Fresh Air Barbeque, Jackson, Georgia, September 30, 2016

When you’re driving state highways through central Georgia and you come across a barbeque joint whose sign indicates they’ve been in business since 1929 and the building looks like it’s had at least three or four additions, do you:

A. Pass on by and go home and eat leftovers for lunch;
B. Pass on by and hit the McD’s in town; or
C. Slam on the brakes, cut the wheel hard and skid to a stop in the gravel parking lot?

Hopefully you answered C. If not you probably should stop reading now and go on to McD’s…

OK, I didn’t exactly just come across Fresh Air Barbeque. I had some work to do out near Lake Oconee early in the morning and then some work at another location near Jackson around lunchtime. It’s not like I planned it that way or anything. Nope, not at all.

OK, so maybe I did…

Fresh Air Barbeque is a Georgia landmark and is claimed by many to serve some of the best, if not the best barbeque in Georgia.

I really can’t disagree.

When I stepped out of the truck I was greeted by the sweet aroma of hickory smoke and cooking pork. With a little luck that’s what Heaven will smell like. I could have sat out in the parking lot and just inhaled the aroma…but there was chopped pork and Brunswick stew to be eaten and it was calling to me.

Unless you’re ordering a la carte, ordering at Fresh Air is fairly simple as there are three ‘platters to choose from, chopped pork and Brunswick stew, chopped pork, Brunswick stew and cole slaw, and two chopped pork sandwiches. Simple, right? I ordered the chopped pork and stew plate and a Coke and my order was ready in the amount of time it took to fill my drink cup and for the folks at the counter to ladle up a cup of stew.

Once I sat down at my table I noticed right away that the consistency of the stew was a fine grind and exactly to my liking. I’m sorry, I just don’t care for chunky Brunswick stew. I took a taste, added a generous squirt of their vinegar/tomato based sauce and my cup of stew was just about as close to perfect as it can get.

A few words about their sauces… They have two to choose from, their original vinegar/tomato sauce and a spicier version. Normally I like things on the spicy side but the original sauce had a little kick to it and, again, was just about perfect in my book.

About the pork… Many moons ago the subdivision we lived in had a Labor Day barbeque (or maybe it was Fourth of July…doesn’t really matter) and my dad was the pitmaster…not because he made excellent barbeque (which he did) but because he was the only one in the subdivision that knew what the heck to do with a hog, a couple of pieces of rebar, some chicken wire, a bunch of concrete blocks, a stack of split hickory, a shovel, a mop and a bucket of salty brine. My dad would build the pit and start the fire before dark and build up a good bed of coals, once the coals were going good they’d be shoveled into the pit and the pig, suspended by the chicken wire and rebar, would be placed over the coals for a long slow overnight cook. Of course Pop and a few others would stay up all night tending the fire, shoveling coals and mopping the pig down with the brine. By late morning the pig was done and ready to chop and serve for lunch. Once finished the meet was sweet, smoky and just a little bit salty…and dang was it ever good. When I put the first bite of Fresh air’s in my mouth without any sauce I had a major flashback to those subdivision picnics and the que that Pop made.

So how did Fresh Air fare on the Thumbs Scale? I gave it two thumbs up…and threw in the rest of my fingers and toes and…errr, we’ll just stop there. Yeah, it was that good. Don’t believe me? Bypass McD’s and go try it for yourself. You can thank me later.

Aunt Kate’s, St. Augustine, Florida, August 19, 2016

It was move-in day for the new freshman class at Flagler College. Since we have a nearly six hour drive, OK, make it seven-plus if you count a stop to eat, a stop for gas and a pit stop, we headed down a day early. Once settled into our hotel room we began the usual search and debate about where to go to eat. We finally settled on Aunt Kate’s across the Tolomato River up in Vilano Beach.

Aunt Kate’s website describes the restaurant as follows: “Situated in a grove of live oaks on the bank of the Tolomoto River, you can dine on the outside decks under the trees or inside in either the main dining room or the Victory bar. The trees, scarred by fire, still lean over the water, framing the ever-changing sunset. Wading birds feed along the shoreline while pelicans beg from fishermen on the docks. Occasionally, a manatee or dolphin will swim along the shoreline while passing boats cruise the channel.” I couldn’t have described it better myself.

When we arrived we had our choice of seating inside or out on the deck overlooking the river. There was a nice breeze blowing and it wasn’t too hot at the time so we chose to sit out on the deck. Our server took our drink orders and gave us a few minutes to peruse the menu. Jenna chose grilled shrimp with black beans and rice and mac and cheese on the side. ConnieLou got the fish sandwich with cole slaw. Since shrimp and grits were on the menu and described as “sautéed shrimp served over cheddar cheese grits topped with bacon and mushroom country gravy and served with a house salad”, I just had to give ‘em a try and paired ‘em up with a side of mac and cheese instead of the standard house salad..

Our orders arrived and our table got quiet…a good sign

So how did Aun’t Kate’s fare on the Thumb’s Scale? We gave ‘em an easy 6 out of a possible 6. My shrimp and grits and mac and cheese might just have been the best I’ve ever had and Jenna and ConnieLou didn’t have any complaints about their orders. Aunt Kates definitely made the repeat list.

So far I’ve avoided including pictures on this blog but the comment about the sunset in the description and the sunset we saw as we waited for dinner inspired me to take the rare opportunity to post a picture. Check it out…

Aunt Kates Sunset

Donuts a Go-Go, Mariposa, California, July 14, 2016

We stopped into Donuts a Go-Go almost as an afterthought as we were about to leave Mariposa and head on toward Anaheim for a visit with The Mouse. We had already ‘enjoyed’ (‘endured’ maybe?) the continental breakfast at the hotel but we were in the mood for something sweet to take with us for the drive. The folks at the front desk at our hotel included Donuts a Go-Go in their list of recommended eateries so we stopped in.

To describe Donuts a Go-Go as unassuming might be a bit of an understatement. But, as we all know, looks aren’t everything. Right? Right…

Anyway, we picked out a mixed half-dozen, paid and hit the road. We stopped for lunch near Bakersfield and afterward the girls broke into their donuts for dessert. Since I was driving I decided to wait for mine…and it wasn’t easy listening to everyone tormenting me about how good they were. ConnieLou mentioned that they were more of a caky donut like Dunkin Donuts instead of light and airy like Krispy Kremes. Now I’m not a fan of Dunkins and their metallic aftertaste, so I cringed a bit when ConnieLou compared Donuts a Go-Go’s donuts to Dunkins.

When we finally reached our hotel I finally got to try mine. Without going into a lot of detail we were all quite pleased with our selections…and there was no metallic aftertaste.

So how did Donuts a Go-Go fare on the Thumbs Scale? We gave ‘em a solid 8 out of a possible 8…and wished we’d given them a try sooner rather than eating the hotel continental breakfast.

Happy Burger Diner, Mariposa, California, July 13, 2016

After returning to Mariposa late after our first day at Yosemite and having supper at the local BK, we made sure we returned early enough the next day to give one of the local restaurants a try. The folks at the front desk at our hotel gave us several recommendations when we checked in, one of which was the Happy Burger Diner.

The Happy Burger Diner is billed as a ‘fun and authentic 60’s diner’, ‘featuring the food you love and “Mother Lode” portions.’ The first thing we noticed as we walked in was that the walls and ceilings were covered, and I mean completely covered, with album covers from records cut in the 60s. You remember records, right? They were those black vinyl disks about twelve inches across with tiny grooves on both sides and a hole in the center that one played on a record player or stereo turntable?

They have a fairly extensive menu so we sat down in a booth for a few minutes to read it over and figure out what we wanted before stepping up to the counter to place our orders. ConnieLou settled on the BLT, fries and a strawberry shake, Ashley and Jenna both ordered the patty melt with sweet potato fries and peanut butter shakes and I ordered the guacamole burger with fries and a peanut butter shake.

We sat back down in our booth and enjoyed the AC while we waited on our food to arrive. After a short wait the server brought out our orders and our table grew quiet. My burger was hot, juicy, messy and very good. ConnieLou and the girls were quite pleased with their sandwiches. The shakes were also quite good. In fact, the PB shakes were easily as good as those at Gibson’s in Young Harris, Georgia, and possibly a little bit better. Now about the fries…not fresh cut and if you’ve read a few of my previous entries, you probably have a pretty good idea about how I feel about frozen fries. That said…the fries were still pretty darn good.

So how did the Happy Burger Diner rate on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it a 7 ¾ out of a possible 8. Yep, I took off half a thumb for the frozen fries but added ¼ of a point for the excellent shakes. If we ever get back to Mariposa the Happy Burger Diner will definitely be on our repeat list

The Oink Joint, Newnan, Georgia, July 9, 2016

Back to barbeque…

We were planning to grill some chicken on the Egg last night but ConnieLou and I both forgot to take the chicken out of the freezer before we left for work yesterday morning. Ashley and Jenna were both away for the night and we had a few errands to run so we decided to get something while we were out and about. I suggested trying the Oink Joint, a fairly new barbeque joint just off the square in downtown Newnan.

Being that it was Friday night and the Oink Joint is still fairly new we were a little concerned about a long wait but when we pulled up and parked we saw that the line wasn’t out the door…which was a good sign for us. When we walked in we saw that the dining area was not quite full and there were only a few folks in front of us in line to order…another good sign.

We placed our orders, got our drinks and sat down at a table in the draft from one of the air conditioning vents. Somehow we both managed to order the same thing, the pulled pork plate with mac and cheese and Brunswick stew for our sides. We barely had time to start sipping on our drinks and talk for a bit before the server brought our orders from the kitchen.

OK, first things first…try the pig, straight from the kitchen, no sauce. It was good…damn good. Moist, tender and smoky, just as it should be. I almost decided to forego the sauce…but then I tried the sauces. There were three squeeze bottles of sauce on each table, one labeled ‘Spicy’, one labeled ‘Vinegar’ and one labeled ‘Sweet’. The Sweet sauce seemed to be a sweet, ketchup-based sauce (think Sweet Baby Ray’s but better). The Vinegar sauce was a Carolina-style vinegar sauce with a little bit of a kick. The Spicy sauce seemed to me to be a vinegar sauce on steroids with a little something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on…and it was my favorite of the bunch. OK, sorry, I’m a bit of a sauce nerd…I LOVE barbeque sauces!

Now for the mac and cheese and the stew. The mac and cheese was hands-down the best I’ve had at a restaurant. Creamy, cheesy pasta shells with a crispy, crunchy topping. The stew…very good in my opinion and again, possibly the best I’ve tasted at a restaurant. The grind is a bit coarser than one would find at Sprayberry’s but finer than most other BBQ joints that I’ve tried. ConnieLou wasn’t quite as crazy about the stew as I was (she likes a finer grind and a slightly different flavor profile) but still thought it was pretty good.

So how did the Oink Joint rank on the Thumbs Scale? Four out of a possible four thumbs…easily. OK, let me caveat that score somewhat…I noticed that some of the folks on neighboring and nearby tables had fries on their plates and, although I didn’t ask, the fries appeared to be frozen and not fresh cut…a travesty. Normally I’d dock a restaurant a point for frozen fries (yes, it’s that much of a thing for me)…but they weren’t on my plate so the Oink Joint got a bit of a pass this time around. Needless to say, we’ll be back and I probably won’t be ordering the fries.

Puccini’s Pizzaria, St. Augustine, Florida, June 25, 2016

How about another review from St. Augustine?

We headed to the beach for a little while Saturday morning before heading home.  Since we drove south down A1A along St. Augustine Beach the evening before, we decided to head north and check out the Vilano Beach area.  After we crossed the bridge over the Tolomato River we noticed a Publix store off top our right and a pizzeria sign at one end of the small strip shopping center.  We took it as a sign (literally and figuratively).

We found the beach park/beach access that we were looking for, parked and headed down to the beach with our towels and cooler.  ConnieLou spent some time soaking up some rays while Jenna and I splashed around in the water.  After having all the heat and sun we could stand during the heat of the day, we headed back to the city park at the beach access, rinsed off and changed from our swimsuits into travelin’ clothes.  Then it was off to find something for a late lunch.

We all remembered the pizzeria sign by the Publix so we decided to stop by and give it a look before deciding whether to look elsewhere.  Turns out it was a good thing we did.

When we pulled into the parking lot we discovered that the name of the restaurant was Puccini’s Pizzaria.  Pizzaria…what is it about the word pizzeria, combined with an Italian name that makes even a strip-center pizza joint sound much more enticing than say ‘Joe’s Pizza’?  We decided to give it a shot.

We walked in, sat down and enjoyed the AC while our server brought us menus and took our drink orders.  There was plenty to choose from on the menu but we kept things simple and ordered a medium meat lovers (ground beef, Italian sausage, ham and bacon) pizza.  Our pie came out in fairly short order and we dove in.  Either we were really hungry or the pizza was really good because we finished it off in fairly short order.

So how did Puccini’s fare on the Thumbs Scale?  Six out a possible six…easily.  Definitely a keeper.  Now we know two good pizza joints in St. Augustine.

Beachcombers, St. Augustine, Florida, June 24, 2016

We were back down in St. Augustine this past weekend for Jenna’s orientation/student onboarding event at Flagler College. It was a quick trip but after the college activities were finished we managed to check out a couple of new restaurants, spend a little time poking around St. Augustine and hit the beach for a couple of hours.

We were beat late Friday afternoon after school activities in the morning and a hot afternoon poking around the historic section of St. Augustine near the college. We retired to our hotel room to cool down for a while. While we were there we spent some time looking through the tourist info books we had collected to try to find a restaurant for the evening. Our requirements were fairly simple, a variety of types of food and overlooking the beach if possible.

We came up with a few possibilities then headed down A1A to check ‘em out. We also used the trip to explore a little bit and look for potential vacation spots. We ultimately settled on beach front place called Beachcombers.

When we pulled into the parking area lot we found ourselves at a relatively nondescript concrete block building with a bar and small seating area with high-top tables inside and a large patio with picnic benches outside. Unassuming would be a good description. The parking area was nearly full so we took that as a good sign, parked and headed over to the hostess stand. We were seated without a wait at a table in the shade. Our server took our drink orders and gave us a few minutes to look over the menu.

ConnieLou ordered the fish Baja Fish Tacos (fried catch of the day on flour tortillas with cabbage cilantro slaw and Baja sauce), Jenna ordered the Shipwreck Burger (1/3 lb. Burger, chargrilled and topped with crispy fried shrimp and house made tartar sauce). Both ConnieLou and Jenna’s entrées came with fries. Me? I ordered a pound of steamed shrimp and a pint of Dogfish 90-Minute Ale to wash it down.

Our food came quickly and we dug in. An interesting thing that we noticed was that the fries seemed to be breaded, probably in a beer batter of some sort. Different, but pretty darn tasty. Were the fries fresh or frozen? Honestly, we weren’t sure. If I had to bet I’d bet on frozen. ConnieLou said that she was a bit underwhelmed with her fish tacos, as was Jenna with her burger. I can’t say that my shrimp were the best steamed shrimp I’ve ever had, the Indian Bass Raw Bar holds that distinction, but they were still pretty darn good.

So how did Beachcombers fare on the Thumbs Scale? We gave it 5 out of a possible 6 thumbs. It’s hard to say if we’ll make it back or not given that there are so many restaurants in and around St. Augustine but I’d be willing to go.

Sushi Matsuya, Atlanta, Georgia, June 14, 2016

I got a text from my friend Jim the other day asking if I was free for lunch the next Tuesday.  If you remember my post about Pig & Chick from last May, Jim is a good friend and owner of Atlas GeoSampling, an environmental drilling and sampling company that we work with often.  We get together for lunch every now and then to catch up on work stuff and life in general.

We were both in the mood for sushi so we decided to go to Sushi Matsuya, a little sushi ‘buffet’ in the Toco Hills Shopping Center, that I discovered while working on a project that Jim ended up helping us with a short time later.

Normally I don’t do reviews of buffets/all-you-can-eat type places.  Generally, buffets serve large quantities of low quality food…but occasionally I find a place that causes me to make an exception.  Sushi Matsuya is one of those places.  When I first saw the place was thinking it might be a place that served pre-made sushi that had been chilled in a refrigerator and set out in the serving line as needed.  I initially gave Sushi Matsuya a try based on a pretty good recommendation.  Instead of finding pre-made, chilled sushi I discovered that the restaurant has a sushi chef that works on a station behind the serving line to keep the platters filled as they are emptied.

Now, I’m going to admit that I don’t know a heck of a lot about sushi, so finding a place that I can try one or two pieces each of several different things then get more of the items that I liked works out well for me.

We walked in, ordered our drinks, then hit the serving line where we found various types of sushi rolls and nigari sushi (slices of raw fish over pressed, vinegared rice).  A second, smaller bar was stocked with other dishes typically found at ‘Chinese’ restaurants (fried rice, steamed dumplings, braised chicken wings, etc.).

We made our selections, mixed up a couple of little bowls of soy sauce and wasabi, sat down and dug in.  For those who aren’t familiar with wasabi…it’s a wonderful thing when mixed with some soy sauce or on wasabi peas…but take it easy on the stuff.  It’s dang good but it will make your eyes water and clear your sinuses if you’re not careful.

So how did Sushi Matsuya fare on the Thumbs Scale?  We both gave it two thumbs-up.  It’s a keeper.

Chevelles, Hayesville, North Carolina, June 3, 2016

If you read my previous entry about The Varsity, you may recall that ConnieLou and I had headed up to Young Harris for a quick overnight get away and to a ‘Seafood Festival and Art Walk’ at the Mayor’s Park in town of Young Harris.  Now you may be wondering why on earth there would be a seafood festival in Young Harris since the town is at least a six to eight drive from any stretch of coastline.  Honestly, we were wondering the same thing.  But, we had been invited and it was a good excuse to go visit Young Harris College, our alma mater, and for a night away.  Just for the record, I could consider dropping a fork at lunchtime a good excuse to go visit YHC.  Don’t ask me how that would be an excuse, it just is.  To me anyway.  Don’t overthink it, just go with it.

Supper time rolled around but we weren’t too interested in seafood.  We decided to give the popular local Italian restaurant in Young Harris that will remain nameless a try.  When we stepped up to the hostess’s desk we were told that there would be at least a thirty minute wait because we didn’t have a reservation.  Since I could see that the dining area was well over half empty and there was only one other couple in the lobby, we decided to go elsewhere.  The hostess’s attitude didn’t exactly make us want to stay either.

We weren’t in the mood for Mexican or Chinese so that eliminated a few options.  Due to the time, a nearby BBQ joint that came with a very good recommendation was also out and we didn’t really want to make the drive over to Blairsville since we were staying in Hiawassee.  Connie gave Ashley a call and she suggested Chevelles on Highway 69 near Hayesville, North Carolina.

With a name like Chevelles one might think it’s a restaurant with an auto theme…and one would be correct.  According to the Chevelles Story on the menu, Chevelles is a motor sports themed restaurant and bar.  Needless to say there was plenty of automobile/motor sports related memorabilia to be found.

After checking out the menu I ordered a dozen hot wings and fries and ConnieLou ordered the linguine with chicken parmesan which came with a side salad.  As we waited for our order we enjoyed the Friday night live entertainment.  I’ve got to admit that the singer was pretty good…as long as he avoided Jimmy Buffet and Van Morrison songs.

When our orders came I was a bit surprised to see a dozen big, meaty wings in my basket.  I mean they were huge!  Much bigger than the wings you get at most restaurants.  We were also surprised to learn that ConnieLou’s entrée came with two chicken breasts instead of one…and they weren’t exactly small either.  Honestly, we could have split her meal and we both would have left satisfied.

How did it all taste?  In a word…great!  Wings can be very hit or miss but these were quite good.  Big, meaty, crispy and tasty.  The fries?  Hate to say it but the fries weren’t anything special.  Just average, previously frozen, restaurant fries.  They were OK, just nothing special.  As for ConnieLou’s linguine and chicken parmesan, it was probably some of the best we’ve had and I’d be willing to bet that it’s better that it would be better than a similar dish served at the popular Italian restaurant in Young Harris that will remain nameless.  As for the service, no complaints at all.

So how did Chevelles rank on the Thumbs Scale?  We gave it a qualified four thumbs out of a possible four.  OK, you’re probably wondering what I mean by ‘qualified’.  Normally I’d deduct half a thumb for serving frozen fries instead of fresh cut fries (hey, if Five Guys and The Varsity can serve fresh cut, any non-fast food type of restaurant should be able to manage to too).  However, given the quality of the wings and the second chicken breast with ConnieLou’s order, I decided to overlook the fries this time around.

The Varsity, Atlanta, Georgia, June 3, 2016

Its time.

I’ve held off doing a review of The Varsity but sooner or later it had to happen.

Now seemed like a good time.

There’s no real reason why now was any better than some other time. It just is.

For those that aren’t familiar with The Varsity, it’s an ‘institution’ in Atlanta…and in Athens…and in Gwinnett…and in Kennesaw…and in Dawsonville…and even at Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta. .The original Varsity opened at its present location in Atlanta in 1928 at the intersection of North Avenue and Spring Street. A second Varsity location opened in Athens in 1932 but was eventually closed in favor of the current Athens location at the intersection of W. Broad Street and N. Milledge Avenue which opened in 1963. The other locations have been added since 1990.

OK, enough of the Varsity history lesson.

ConnieLou and I were on the way to Young Harris for a bit of a getaway. As we headed up the highway we debated where to stop for lunch. Before long it became apparent that we were going to hit downtown Atlanta right at the end of the lunch rush and a stop at the ‘V’ became a pretty easy decision.

We parked, walked in and placed our orders. For ConnieLou it was a chili dog, onion rings and a coke. For me, two chili dogs, fries and a coke. As always, our food was served quickly and piping hot. We picked a table in the upstairs dining room that overlooks the interstate (for those that aren’t familiar with The Varsity’s Atlanta location, there are five or six separate ‘dining rooms’ to choose from) and settled in.

As always, our food was fantastic, just as expected. Let me point out something here. If nothing else, the food at The Varsity is fresh and that is something they’ve taken great pride in throughout their history. Chili for the chili dogs and chili steaks, onion rings, fries and fried pies are made fresh daily. Did I mention fresh fries, as in fresh cut fries? Yes I did. Unlike most fast food joints, the folks at The Varsity cut their fries fresh every day. They cut, batter and cook their onion rings fresh every day. No frozen fries or onion rings and no fries or onion rings sitting under a heat lamp for extended periods of time. Fresh.

So how did The Varsity fare on the Thumbs Scale? One could probably guess that we gave The Varsity four thumbs out of a possible four. OK, I’ll admit that The Varsity is one of our favorite fast food joints and that we may be just a little biased but it is what it is and it was good. Darn good. We’ll be back.

Did I mention that we each for a Frosted Orange to go? If you go to The Varsity and don’t get anything else, get a FO…you can thank me later.