By JAY REED
The Reed Family Holiday Hootenannie was a long one this year. (That may not be how you spell hootenannie, but since we had a Nannie with us, that’s what I’m going with.)
Start to finish, we were on the road — or at least away from Sunny Stark-Vegas — the better part of twelve days. That can get a little weary, to be sure, but it also presents countless opportunities to try new dishes, or re-visit old dishes in new places. Part two of our journey provided both.
On Christmas Eve, prior to the tree-lighting and cannon-firing in Colonial Williamsburg, we stopped for lunch at a little place called “zpizza” (they didn’t capitalize). Originally from California, their claim to fame is offering organic and fresh ingredients. I like that, but I was going for something beyond — something truly unique — and I think I found it. The Curry Chicken and Yam Rustica pizza was topped with the two “title” ingredients, plus mozzarella, raisins, mango chutney, and fresh cilantro. It was a risk, even for me, but I like to keep the readers wondering and that’s getting more difficult to do these days.
I’m not sure I will now keep raisins around the house specifically as a pizza topping, but I am sincere when I say this was actually good. The only thing keeping me from eating every bite was the fact that I was trying bites of everyone else’s zpizza, too.
Christmas Day was unlike any other I’ve ever experienced. We ate out, and I’ve never done that on Christmas. Shields Tavern, on the main drag of the historic area, was the source of our three-course dinner. For starters, most of us got the sweet potato-carrot bisque that was very flavorful and got us off to a warm start on a frigid day. The main course was a choice of pan-seared rockfish topped with crab meat and a saffron sauce, prime rib, or sage-rubbed turkey breast with cranberry chutney. I chose the fish, but ended up eating a little bit of all three, thanks to generous, sharing relatives.
Dessert was the best course — a tall piece of dense apple pie topped with a layer of caramel, a scoop of cinnamon ice cream on the side. And the best part? No stress of massive cooking and cleaning.
Over the next couple of days, we played tourist and saw more of Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, and Yorktown — the “Golden Triangle” of American history. As we zipped around trying to see what we could see, we also made some quick taste bud memories. Son and I made the required stop at an Auntie Anne’s pretzel place and tried a pretzel dog — pretzel dough wrapped around a hot dog. A good idea. The next day we got colonial again and had some fresh gingerbread from the bakery behind the Raleigh Tavern. Later, between Jamestown and Yorktown we made a stop at KFC and discovered a chocolate chip cookie sandwich with cream filling, reminiscent of the Double Doozie I wrote about a few weeks ago. Oh, and there was chicken.
As we began our journey home, we stopped near Richmond to see some old friends who know well our love for Mexican food. They took us to El Patron, where I once again defaulted to fish tacos. These featured grilled fish, a creamy chipotle sauce, and big chunks of crumbly queso cheese. The first bite was fiery, but a good squeeze of fresh lime brought all those flavors together very nicely.
Unbeknownst to us, Younger Brother was making reservations for dinner at another Mexican place in Charlotte, Cantina Fifteen Eleven. I considered going for another version of fish tacos, just for comparison, but instead went with another water creature, an oven-roasted duck breast with orange glaze and Valencia orange salsa. Delicioso! Feliz Navidad!
The next day, prior to our departure from Charlotte, Younger Brother introduced us to Smashburger. Like many specialty burger places, this one offered a few combinations already on the menu or a design your own option with an overwhelming list of toppings, cheeses, and buns. Brother ordered for his family, and I followed a few minutes later. When his burger came, it looked strangely familiar. Save the grilled onions that I added, we had ordered the identical “build-your-own” burger: pretzel bun, “Wicked Pimina” cheese, fried pickles, and Smash sauce (a blend of mustard, mayo, relish and lemon). This is not the first time that Reed Brother ESP has kicked in. The sides we got were amazing, too: smashfries (shoe string or sweet potato fries tossed with olive oil, rosemary and garlic) and Brunswick fries (topped with Brunswick stew, cheddar cheese, and barbecue sauce). Okay, we can leave now.
Finally, we pointed the van toward home for the last day. Lunchtime found us in Birmingham, and I knew there was a Jim ’N Nick’s Barbecue near the Galleria. I also knew that all of us – even Daughter – could eat there. Hallelujah. Son got a double-decker sandwich that had the same structure as a Big Mac, but was layered with pulled pork and beef brisket – best of both worlds. The Wife and I shared a combo plate with pulled pork, brisket, and pork hot links. (Yes, shared. By this time on the trip, I was getting full.)
The links went very well with a little side of pimento cheese I requested. Daughter finally got her pulled pork sandwich, on sourdough bread. We all went a little crazy with the airy signature cheese biscuits that they brought to the table, and even bought a couple of mixes to bring home.
Yes, home again. Whew. And Happy New Year!
Jay Reed is a local foodie and pharmacist. The culinary tastes expressed here are his and do not necessarily reflect the appetites of the Starkville Daily News or individual members of its staff. He welcomes your comments at firstname.lastname@example.org .