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South Carolina (Day 3): Going With the Grain (Granary, Vendue House, Griffin)

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As if this South Carolina series couldn’t get any better, here’s part three of our Charleston chronicles!  (Part 1 and Part 2 here).  We woke up on our first day as fiance and fiancee, and we were on cloud nine.  What better way to celebrate than a brunch fit for a king and queen?  So, after doing some online sleuthing, we found that there were many rave reviews about the Granary.

It was Saturday late morning, and we were blessed with another lovely sunny day.  However, we noticed that the roads were conspicuously empty for such a splendid morning.  All was made clear when we entered the Granary.  It was located in a moderately sized strip mall, and the interior was tastefully decorated in a modern rustic style. IMG_8356 IMG_8350 It also continued in a trend I noticed of the restaurant drawing upon the Carolinian bounty of locally sourced and produced products on their menu such as the plethora of cured meats hanging in freezers right at the entrance of the establishment. IMG_8354 We also quickly realized the lack of cars and giant trucks on the streets that were typical for the previous days of our visit.  Like many parts of the South, football (not futbol or footy as it’s called across the pond or south of the border) is king, and it was no different in the Granary as all of their slick flatscreens had on various college games.  Contrary to the majority of diners, we were instead there to experience the show this Southern charcuterie powerhouse could put on.  Once we were seated in this charming setting, we got down to business.  We started our meal with the butcher plate ($16) which consisted of all house made cured meats, pickled vegetables, and salubrious spreads.IMG_8351  The bounty was spread before us, and I didn’t know where to start.  I immediately tried some of the pickles and mustard on the side since they are two elements of any savory meal I couldn’t pass up.  Unfortunately, they were of the sweeter variety, but the whole grain mustard would prove to pair ideally with most of the meats on the board.  The pickled cauliflower was also sour and crunchy which satisfied my palate much more than the pickles surprisingly.  I’ll start with my least favorite item, and that was the goose pate.  It was like a warm scoop of chocolate ice cream that was both rich and devoid of any sweetness compared to its dessert doppelganger.  However, I’m not a huge proponent of spreadable meats, so it started off with a disadvantage.  Not for me, but perhaps you might enjoy it more than I did.  Then there was the slices of pork rillette which reminded me of bologna with each bite on the accompanying pieces of olive oil kissed bread.  The two other items, the bresaola and soppressata, were the true stars in my eyes and taste buds.  The small disks of soppressata, a specialty sausage of southern Italy, consisted of spicy pork and reminded me of its mouth watering Catalan equivalent, fuet, that I gnawed on during my siesta period during the day.  If you like your fatty meats, this is the one for you.  The bresaola, on the other hand, was thinly sliced but had tons of flavor packed into every fiber.  Bresaola comes from Lombardy in northern Italy and is typically made of aged beef rubbed with salt and spices.  It is then sliced thinly as we had it that day in Charlotte, and it made a great topping for the aforementioned pieces of crusty pane italiano.  This multi-ringed circus was a prelude to the greatness that was to follow.  For our main brunch plates, we were taken aback by how well made and reasonably priced our meals were.  First, there was Janice’s Benedict Hash ($15).IMG_9105  Before I begin describing these delectable creations, I have to add if you’re eating at the Granary, come hungry because the portions are not for the faint of stomach.IMG_9103  In her plate, one could find crunchy yet tender duck confit pieces, sweet pickled peppers, roasted mushrooms, English muffin croutons, poached eggs, and hollandaise in addition to the traditional roasted potatoes.  It was everything Janice could have asked in a meal.  From the fluffy, delicately poached eggs to the plentiful duck confit scattered amongst the semi-crunchy potatoes and croutons, it was like a breakfast trail mix we would have brought along with us on all of the walking we would do for the rest of the day and night.  It was jazzed up with a dash of local Floking red jalapeno hot sauce that was like a sweeter Tabasco type of hot sauce.IMG_8353 However, my sweet tooth conquers all which segues to my French toast.  I’m going to make a bold claim, but this was the best French toast I’ve ever had. IMG_9104 It started with fried pieces of cinnamon-orange brioche that were then covered with candied pecans, bananas, and lying on a criss-cross of fresh blackberry preserves.  IMG_8352As if that wasn’t enough, there was a moderate layer of blueberry cream cheese stuffed throughout the middle of each slice.  This astounding version of a breakfast classic was topped with a generous soupcon of bourbon maple syrup which went well with the fresh banana slices.  It was a true form of Southern comfort in the morning.  Once we were finished, we made our way to the Charleston Aquarium.  As mentioned in a previous post, we had bought tickets to the main aquarium as well as the sea turtle hospital.  It is very worth it as you are able to get up close and personal with these mighty beasts of the deep who were cut down due to disease or human interference, unfortunately. IMG_9199 IMG_9198 Moving around the rest of the main facility, it wasn’t as great as Shedd in Chicago, but there were plenty of interactive exhibits for the kids that we also enjoyed.  Definitely a fun diversion in Charleston if you have young children or are looking for something to do with inclement weather.IMG_9203 IMG_9200 IMG_9207  After hanging out with Dory, Nemo, and the totally righteous sea turtles, we had to go and see the Charles Town Landing.  Many people don’t seem to know about it, but it is actually the actual site English explorers landed in 1670. IMG_8395 It is also where the current name of the city comes from:  Charles Town -> Charleston.  If you love history like me, you’d be in heaven because it looks similar to how they recreated the settlement feel to the embankments, forts, and even cannon.  However, if you’re like my fiancee, Janice, and aren’t the most interested in history, they have animals on the northern side of the nature preserve.  So we got there close to closing time, so we had roughly an hour to see both sections that were on opposite sides of the Landing.  We rushed by the animals to not see any of the animals aside from the trusty bison who were just busy being majestic.  IMG_8399I then proceeded to powerwalk/jog my way to the English galleon on the Ashley River.  On the way, I found out that I accidentally jogged across a piece of a Native American burial ground, so that could have been slightly better labelled.IMG_8400  Eventually, I made it with time to spare, and it was a lot smaller than I thought.  IMG_8407I don’t know how the original sailors survived in such cramped quarters, but I can see why they went crazy colonizing America after getting off the boat.IMG_8412 IMG_9209  Thankfully when Janice eventually met up with me, we were able to walk back and enjoy the sights of the park minus the need to sprint my heart out.IMG_8417 IMG_8404IMG_8402  By the time we got to our car, we were ready to fill our rumbling stomachs with some sustenance.  So, what better time to check out the Vendue Hotel rooftop?  This hotel is in the heart of downtown Charleston, and we had to find the elevator to get to the bar at the top of the building.  Once there, we were greeted with a tastefully decorated bar that also has one of the best views of the city. IMG_9108 IMG_9107 It was a bit too chilly to sit outside and take in the sunset over the Holy City, named for its numerous church steeples and other houses of worship, unfortunately.  Once we were done admiring this breathtaking city,  we got down to business at the bar.  Ordered some cava or Spanish champagne with a side of their pulled pork nachos.  IMG_9112IMG_9111We were celebrating our engagement like a pair of classy tourists. IMG_9110 The nachos were unique and satisfying because it combines a Southern cuisine staple with a tex-mex mainstay.  Plus, instead of having typical neon-yellow nacho cheese, they had an almost cheese gravy spread over all of the tortilla chips.  I’d highly recommend this bar food mainstay with a distinct Charlestonian character.  During our meal, we managed to crush the cava bottle, but I did manage to get an East Coast favorite:  Yuengling beer. IMG_8427 It is from the oldest operating brewery in America established in 1829, and the unique name comes from the German founders last name “Jungling” or “Young man” in German which was Anglicized to “Yuengling” (youngling in English).   As for the taste, I wasn’t a big fan of the thin and kind of hoppy red ale.  Janice got the Temple of the Dog ($11) which was a very strongly made mix of rye, chinato, bitters, and a brandied cherry for garnish.  It was like a lighter Manhattan that was potent yet refreshing.

Very refreshed right now

Very refreshed right now

By the time we finished that shared drink, we made our way down the street to the Griffon, a famous dive bar that has dollar bills coating the walls like wallpaper.IMG_8432  It has reached new popularity after appearing on Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown.  It wasn’t too happening when we went in and got a nightcap, but I’d imagine it would be better later at night on the weekend.  Still we had a lot of fun!

Or at least Janice did

Or at least Janice did

We left the dark pub to walk the streets and take in the coastal charm of Charleston walking along a dock under the light of the moon. IMG_8436 An almost perfect penultimate day with plenty of excitement to come during our last day in the Dirty South.

 

The Granary Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Roof Top Bar & Restaurant Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
Griffon Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

 

Sweet Vinndication (Portland, Part 1)

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Hey hey everyone and welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  I’m finally back from my four day long adventure to the Pacific Northwest, specifically Portland, Oregon, and I have plenty of food adventures for y’all to read about.  However, I am going to switch up the style of my writing for this travelogue and instead just focus on one restaurant in each post.  Let me know if you prefer it like this, one post for one restaurant, or a recounting of each day with multiple restaurants.

While I arrived in Portland on Wednesday evening, I wasn’t feeling up to grabbing a very late lunch due to general fatigue and the wonderful Portland weather that greeted me, i.e. an annoying misty rain coming down at random intervals.  However, the next morning I suited up and was ready for my first day of my international teaching convention.  While externally I seemed raring to go, I remembered that I needed to get the fuel to get my teaching mind firing on all cylinders.  So, I remembered a breakfast place I passed while walking to a nearby Walgreens that was called Village Inn.IMG_2554  It seemed like a local place based on its location away from the heart of the downtown along with its general appearance as a greasy spoon diner.  I made a mental note of it and returned that Thursday morning.  It was another dreary gray and drizzly day, but my formal attire seemed to catch the staff off guard as I entered, valise in hand.  It looked like the average age in the place was 60, but I didn’t mind how empty it was at 8 a.m.  As I surveyed the menu, it seemed that this was a chain of sorts that smacked of the larger Denny’s corporation in regard to the general interior decor and menu boasting breakfast, lunch, and dinner entrees at all hours. IMG_2552 Plus, it brought the Baker Square vibe with their pie obsession.  Very Important Notes:  If you buy a dish on Wednesdays, you get a free slice of pie.  Plus, they offer 69 cent beverages everyday of the week from 6 am to 9 am, and kids eat free on Monday and Tuesday.  What’s not to like about this place?  After looking at the plethora of eggs, pancakes, My Very.Innportant.Breakfast option, and heart healthy plates, I went for the strawberry banana supreme French toast for $9.69.  French toast is my weakness when it comes to the first meal of the day, and I can’t say no to fresh fruit.

When it eventually came out, I was surprised that  it looked somewhat similar to the picture that advertised it in the menu except with more strawberry sauce to make it look like the set from Carrie.

C'est si bon!

C’est si bon!

Thankfully, the taste was the opposite of horrifying, and I didn’t feel like killing everyone who humiliated me by making me eat their terrible food.  The strawberries and bananas were actually fresh and not canned which I really savored.  I felt like there could have been a bit more powdered sugar, but the slices of French toast by themselves were divine.  Not only did I taste the subtle hints of vanilla in the batter with every bite, but the bread to cream ratio favored the former which I prefer.  Too much cream takes away from the flavor of the actual toast along with destroying any sort of texture contrast in the dish.  Overall, I was greatly satisfied with the food, service, and prices.  Plus, if you need to be somewhere in a hurry, they don’t mess around with your order which I appreciated.  So if you’re looking for a new breakfast restaurant that you’d like to try out for the first time or just need that coffee and pancake panacea to cure the hangover from last night, Village Inn is the place for you!

Village Inn on Urbanspoon

Passed with Flying Flavors

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Finally, Korean winter is here complete with chilly winds that were noticeably absent during the sweltering summer along with the occasional snow storm.  It’s still not as bad as back home in Chicago, and I’m glad that I grew up in the crucible of Chicago winters it since it seems like a piece of cake  in Korea so far.  However, I don’t mind going to new restaurants that make me forget about the cold and instead feel all warm and fuzzy inside.  This is how I could describe my dining experience at the Flying Pan in Itaewon in Seoul.  It’s quite easy to get there.  You just go to the Itaewon metro stop and go out exit two.  Walk out straight until you see the Ctrl A on your left hand side.  Make a left on that street, and after walking straight for a minute, you’ll see the Flying Pan’s stairway leading down to the entrance.1550626_image2_1

First off, I knew was going to have a great time there simply based off the name of the establishment because it’s a linguistic pun.  With many Far East Asian languages like Japanese, Chinese, and Korean, it is difficult for native speakers to differentiate between the letters “L” and “R” while pronouncing words.  Therefore, the logo of the restaurant is a flying frying pan.  I don’t know if they did that on purpose or not, but I think it’s genius.  As for the decor, it’s a cozy little dining nook that could almost double as someone’s living room complete with couches, pillows, and decorative vases.

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

A culinary sanctuary from the cold

I took it all in along with the gigantic menu while waiting for my friend, Bora.IMG_1300  I could see that they had brunch options all day along with French toast, pancakes, omelets, and sandwiches.  It’s not cheap which is typical for foreign fare in Korea with a range of prices from 14,000 W to 25,000 W.  Eventually, Bora joined me, and we made our choices.  I went with the bacon French toast (15,000 W), and she got the farmer omelet (17,000 W).

Mine came out first, and I thought they could have done a bit better on the presentation instead of the slapdash creation that lay in front of me.

Ah ma cherie!

Ah ma cherie!

Then again, I could really care less what it looks like as long as it’s delectable, and boy oh boy was this French toast tres magnifique.  Most people associate French with being the language of love, and I think I needed a private moment with this mademoiselle.  Not only did it have a soft, brioche battered body, but it was further enhanced with some non-crispy bacon that was flung about its shoulders like some form of pork boa sans feathers.  The syrup was standard maple syrup, but one big surprise was the hunks of pale yellow spread that I originally thought were globs of butter.  I’m not a big fan of butter on my pancakes or French toast, but I tried some of it just to be sure.  Good thing I didn’t neglect them because they turned out to be nuggets of cream cheese.  What’s more French than putting some delicious cheese on some quality, fried bread?  The other big surprise was the secret stash of apricot marmalade that was lurking between the folds of the toast which went quite well with the smooth sweetness of the syrup and eggy-goodness of the French toast.  The strawberries were fresh and slightly tart and were the proverbial cherries on top of the masterpiece.  As for Bora’s omelet, I tried a couple bites and then a couple more as she put more on my plate since I was still hungry/she’s a sweetheart. IMG_1303 The eggs were fluffy and seemingly infused with a slightly strong tasting white cheese possibly an aged Camembert.   It was eggcellent with the grilled greens on top along with the sauteed mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes.  We left the restaurant for some adult libations, but my pain perdu would not be lost on me.  Definitely in the pantheon of top three best breakfast meals I’ve ever eaten…for dinner.

So, if you’re looking for some wonderful breakfast that doesn’t really have the greasy spoon prices but plenty of quality flavors, jet on down to the Flying Pan.  You’ll be over the moon once you’ve tried it.

Flippin’ Awesome

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What’s up, everybody?  Welcome to another edition of Mastication Monologues!  Today I’m going to be talking about a well known player on the Seoul food circuit that I finally managed to hunt down and sink my choppers into:  Butterfinger Pancakes.   I went to the one close to Gangnam station.  Leave the station through exit #6. Walk straight ahead to the first street corner and turn left. It’s about 2 blocks down on the left next to Burger King.  As for the hours, they’re open until 3 a.m. if you’re craving some American breakfast items.IMG_1170

I had always heard that it pretty much was the place to go to get a taste of back home, but that it was always super busy.  The night Steph and I went there was no different.  We went on a Saturday night for dinner, and there still was a 15 minute wait which wasn’t too terrible.IMG_1169  We went up to the top floor, and surprisingly it was filled with mostly Koreans.  Walking past the packed tables, I could see huge plates overflowing with food that the patrons were quickly inhaling like they never saw food before.  Perhaps I would have a similar experience.  I knew Butterfingers meant business when I was face to face with its menu.

I think they're trying to compensate for something.

I think they’re trying to compensate for something.

It literally was larger than life just like their prices which ranged from 10,000 to 30,000 Won.  They had everything from pancakes to make your own omelet options.  I wanted to try a little bit of everything, but I eventually went for the breakfast special (17,000 W) which contained eggs (scrambled/sunny side up/hard boiled), white sausage, ham, sausage links, hash browns, and pancakes with your choice of regular butter or vanilla butter.  Steph got the French toast version of the platter.  When they came out, I was taken aback at how much food there was on our plates.

Steph's French toast plate

Steph’s French toast plate

After living in a country where they eat kimchi and rice or maybe nothing for breakfast, this was a shock to the system.  I quickly dove gob first into my meal starting with the eggs.IMG_1173  I thought I would need some salt to make them more palatable, but I was pleased with their buttery goodness.  Plus, they didn’t have that gross gelatinous texture that scrambled eggs can take on when made in restaurants like McDonalds.  Next, there were the hashbrowns.  Normally, I’m all about the crispy, triangular hashbrowns and don’t care much for the shaved-taters version.

A thing of beauty

A thing of beauty

However, I liked these better than how they’re normally prepared because they were squished into a thick potato-pancake of sorts that made them a lot easier to eat especially with a dollop of ketchup.  The white sausage was just ok.  It kind of had a hot dog flavor profile which didn’t really jive with the rest of the classic breakfast items.  It was like that guy who brings Zima to a house party.  True, it’s alcohol, but it should be at another party or perhaps another decade.  However, the breakfast sausage links and ham were delicious and were only further enhanced through the addition of maple syrup.  Nothing like a little liquid Canadian gold to make any breakfast better.  Finally, there were the pancakes.  I do have to say that Butterfinger Pancakes definitely lives up to their name with their mean flapjacks.  They were perfectly cooked to a golden brown hue and had fluffy white insides.  Taste-wise, they probably were some of the best pancakes I’ve ever had.  I think what separated them from other pancakes that I’ve downed before was that they possessed a unique buttery/vanilla aftertaste that took my palate off to Paul Bunyan’s lumberjack heaven.  Even though they were on the smaller side, they had enormous flavors.  When I finished, I was satisfied, but in retrospect, it wasn’t the best breakfast overall that I’ve had.  I think it was simply the fact that I haven’t had a normal American breakfast in so long that I really appreciated one when it came along.  The plate I ordered you could find anywhere in America, but this was a case of distance causing the stomach to grow fonder.

I'm so aegyo

I’m so aegyo

So if you are really hankering for some big breakfasts the way only the Stars and Stripes can do it, head on over the Butterfinger Pancakes in Gangnam.

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