for-dinner meal, but it might be your most flavorful.

Molly’s Take: Wow! From the grocery trip where I packed my cart with fresh ingredients to the final delicious product enjoyed over eggs and warm corn tortillas, this recipe experience was banging! The sauce poured over the fresh, sunny-side-up eggs contributed a powerful flavor and every bite was delightful. We did not have a food processor to finely blend the chopped ingredients, but as you can see, chopping them as we did worked out just fine. You really can’t beat the freshness and wholesomeness of this dish. It just makes you feel at home and warm and taken care of. Treat yourself sometime with these Huevos Rancheros. You won’t regret it.

Foodie Travels: The Real Deal, Spartanburg, S.C.

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The name says it all, folks.

The Real Deal crafts Philadelphia-style (Philly) cheesesteaks. And the combination of lightly toasted bun, tender seasoned beef, melty cheese and other toppings…well, it melts in your mouth.

We learned about this foodie stop from an Upstate S.C. resident while talking over a meal at a bed-and-breakfast inn. That should’ve been our first clue to take his advice, right? If you’re talking about other food while enjoying food, it’s a foodie match and a suggestion worth pursuing.

Less than a week after the recommendation, we made the short trip down I-85 to Spartanburg for a Saturday afternoon treat. We almost drove right past the restaurant and its simple signage, so pay attention on your route.

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Inside, the cooks behind the counter greeted us and told us they could tell we were first-timers by the way we studied the menu. I should’ve known the cheesesteak would be good by the cooks’ observations.

Molly and I both ordered the Liberty Bell, a cheesesteak with onions and melted cheese. She added mushrooms, and I added green bell peppers.

We decided to enjoy our cheesesteaks in the restaurant. I might not have known that was an option until the cook asked “for here or to go?” At first glance, it looks like a take-out-only place, but a step around the corner reveals a few tables for dining in.

Waiting on the food was a sensory experience all around. The walls are covered (and I mean covered) in photos of patrons. The cling-clang of the cook’s sandwich assembly rings. And the smell of cheesesteak ingredients wafts.

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Now, I must confess, when these cheesesteaks came to our table, we were so excited that we started eating without sharing a blessing for our food. In two years of marriage, we’ve never completely forgotten to pray for our meal, but these cheesesteaks were so inviting that we didn’t say a word of grace. Just “mmm” and “mmhm.” We realized it moments later and paused for a prayer.

Molly’s enjoyed an authentic Philadelphia-made cheesesteak, and The Real Deal was the next best thing, in her assessment. She also enjoyed that she could order Kool-Aid as a drink at this foodie destination.

There aren’t many places to get a cheesesteak in the South, and even fewer places offer such a sandwich that’s worth its price. I’m not a big fan of dining out to eat a sandwich because I often feel I can make something just as good at home and pay less for it. Not so at the Real Deal.

We’ve made cheesesteaks at home, and they were good. But they weren’t The Real Deal. If you like a cheesesteak, this place must be on your list.

The Real Deal

1311 Asheville Highway, Spartanburg, S.C.

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