Foodie Travels: The Wood Shed, Stanley, N.C.

IMG_1746

The round chopped steak, baked sweet potato and grilled bread at The Wood Shed

Walking into The Wood Shed in Stanley, N.C., is like entering a fine steakhouse in the American West.

You’ll hear country music. You’ll see the wood accents all around you. There’s even a model train that tracks an oval above the dining area. But the smell, that’s what you’ll experience first, and that’s what you’ll enjoy the most – at least until you taste your dinner.

IMG_0640

Growing up in the Stanley area, I remember many nights driving through town and breathing in the delicious aroma from the grill at The Wood Shed. It’s a steakhouse-style restaurant that serves up some of the tastiest beef, chicken and salmon off the grill that you’ll find anywhere. And whatever your entrée choice, you’ll enjoy it with one of the best salad bars around and delicious grilled bread.

Many people frequent The Wood Shed for the succulent prime rib the eatery’s known for. But I’m not a prime rib kind of guy, so I’m more likely to enjoy a NY strip, the chopped steak or the beef tips. You really can’t go wrong with anything you choose. There’s even a service plate option for diners who want to share a main course with someone else.

IMG_0637

The tender and smoky rib tips at The Wood Shed

The Wood Shed’s been owned by local businessman Bill Withers for decades, and it hasn’t changed all that much, other than the tomato-and-onion sandwiches that used to be complimentary on the salad bar and now come as an appetizer option.

Next time you’re looking for a place to have a nice meal – maybe to celebrate a special birthday or anniversary – check out The Wood Shed on Main Street in Stanley. The intoxicating scent will lead you there, and a happy stomach will lead you home.

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

img_1527

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.

img_1528

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.

img_1524

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.

More on Facebook

Foodie Travels: Carolina Cafe, Gaffney, S.C.

“Get there early.” That’s the advice we received from several sources about the Carolina Cafe, off Highway 11 in the Upstate of South Carolina. And when we rounded the corner and saw the parking lot of the place at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday night, we understood.

We were told to expect a 40-minute wait for a table for the two of us, but it only took 15 minutes before we were seated in a cozy, but very chilly, corner of the restaurant. That pleasant service surprise was the first of many fond moments during our dinner experience.

img_8314Warm yeast rolls and fresh honey butter arrived at the table along with our drinks, another check mark for a great dining outing. It’s always a plus when you get delicious bread with a meal; it’s a type of free appetizer, if you will.

The menu offers a little bit of everything you’d expect to find at a nice casual American family restaurant in the South. There are burgers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, seafood, ribs and more.

Molly ordered the shrimp and grits, one of her favorites. The grits were creamy, and the shrimp were plump, flavorfully sautéed and generously portioned. It was also a great deal at $10.99. You’ll often pay closer to $13 or $15 or more for this dish. And I often have a hard time justifying that cost, unless I’m eating premium shrimp and grits in a coastal area.

img_8316I decided to try the beef tips – a less-fussy compromise for a steak. As much as I love a great cut of beef, I often find my steaks come with too much fat, or not enough bites, not cooked as well as I like, or too much price for what I’m eating. I’m not saying any of those apply at Carolina Cafe, but restaurants in general have led me to the beef tip. And the version at this particular establishment was very satisfying: a great portion for $10.99, served alongside a flavorful baked potato.

We both got salads as part of our meals, and they were just as satisfying as the rest of the entree. Nice portion, fresh ingredients and just the right amount of dressing on the side. Outback Steakhouse serves one of my favorite side salads, and the Carolina Cafe’s salad matches it.

img_8323Our visit was a special date night on the spur of the moment, so we decided to order a dessert. Our choice: the $4.99 Caramel Apple Cheesecake. The piece we shared was a rich and creamy cheesecake, filled with small pieces of flavorful apple, topped with a caramel sauce layer and covered with pecans. Along with the Graham cracker-style crust, it was one of the tastiest cheesecakes we’ve sampled in recent memory. And we love a delicious slice of cheesecake.

Carolina Cafe impressed us at every turn, from that very first glimpse around the highway corner. The restaurant was full of families and couples all night, and a crowd was still waiting outside when we left. The recommendations we received to try this place were spot on. Similar to a well-known pancake house’s slogan, when you come to Carolina Cafe hungry, you leave happy.

The Carolina Cafe gets a $-$$ on our price scale of $ (cheapest), $$ (middle of the road), $$$ (expensive). You can go $ with burgers, or you can go $$ with steaks and shrimp. As always, it’s your choice!

Carolina Cafe

211 Old Metal Road, Gaffney, S.C.

CarolinaCafeGaffney.com

Easy Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches

Philly Cheesesteak

How often do we find ourselves ordering a meal at a restaurant, but we don’t know how it’s made?
For Matthew, that doesn’t happen often, because he loves experimenting in the kitchen, learning how to make favorite dishes and exploring unconventional combinations.
Since we got married in January, we’ve tried a variety of new homemade foods in the kitchen.
Mozzarella cheese sticks was the first venture, and it flopped the first time because the recipe we followed left out a step. We learned just how important an egg mixture can be for holding together a recipe.
More recently, we attempted our first Slow Cooker Philly Cheesesteak Sandwiches. Molly’s dad enjoys Philly Cheesesteak (and anything with meat, cheese and bread), and Molly experienced the glorious concoction of an authentic cheesesteak during a visit to Philadelphia several years ago.
Our first conundrum with the cheesesteak: what kind of steak?
Obviously not New York Strip.
Not T-bone either.
Apparently, there are several different options, including ribeye.
But how expensive do you want your sandwich to be? Especially when you’re planning to make dinner for five people?
And how do you slice a steak thin enough to get that authentic Philly style?
Must you visit an old-time meat market for such an ingredient?
With more questions than answers, we visited a place that appears to have all the answers: Walmart.
Matthew’s dad doesn’t like to set foot in the place, but we don’t mind it as a one-stop-shop for most everything you need.
We first needed to decide if we could find the meat needed for the cheesesteak, and we did. From several options, we chose a thin top sirloin. Despite Matthew’s concern of not having enough steak, two pounds made a full seven sandwiches.
With the big-ticket item (in price as well at $13, so don’t expect to make a cheap true Philly cheesesteak) out of the way, we easily progressed through the rest of our shopping list. Check out the ingredients list below for more.
You’ll also find out how we cooked our steak with ease, and we’ll offer a tip for what you might do to make a better Philly than we did.

Ingredients
1 package of meat (for us, 2 pounds of top sirloin yielded seven sandwiches)
Salt, pepper and seasoning to taste
1 package of cheese, our choice was provolone
1 green pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 package of sandwich buns of your choice, with preference of sub style

Peppers and onions
Steps
1. Slice your steak, peppers and onions into thin strips. You’ll need a fairly sharp knife for the meat.
2. Season the steak with salt and pepper as desired. We included a few bouillon cubes and 2 cups of water in our slow cooker for an extra boost.
3. Our family was coming over for dinner on Friday night, just minutes after we planned to get home from a full day of work. So we wanted to make Philly cheesesteaks without having to do a lot of cooking in a short period of time. Enter the slow cooker. We cooked our meat the night before and all day that Friday in a low heat in the slow cooker. The meat was incredibly tender by the next evening, but it had also fallen apart a bit more than Matthew desired. You might slice your ingredients the night before and put them into storage containers in the fridge, then put them in the slow cooker before you head out to work for the day. You might get a tender-cooked meat without the pieces being so small. The recipe we found on Pinterest suggested cooking your meat six to seven hours.
4. Once your steak has cooked, divide it up evenly (or unevenly depending on appetites and diner preferences) onto your sandwich buns.
5. Cover your steak with the desired amount of cheese.
6. Stick your cheesesteaks on a pan and heat the buns and melt the cheese in the oven. We didn’t use the oven because we’re partial to our toaster oven. If you have a toaster oven, you might want to try the same method.
7. Serve up your cheesesteaks with any side you choose. We went with French fries.

Matthew’s Take: These sandwiches were much better than I expected, and they were honestly much easier than I expected. You won’t get out light on the cost, and you’ll notice that if you’re a cheapo like me. But you won’t have to do much cooking by using the slow-cooker method. After the meat and vegetables are sliced, you’re home free as long as you have the time to cook the meat. My sandwich was as good as any steak sandwich I’ve had at a restaurant. I usually find steak sandwiches to be tough and this was anything but tough, probably because the meat cooked for about nine hours. I give this recipe an A+ for taste, an A+ for ease of preparation and a B for cost. If you’re making it for a group of more than five, you’ll have to pay quite a bit to get enough true steak for a Philly.

Molly’s Take: I really liked these Philly Cheesesteak sandwiches. I think it would be interesting to try another type of steak to see how different it would be. I can say that no Philly Cheesesteak has compared to the one I actually got in Philly. But this one was pretty darn good and super easy. Putting it all in the crockpot and letting it cook and stay warm meant we didn’t have to worry about dinner that night. And my whole family loved them. All in all, it was a great choice. If you try them, let us know what you do differently! And how you like them! We hope you enjoy.