Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Again with the Walking

We here at the HappiTraveler blog, me and The Dining Companion that is, did something at the end of last year that I haven't talked about yet in this space. We competed in a 5K. Ok, competed might be too strong a word, participated is right I think.

It was a few years back, on one of our longer walks, that I said "Hey, you know what?" (cause I'm eloquent like that)"I think we just walked a 5K." Indeed we had walked a 5K. We've actually done it often, walked that distance and more.

It took awhile but the idea took hold that, wait a minute, we should walk in a REAL 5K. You know, an organized one. We talked about it and thought about it but never acted on it. Until last Thanksgiving. We were driving around town and noticed a billboard advertising a Thanksgiving 5K. "Hey" I said again, all eloquent like, "We should totally do that." And we did.

We registered that day. Before we knew it, it was time to pick-up our race day packets.

Thanksgiving morning found us lined up, shoulder to shoulder, with about 1000 or more liked minded 5K'ers. We set off, doing the starting line shuffle I was warned about. But, in a few short blocks the crowd thinned out and we were on our way. Keep in mind, we were walking this race. Even so, we kept a nice pace and didn't come in last. Which wouldn't have been a big deal because we were just having so much fun.

You know the saying been there, done that, got the tee shirt? Well we were and we did! What a blast.

After the event was over we headed to a local restaurant for brunch. To give thanks for all of our blessings, the delicious white chocolate bread pudding I was about to eat and the most fun we've had with a huge crowd in a long time.

Happy walking!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Trackside Grill and Patio Bar - Kennesaw, Georgia

The Trackside Grill is located in Historic downtown Kennewsaw, GA. Also nearby is the Southern Museum of Civil War & Locomotive History. (Which I plan to visit one day soon) the museum houses a locomotive known as The General. The General was at the heart of a military raid that occurred in April of 1862. The Union stole The General from right under Confederate noses, while the crew and passengers stopped for breakfast. Thus started The Great Locomotive Chase.

Adjacent to the Trackside's parking area is an outdoor exhibit featuring The Great Locomotive Chase. There are plaques and frescos that depict that exciting story.

The Trackside itself is set in a beautiful brick building with a large chimney detail and a lovely second level pergola. The pergola forms a shady oasis for the restaurants outdoor seating. Weather permitting, the outdoor seating area seems to be a very popular spot.

The food is described as "classic comfort" and "Southern American cuisine". Indeed, all of the usual suspects are represented. There's a take on classic southern fried chicken and a not so classic pimento cheese served with sesame seed flat bread.

The Sunday we were there for brunch we were informed that a new brunch menu was being rolled out. And we did experience some bumps along the way. However, as far as I'm concerned, none of the issues that came up had anything to do with the menu being new. Under-seasoned food, dishes not served to temperature and an overly perfumed server have nothing to do with the menu being new and everything to do with quality control in the kitchen and FOTH training.

We started with the pimento cheese and flatbread and really enjoyed it. The sesame seed flatbread was the perfect foil for the rich pimento cheese. Nicely done.

While we munched on that and waited for our entrees our server brought out a basket of warm-from-the-oven blueberry muffins; moist, golden and full of blueberry flavor. Another hit.

Fried Green Tomato Benedict
 I ordered the Fried Green Tomato Benedict. When it arrived at the table it looked fabulous but was a bit off the mark. The poached eggs were perfectly cooked but sadly tasted of too much vinegar. The fried green tomatoes were not salted at all. Just what was needed to enhance their tart, piquant flavor. Nothing awful and I'm sure just a few missteps from the kitchen but disappointing none the less.

Buttermilk Fried Chicken

My dining companion ordered the Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I'll let him describe the dish:

"What I ordered was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken. I will note at this point that this item is offered on the lunch and dinner menus as well as the brunch menu (so it should be something that wasn't new to the cook). What was served was a pleasant looking plate of food. When I cut into the chicken, I immediately noticed that it wasn't served at the temperature of the sun (an ongoing topic of discussion between myself & HappiTraveler). I believe I heard the chicken being fried in the kitchen and it was the temperature I would expect. However, the mashed potatoes or more specifically the gravy was cold. What I had was a perfectly acceptable plate of food. Overall it tasted pretty good. The cold gravy didn't detract from the overall flavor of the plate, but definitely didn't help anything either. I have had this dish several different places. If asked, I couldn't differentiate what would make this a superior dish to one served at O'Charley's at Trackside's 50% mark up."

Banana Bread Pudding

We finished with the Banana Bread Pudding, because dessert. I had a small quibble with the bread pudding but this is just personal preference. The bananas served on the top of the bread pudding were uncooked. I would have preferred something in the style of a Bananas Foster. Again just personal preference. The bread pudding was fine.

Despite the minor hiccups we encountered on this visit, I would return to The Trackside Grill. The menu looks promising and on another day the kitchen might just pull it off.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Ronnie John's Beach Cafe - Marietta, Georgia

Always on the lookout for new restaurants to try, I don't really recall what put Ronnie John's on our radar. Whatever it was, I'm glad it did.

Ronnie John's Beach Cafe is a land-locked beach shack; the only bright spot in an otherwise unremarkable strip mall. You have to go looking for this place. You probably won't just happen upon it in its out of the way location. But it's absolutely worth the effort to find.

Ronnie John's serves a mash up of Hawaiian, Polynesian and Californian cuisines. Those influences can be seen in the large menu posted at the ordering counter. There are plate lunches from Hawaii, fish tacos from California and pork and pineapple dishes that at least nod to Polynesia. The menu offers bowls, sandwiches, salads, tacos, burritos and the oddly intriguing lunch plates.

I had a chance to briefly speak with Ronnie, one of the owners. His grandparents lived in Hawaii and he grew up in California. As far as I can tell, John, the other half of Ronnie John's Beach Cafe ownership, hails from the Carolina's. Ronnie also mentioned that he went to culinary school in North Carolina. Wanting to do something a bit off center of standard restaurant fare Ronnie and John opened Ronnie John's Beach Cafe.

 The interior is painted a warm, sunny yellow and is filled with typical beach shack kitsch; beach-y, posters, palm trees and the abandoned license plates of those who fled winter for the sunny beach shores. It's a pleasant space and does kind of put you in a lunch-on-the-beach frame of mind.

I knew just looking at the menu that we would have to come back, often. There's just so much to try. Everything we did try was good. The pork was tender and the pineapple sweet in the Wahine, the fish and shrimp in the tacos were fried perfectly and the ramen noodles in the Bonzai Pipeline were not overcooked. No pile of mushy noodles here.
Typhoon Taco Plate - one fish & one shrimp taco with a side of red beans and rice

Wahine - Sweet and sour pork with white rice

Bonzai Pipeline - chilled ramen with julienned veg and peanut sauce
I'm far from an expert on these types of cuisines but I'm a sucker for a good fish taco. When I return I'm going to try one of the Hawaiian Plate Lunches. I'm already looking forward to it and trying to decide how much food two people can order without seeming weird, well, weirder than usual. As they say at Ronnie John's "It's all good brah!"

Happy travels!

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crawfish Shack Seafood, Atlanta, GA (Buford Highway)

Guest post by The Dining Companion

Forgive me reader for I have sinned. Okay, I admit it, I ate at a place highlighted on an Anthony Bourdain program. I must also admit that this is not my first time. My first conscious experimentation was the whole pig roasts in the hills of Puerto Rico. This experiment was Crawfish Shack Seafood in Atlanta.

First off I will say my feelings for Anthony Bourdain’s food picks are hit or miss. I am NOT a fan of his ‘chef driven’, ‘tail to snoot’, ‘eat the nasty bits’ pretentious plate experiences. However, I do pay attention when he is visiting a street style vendor. In the end, I’m more likely to be a fan of an Adam Richman recommended place.

Now, I have always been up for seafood boil. Ever since my first mediocre experience with them at Joe’s Crap Shack in Iowa. I have had the regional variations, from the backyard one at my in-laws in the Northeast (enjoyed it greatly), to the Georgia version and the Cajun version. Which brings me to the Crawfish Shack a chance to revisit the Cajun version.

I ordered the boiled shrimp with the boiled potatoes. What I received was pure heaven in a bowl (HappiTraveler’s fried shrimp paled in comparison, but was good from my sampling). The level of spice in the shrimp was intense. HappiTraveler sampled the boiled shrimp and assured me the flavor that I was tasting was at Cajun level. The potatoes were a great addition, not a boring side. The only thing I say I missed was sausage in the boil. I could have sampled the corn, but I took a pass. In fact, the boil was so good, I ordered a second helping. Now, the seasoning level in the second order wasn’t up to the level in the first, but good. I will have to remember to make mention of this WHEN I next have this.

I believe they also have beignets on certain days, which we ordered, but I took a pass on trying. I also saw several other items that I recalled seeing (food wise) when I was in New Orleans, including the po'boys. I will say, that between this visit, and Mr. Bourdain’s show on New Orleans, I will be making a journey back to New Orleans for the boil and the po'boys (and give the ‘Hurricane’ another chance).

The Dining Companion