Hilton Head

A draft of this post has been waiting around for well over a month. It is time. Let us venture back to Mother’s Day weekend, so I can tell you all about my lovely weekend getaway with Banana Man and his mom. From Charlotte we drove 4.5 hours Southeast to Hilton Head on a Thursday morning. We spent most of the day Friday in Savannah and then the rest of the weekend back in Hilton Head and returned to Charlotte late Sunday. I feasted heavily and shamelessly all weekend long. It’s all in the name of research so you my friends will have all the needed info for Hilton Head dining, wink wink.

I’m feeling out of order so with that we shall work our way backwards in time from Mother’s Day. It was Sunday and we were afraid everything was going to be crazy packed in Hilton Head given it’s relatively small size and limited dining choices in the area. We had reservations at the recently remodeled Westin Hotel for their touted buffet. When we arrived they sat is in a very cold dining room when it was beautiful outside. We looked at the buffet and promptly left. The Westin was not Mother’s Day material. We headed out, disappointed and hungry. Our new destination was Skull Creek Boathouse where we had dined previously in the week for dinner.
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I had an amazing seafood quiche smothered in sinful hollandaise sauce. We shared a baskets of beignet-like donuts and tons of peel-and-eat shrimp. The weather was glorious on the patio by the bay. I was so lucky to have immediately pounced on a high top table as a couple was leaving. There was well over an hour wait on the hostess list inside.

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Chris had a bloody mary on multiple occasions this trip, it is after all a great excuse for early drinking in the day on vacation. The Skull Creek Boathouse is on my top 3 restaurants in Hilton Head. It’s location is awesome, the vibe is so relaxing, the servers are super friendly, and the food is overall pretty darn great…especially considering the volume of food they are pumping out.

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The most original/authentic low country restaurant we went to was hands down Roast Fish and Cornbread…yes that is the name of the restaurant. Chris said that our meal that night was the best of his life! I didn’t have quite the gusto he did but there is no arguing it was the best food we have had in Hilton Head.

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This place was eclectic and kind of “out there”. It’s the kind of place that they just close the doors if they feel like going fishing and very may run out of several things on the menu. It’s about as casual as place can possibly be. It’s like going to your aunt and uncle’s house for dinner, and it’s ready when it’s ready. The servers feel like family too. They’re all just kinda hangin out but workin at the same time.

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Chris had a seafood platter which included a plethera of choices which could be prepared various ways. He chose “Blackened style” for a trio of scallops, local trout and shrimp. You can also choose your sides which was a very difficult task. He got sweet potato corn bread, gumbo and black beans. We heard that their collard greens and macaroni and cheese are epically delicious but that night the collards were overly salted and the macaroni was out. 😦

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I apologize for the dark and blurry photos. It was not good lighting for documenting food and I never think fried things photograph that well. I rarely order fried things when dining out but when you are in Gullah country there ain’t no way you are getting out of place without eating something fried. The Gullah people have mastered the art of frying and it is not the same as the greasy spoon dives you’re familiar with.

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I had a fried catfish sandwich and a cup of the gumbo. I would like some of that gumbo shipped to my house by the bucket, please and thank you.

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One of the most interesting things you may or may not have ever had: Conch fritters. These were really tasty. Apparently conch is frequently eaten in the Caribbean but it’s all new to me. It was like a hush puppy with seafood in it. The aioli with it was the perfect combo.

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Another restaurant of note was the Black Marlin. We dined there twice: once for dinner and once for breakfast. Both times we sat outside on the patio. Both times we loved everything about it! I had some eggs benny, they were good but not the most memorable thing in the world.

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What made us come here was the bloody mary bar. This set up was genius. When you are seated you choose your vodka or tequila (bloody Maria) and they bring you a glass to go concoct your masterpiece. I love that they had pickled green beans. I am obsessed with dilly beans, and had Chris bring extras back for me. For me an awesome bloody mary is all about the garnish so this had the “Wow” factor.

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For dinner at the Black Marlin we ordered this appetizer they called Ahi Nachos. I’ve had versions of this before but this is the best I’ve had. Maybe it was the atmosphere and feeling of being on vacation that just makes food taste better. Basically it’s just wonton wrappers with avocado slices, sashimi grade ahi, a little wasabi drizzle, pickled ginger and siracha. I wanted to order more for my entree! I ended up getting a scallop entree with walnuts and side of sweet potato fries. I know that sounds weird but that’s what I wanted! Chris ordered an unmemorable entree but he got collard greens as a side. He had never had collards before and it was a revolution for him. It was southern food nirvana. He may not remember anything else about that meal but he will forever remember his first bit of collards.

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Back to Skull Creek Boathouse…this is a terrible photo but worth posting since you can sort of see what an enormous pot of food Chris ordered. It’s one of things Skull Creek is known for and it’s called a “Boil”. This Boil has clams, mussels, shrimp, crab legs, andoille sausage, corn…everything but the kitchen sink.

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Check out our amazing sunset view from the deck!

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Just so you don’t think our entire trip was spent eating, although those were the highlights for me…here’s a photo of the pool we hung out at the hotel. Our room had a huge balcony looking over it. The slide was pretty sweet and banana man loves his pool slides. The beach in Hilton Head is one of the best flat white silky sand beaches in the country. It’s great to ride your bikes on and the water was surprisingly warm. (It’s always a surprise to me since I come from Monterey where you have to wear a wetsuit to put your toes in year round)

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Our very first stop on our way into Hilton Head was for a late lunch at Low Country Backyard Cafe. I would not have had it any other way. This is truly a hidden gem…as pretty much everything is Hidden in Hilton Head. All the buildings are tucked behind trees and any signage must be neutral/earth tones that blend into the environment. This fact is both the beauty and an initial frustration with the environmentally friendly town. You must have a good GPS to get to know the place and rely heavily on tripadvisor, Urbanspoon, yelp, etc. Otherwise, you will be LOST LOST LOST.

Me being me I did my research and thus the decision for low country back yard. 2:30PM was the perfect time to be seated there since we missed the lunch time rush. We sat by a cute fountain in the “backyard” which was covered in gravel. Our server was so Southern I could barely understand her. She embodied southern hospitality.

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I have to talk about this pie. This is Root Beer Float Pie!!! I had to have it since it was their special and because I have never before had a root beer float pie. It delivered. I am going to do my best to recreate this pie at home and hopefully provide you with a recipe some day soon!

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Chris had a meatloaf sandwich on flatbread. This is not surprising since he is a meatloaf loving freak. He orders it almost every time he sees it on a menu. I loved how they did this with flatbread. I’m not a sandwich person but I’d totally order it.

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Even though Chris’s meatloaf was good I think I ordered the real winner of the day with my BLT salad with grilled shrimp. It had fried green tomatoes, candied bacon, goat cheese, corn and a killer home made dressing. This is the kind of food that inspires me to be creative in my own kitchen. It’s something homey and comforting but totally easy to replicate without being boring. These are my kind of eats!

All in all I’m completely Over The Spoon for Hilton Head and it’s food scene, even though it had the potential to be a complete tourist trap I was surprised to find great local and unique eats. So if you are planning a trip anytime soon Low Country Backyard, Roast Fish & Cornbread, Skull Creek and Black Marlin are all reliable places to really enjoy your vacation. My final advise: wear loose fitting clothing and do not go here on a diet!

Queen City Eats: Jungle Jim’s, Half Day Cafe and Taste of Belgium

Hey guys! I have a SUPER long post for you today. I spent 4 days visiting the in-laws in Cincinnati last week. We had to use our Ultimate Air tix before they expired. Let me tell you that is the way to travel my friends. It’s an executive jet company that only flies Charlotte, Cincinnati, Chicago and New York so if you are in those cities you need to check it out. There is no security to go through, you can show up 10 minutes before your flight, they pour you coffee, they give you freshly baked delicious cookies, there are no middle seats, you get free cocktails and an on board meal or snack. Absolutely easiest and most enjoyable travel experience I’ve ever had and that’s coming from a daughter of a 747 captain 🙂

I’ll be honest and say my experiences with the Cincinnati food scene in the last 5 or so years I’ve visited have been, shall we say, lack-luster. Since I am not a fan of their staples La Rosa’s pizza, Buffalo Wings and Rings, the bastardized sausage concoctions they call goetta or strange chili (although I have caught myself having evil cravings for Skyline chili). This last trip I did begin to appreciate some more of their unique contributions and can see a little bit of culinary expansion in what Banana Man’s cop friends call hipster food. I don’t qualify myself as a hipster by any stretch but I was so happy to see previously run down areas turning into a foodie hubs…areas like the OTR, Over-The-Rhine district which I’ll tell you about a little later in the post.

Our first morning there was a Friday and since all our friends and family were working Banana Man and I had the day to explore and eat! It was hilarious when I picked a breakfast place called the Half Day Cafe in the town of Wyoming and he had no clue where it was. Banana Man was born and raised in Cincinnati and he had never been to this place or any other place in this area which is only 20 minutes from where he grew up. They say West siders never leave the west side and it is so true. He is so lucky he got away and moved to California to meet me! Haha! He needed me to expand his horizons in his own city. His brother happened to be driving behind us when we thought we were almost there. He called us and asked us where we were headed. We gave him the address and he said “good luck, hope you have a gun to protect yourself!” It was pretty shady looking. We were looking for 1 Wyoming St which turns out there were actually 2 streets named Wyoming and the GPS decided to take us to the wrong one…well at least we wouldn’t be needing the gun. Win.

After a few extra minutes of driving we found our way to a charming historic looking area with beautiful Victorian and Craftman style houses lining the streets. I can not wait to go back to the Half Day Cafe as soon as we return to Cincy. I fell in love with this place and everything from their menu, to the people, to the beautiful big windows and most importantly the heavenly breakfast that we savored. First I ordered the broiled grapefruit which had a gorgeous carmelized ginger topping. It wasn’t easy to dig out with my spoon but the flavors did a little dance in my mouth. I have never seen such a thing on a restaurant menu before and I’m totally going to make it at home!

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Chris had this mango rum butter French Toast and it was like finding the pot of gold under the rainbow. He practically licked his plate clean.

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I ordered the sweet potato pancakes with a side of bacon and rosemary potatoes. I love that their menu is a la carte so you can pick and choose everything to your exact liking of combinations. The pancakes were amazing, somewhat thick but so silky. My dreams are made of these pancakes.

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It really was a true Mom and Pop and I was so charmed by Pop coming over and talking with us for a good while. We talked about the Cincinnati food scene and how it is “really growing up”. He told us about some of his favorites which gave me ideas for the next trip, primarily located in that OTR area I was telling you about.

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Happily taking our coffee to go we headed out to a bonified foodie mecca: Jungle Jim’s. It is the Disneyland of all things edible. It’s a magical production of culinary delights and a smorgasbord of of worldly treasures. This is not like any other grocery store or farmers market you have ever been. It is a colossal mega market spanning 300,000 sq ft of deliciousness. It is eclectic and down right bizarre. Watch this history channel documentary of the store to get a better feel for it:

And here’s Banana Man himself posing with his beloved Chiquita banana outside of Jungle Jim’s. The only good bananas are Chiquita ya know! Their offices were based there in Cincinnati for a quarter of a century before realizing they really belonged in the rightfully crowned Queen City of Charlotte last year. (I am probably pissing off a lot of people by saying that) From one Queen City to another.
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I took scores of pictures inside and I just couldn’t decide which to post so here they are all to overwhelm you as I was. A feast for the senses. An appetite on overdrive. From enormous ostrich eggs, to whole pig heads, kangaroo meat, unidentifiable fruits and veggies, butter bar, bakery, fishery, cooking school, cigar bar, hot sauce haven, wine and beer a plenty and yes of course the award winning bathrooms:

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I picked up this trio of salami’s infused with wine. Going to serve them at the recipe club meeting tomorrow!

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Award winning Bathrooms, yes and here they are. You walk through what looks like a single  port-a-potty and into what is actually a full amenity facility. It’s still a bathroom though just hilarious they make such a point of it.

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Saturday morning we went to breakfast at Taste of Belgium in the Over The Rhine area. After talking to Banana Man’s friends I was afraid I would be held at gun point or see some drug deals going down from the sounds of it. We made it out safe and sound, unscathed and very full.
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We sat at the counter and watched the magic happening with the waffle irons and crepe skillets. Every table was packed and a long waiting list was forming. The counter though was the best seat in the house in my opinion. I was so entertained.

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I got chicken and waffles which has long been a comfort food favorite of mine. This was epic chicken and waffles. It was a sweet Belgium style waffle with a fried chicken cutlet smothered in hot sauce and syrup. This is probably not replicable in my kitchen and makes dining out all the more wonderful.

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This odd looking dish is a Cincinnati special. You know how I said earlier that I thought their sausage concoction of “goetta” was really gross. Well Taste of Belgiums version is really really GOOD! Basically what goetta is: sage sausage, pinhead or steel cut oats and seasoning. That’s it. So in this version the goetta is plated on top of Belgium frites (fancy fries) and sauteed peppers. Then a fried egg tops the whole thing. I freaking loved it, go figure! I have promised Banana Man to attempt making goetta at home. It’s going to happen and when it does I will make it like this.

The trip was great, quality family time and discovering new amazing quality restaurants and no kinks in the travel plans. I wish every trip could be so successful! I’m leaving again, this time without Banana Man to fly back to Monterey to see my family. I get to see baby Mac who is almost 2 now!!! My mom is re-opening her new boutique in Carmel and I’m celebrating my dad’s birthday. Amongst numerous other events the Pebble Beach Food and Wine Festival will be going on and I’m hoping to somehow get myself in there at least one day. It’s a world class event at a world class place. I’m just dying to go. I’ll keep you posted!