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.

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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.

Foodie Travels: Cotham’s in the City, Little Rock, Ark.

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I realized just how much of a foodie I am when a sadness swept over me after hearing the news that longtime Arkansas dining institution Cotham’s Mercantile had burned to the ground in May. I never had a meal at Cotham’s, but I felt a disappointment that Molly and I had missed an opportunity to eat there when we were traveling about 100 miles away from the restaurant’s Scott location, just six months prior to the fire.

This summer, we had planned to fix that foodie travel omission by visiting Cotham’s on a cross-country road trip. Then we saw an online story about the fire and closure, just two weeks before our trip.

But all was not lost, for us or for Cotham’s, as the historic dining establishment continues to operate a sister restaurant, Cotham’s in the City, in the downtown area of Little Rock. The building and location are different, but the menu and the name are much the same. We couldn’t pass it by again (and we didn’t).

Cotham’s in the City has limited hours of 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday, but its minimal window for coming to eat is quite literally its only shortcoming.

The inside of the place has a deeply Arkansas feel, with local and state political campaign signs covering the walls and local people, many of them business professionals stopping in for lunch and ordering in familiar Southern accents, filling the tables.

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Cotham’s was—and Cotham’s in the City is—known for the Hubcap burger, a generous pounder that stretches outside its bun and comes with traditional toppings of lettuce, tomato, mayo, pickle and cheese. So that had to be my choice on the menu, and it was a great one. The burger was cooked perfectly, just like a well-done but not blackened homemade cheeseburger, and the toppings were all very fresh. I decided to use my fork to cut off the overhanging pieces of meat and enjoy them like a bonus hamburger steak first, following that by cutting my sandwich in half and eating the traditional burger.

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Molly enjoyed a solid plate of pintos, slaw, fried okra and jalapeno cornbread, the last of which I sampled and found to be a nice, moist cornbread with just the right amount of spice to offer great flavor without fire.

Cotham’s in the City was overflowing with lunchtime diners by the time we left shortly after noon, and I understand why. The hubcap burger was absolutely worthy of inclusion in my list of favorite all-time burgers in the Southern United States, with its fresh meat and toppings, generous size and price ($10.99 with fries). Don’t let the opportunity to enjoy Cotham’s pass you by when you’re hungry in Little Rock! We’re sure glad we got a second chance!

Cotham’s in the City, 1401 West Third Street, Little Rock, Arkansas

 

Foodie Travels: Shirley Mae’s Café, Louisville, Ky.

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Along a wall of bright blue bricks a beautiful mural reads, “Smoketown to me was a melting pot. Everybody knew everybody.”

The sentiment rests just a few blocks from Shirley Mae’s Café in the Smoketown neighborhood of Kentucky’s most populated city of Louisville, and the words and images perfectly describe the experience of eating at the nearby restaurant.

We felt like family members stopping in for a meal when we visited Shirley Mae’s for the first time. The conversations we had with the restaurant family gave us the feeling we were related to our hosts. A baseball game on TV told us we were definitely in Louisville, home of the famed “Slugger” baseball factory. And the food, well, that was what we came for, and that’s what made it feel most like we were having a familiar meal at grandma’s house.

Everything you eat at Shirley Mae’s will wow you. I guarantee you that. And I can also promise you that everything will be fresh when it hits your table. During our visit, one Shirley Mae’s family member told another to take a side dish serving back to the kitchen and replace it because it had been sitting too long.

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Both of our entrees—fried chicken wings and fried fish filets—were seasoned to perfection. (And those are just two options on a long list of main courses.) The chicken was juicy inside, cooked just right for chicken, and it had a delightful crunch on the outside. The fish had more of a cornmeal crust that sang a song inside your mouth with each bite.

While we’re talking about cornmeal, you won’t believe how good the hot-water cornbread is. One Shirley Mae’s family member told us the cornbread was “poor folks food.” Well, eating poor never tasted so good. The bread came out wrapped in tinfoil and nestled inside a small cup. It was solid with a bite of crunch on the outside, and it was soft and warm on the inside. We couldn’t eat it all, so we took it with us on the road. Wouldn’t you know, it reheated beautifully in just a basic microwave and didn’t get the least bit dry for the following three days.

Our side dishes were just as tasty. The macaroni and cheese lived up to its name: cheesy! And it was so creamy, too. My yams registered perfectly on the sweet scale, not tasting too much like a plain, soft-baked sweet potato and not seasoning too close to being sweet candy or pie.

Perhaps the best side of all, and the most-talked-about meal item we enjoyed: Molly’s pinto beans (with slaw, of course). She savored their seasoning and could tell they had been cooking a long time. Molly loves pinto beans, and I dare say these were her all-time favorite beans.

We washed down our meal with sweet tea and grape Kool-Aid (All the best soul food restaurants serve it, we now understand. Just read here and here.)

After paying for our food, we enjoyed a few nice conversations with Shirley Mae’s family members. We learned about their lives, and they learned about ours. Our connection felt just like a Sunday afternoon front-porch talk with relatives.

And that’s why the Smoketown mural caught my attention so much. “Everybody knew everybody.” That’s how it felt at the restaurant that serves homecooked favorites with unbelievable flavor. Eating a meal at Shirley Mae’s is a beautiful combination of savoring delicious made-to-order food while also discovering your family in this world is bigger than you realized. In this melting pot, you don’t have to share blood and a tree to be family. All you have to share is food and your heart.

Shirley Mae’s Café: 802 S. Clay St., Louisville, Ky.

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5 tips for building a BLT sandwich that hits the spot

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In the summer South, a fresh “mater” sandwich is an annual seasonal rite of passage. How that sandwich is assembled is completely up to the consumer (though the ingredients are obviously not open to debate for anyone with the idea it must be done only one way), enabling foodies to get quite creative in finding the perfect recipe.

My favorite way to enjoy a tomato sandwich is the BLT, or bacon, lettuce and tomato, which goes a step further than its simpler “mater” cousin. Just a plain BLT always does the trick for me, but it really hits the spot when I take a little extra care to enhance the sandwich.

On a recent summer day, I made Molly and me a couple of BLTs for lunch, and I spent some time experimenting to jazz up our meal. The whole experience—making the food and then really enjoying it—got me thinking about the keys to perfecting such a longtime regional food staple.

Here’s a five-item, must-do checklist for making your own great BLT.

1. PICK LOCAL TOMATOES: For “mater” sandwich and BLT purists, there may be no more important choice than using a fresh, local tomato picked from the garden. If you don’t have a garden or know someone who does, consider your options at a local farmer’s market. A fresh tomato free of preservatives and pesticides will absolutely be more flavorful and much juicier. Our go-to tomato source in summer is a small network of home gardeners that are family members and neighbors. Once you have the right tomatoes, sprinkle the cut slices with a little salt and pepper to really make them pop. That’s what my grandpa always did, and I understand why every time I take a bite.

2. CHOOSE FRESH GREENS: The L in BLT stands for lettuce, but that’s not a requirement. You can go with another green, or no green at all if that’s not your thing. (Folks who like true “mater”-only sandwiches go with mayo and fresh white bread only, not needing the bacon or the lettuce to be complete.) Nice fresh spinach leaves are my favorite because of their flavor, their crunch and their lack of extra moisture. When you have a juicy tomato, you don’t really need other “wet” ingredients to find the right sandwich balance.

3. SEASON AND CRISP THAT BACON: Normally, a little pepper is nice, but I recently went farther with a light sprinkling of pepper and a slight caramelizing process with brown sugar. The result was a sweet and savory bacon that had even more flavor. Whatever you do, even if it’s no seasoning at all (after all, it’s bacon, right?), you’ve got to establish a crunch. My mama’s right: limp, chewy bacon is never good. If you end up with bacon that troubles you in the crisping attempt, try a few minutes on aluminum foil in the toaster oven, or slide each piece onto a toothpick and bake it in the oven. (That last one’s a trick we learned at a bed-and-breakfast inn in eastern North Carolina.)

4. GET SAUCY: Duke’s mayonnaise might be the most preferred choice of “mater” and BLT sandwich aficionados. That’s a fine standby that’s been delighting home chefs for decades, and for many foodies this is where you can stop reading this step and go on to the next. But we also live in the aioli and specialty-mayo age. How many times have you read a restaurant menu and seen the word aioli or something akin to “chipotle mayo”? There’s so much you can do to jazz up a sauce to slather on a sandwich. Recently, I decided to create a sweeter mayo, so I combined two teaspoons of Duke’s with a teaspoon of local honey. The result was an even fancier sandwich.

5. MAKE A SOLID BREAD SELECTION: I know many tomato lovers who prefer plain white bread for their “mater” sandwiches. Again, that’s an OK choice, but the BLT begs for a more solid selection. You need something that can hold up against the juiciness of the tomato, the greens, your sauce selection and that crunchy bacon. (As Big Bang Theory’s Sheldon Cooper would argue, it’s all about the moisture barrier between the juicy vegetables and the bread.) If I’m using white sandwich bread, I like to lightly toast the slices or even grill them in a pan on the stovetop for a little more heft. To go a step further, consider selecting an even heartier bread, such as potato, brioche or ciabatta.

Finally and most important to always remember when you’re cooking at home, this is your #FoodieScore, and your taste will guide your ingredients and your results.

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Sweet Vanilla Cream Pie

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Matthew’s mom (Chris Tessnear) loves vanilla pie. For years, her mom (Matthew’s grandma, Vember Quinn) made it for her on special occasions. She said she had never quite gotten vanilla pie like her mom’s anywhere else.

Until now.

While searching through vanilla-inspired recipes on Pinterest, we came across a semi-complicated recipe for vanilla bean cream pie. It looked delicious and I thought it could be simplified by cutting out the process of scraping the seeds from the vanilla bean to use during cooking, especially since vanilla extract was also in the recipe. So I removed the vanilla bean (which also made the recipe cheaper and easier to make with common pantry items) and substituted entirely with vanilla extract. The resulting recipe was just as vanilla-sweet and creamy as I’m sure the original was. I also simplified some of the recipe instructions, to where now, this is another of my easiest pies to make, only requiring a small bowl and a pot worth of cookware, a few simple ingredients, and a little time.

Matthew’s mom says this pie is the best she’s had since her mom’s pie, and is in fact, just as good. That’s high praise from a lady who can cook as well as my mother-in-law can! We hope you give this pie a try. We know you’ll love it just as much as we do!

P.S. You could also make the pie’s filling and enjoy it as pudding, without a shell or any additional baking. It would be delicious as a homemade, cooked vanilla pudding! And there are no eggs in the recipe, which I love, because you don’t have to worry about any undercooking. Easy peasy! Enjoy!

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Ingredients:

9 inch pie crust (baked and cooled)

1/4 cup cornstarch

3/4 cup sugar

4 tbsp. butter

1 1/4 cups heavy cream

1 cup milk

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Topping: 2 tbsp. melted butter; 1/2 tsp. cinnamon

Directions:

1. Pre-bake the pie shell on 350 for about 10 minutes, until golden brown and no longer doughy in appearance.

2. Mix the sugar and cornstarch in a bowl and put to the side.

3. In a nonstick pan, melt the 4 tbsp. of butter on medium heat. Add the heavy cream, milk and vanilla.

4. Add the dry ingredients (cornstarch/sugar mixture) to the pot slowly and stir with a whisk constantly until the pudding thickens (about 10 minutes).

5. Remove from heat and pour the pudding into the prepared pie crust.

6. Drizzle with the 2 tbsp. of melted butter (I usually melt it in the microwave in a Pyrex measuring cup) and sprinkle the cinnamon on top evenly.

7. Put the pie in the oven on broil just until the butter starts to bubble. Keep a check on it; this will only take a few minutes.

8. Refrigerate for four hours or overnight.

Slice and delight!

Serves: about 8

Foodie Travels: Causeway Café, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

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Tucked into the coastal North Carolina community of Wrightsville Beach, there’s a little diner called the Causeway Café, known for more than 30 years for its delicious breakfast and lunch plates.

The café opened in 1987, not long before my family started visiting Wrightsville and nearby Wilmington each year for our summer vacations.

I can remember going into the Causeway with Mom and Dad and enjoying pancakes and waffles topped with fruits formed in the shapes of smiley faces. And the restaurant still serves up great and creative dishes for all ages.

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Each beach community seems to have its local breakfast/brunch destination. Most such places are home to both locals and tourists, and that’s what you’ll find at the Causeway Café. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where, in the summer, you might see folks riding their bicycles or their convertibles up to the restaurant, and you’re guaranteed to see diners in sandals, swim shorts and comfy T-shirts inside.

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On the menu, you’ll find a wide variety of pancakes, waffles, omelets and eggs, as well as sandwiches, salads, wraps and seafood selections. It’s the kind of place that pleasantly blurs breakfast and lunch to suit your mood for the day. That’s probably one of the many reasons the Causeway’s still going strong after all these years. That and the homey atmosphere.

So when you’re cruising around Wilmington or over to the coast for a day at the beach, remember the Causeway Café for a good breakfast, brunch or lunch to fuel your adventure or relaxation.

Causeway Cafe, 114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.