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February 11th,
2014
written by Arthur

Living in New York, I miss a car and driving. Day-to-day, it’s great to be able to get on the train, pull out my Kindle, and get to my destination hands free–to not question that last beer at happy hour. But some days I just miss the road. Not just short drives, but the long epic drives.

There is nothing like a road trip. I have great memories of making the six hour drive back to the Twin Cities from Chicago with a car full of debate students (I used to coach) or long drives with my friend Rick to various corners of the Midwest. For Spring break my senior year of college, some friends and I convinced a teacher to give us class credit for a road trip through the Dakotas and Montana if we loosely tied the trip to Native American literature and provided some documentation of our travels. We covered 3,700 miles in six days. These trips are filled with memories of stops at random hole in the wall diners, the crackle of static over 2 am talk radio, the texture of a double cheeseburger that has been “marinating” in the back seat for three hours, and the miles of open road.

So it happened, that when Carly and I discussed our holiday plans, we ended-up deciding to drive our way up from Tampa to New York. Rather than making a straight go, we planned a winding route over four days. Our schedule left us with a night in Savannah, Georgia and two nights in a cabin in the mountains of North Carolina. We plotted a leisurely pace allow for what ever random food spot or tourist trap might catch our eye.

To started our first leg, we pulled of Carly’s parents’ driveway headed towards Gainesville. We stopped in the home of the Florida Gators so that Carly could show me her college town. Unfortunately, with winter break in full effect, our plan A, B, and C lunch spots were closed. Fortunately, Leonardo’s pizza was not. In a crazy mood, I kicked of my road trip eats with a vegan pizza.  The “cheese” left a lot to be desired, but the tomatoes, onions, and veggies were what I craved. The garlic knots were delicious, massive, and filling.  I can only assume that Leonardo’s has saved many a drunk soul.

After Leonardo’s, we were on to Savannah, with a small detour to Jacksonville to exchange rental cars. We were on the road for real. We checked into our hotel and were off to explore the city and find some sustenance. At the recommendation of the front desk, we headed to Moon River Brewing Co for dinner.  We ordered and shared a feast: shrimp and andouille sausage  ravioli, deviled eggs plated tuna tartare, friend green tomatoes with crab salad, and black eyed pea salad.  To drink it all down, we delved into their signature brews. The food was inspired even if the beers were unmemorable. Our hunger satiated, we took to the brick and cobble stone streets for a little more drink.

Lured by the sounds of live music, we swung into what appeared to be a nondescript pub. Once at the bar it became clear that Molly MacPherson’s was a Scottish, not an Irish pub.  The Scottish heritage of the pub was given away by the dozens of bottle of very fine Scotch whiskey behind the bar. As lovers of whiskey, we started off in this realm (the Bartenders Scotch flight for the misses and a Bruichladdie Bourbon Cask 16 followed by a Springbank 10 for me). Our tastes dulled, we moved on to beers–culminating in a whiskey sour and Bell Two Hearted to go–we just had to take advantage of Savannah’s friendly open container laws.

Our slow awakening was followed by a Southern inspire breakfast at Rocks Grille.  Carly fueled for the day of driving with the Rocks Benedict–poached eggs, ham, tomato, spinach on English muffin and added a bonus side of real southern grits.  I went the route of the Southern Benedict — biscuit with sausage gravy and grits. After a final walk through Forsyth Park and a drive to pick-up cookies for gifts, we were back on the road and North Carolina bound. Once in the car, we were quickly across a bridge, out of Georgia and into South Carolina.

The drive from Savannah to pilot mountain was my favorite stretch of the trip. As we drove, billboards (mile after mile) alerted us to the approach of South of the Border. Knowing that the quality of any establishment is inversely related to the number of billboard for said establishment (Stephen Hawking discusses this inverse square law in Brief History of Time) I could tell that this place was going to be cheesy gold. We had to stop. We perused the gift shop. Visited the reptile museum and witnessed a steakhouse in the shape of a sombrero. For my friends in the Midwest: think Wall Drug, but BIGGER and with Mexican theme on the level of Speedy Gonzales! The detour was worth every second, but all good things must come to an end and we were back on track for the mountains.

Our next stop was the Love Shack.  (No joke–click the link.  Once we found a bed and breakfast cabin in the mountains called the Love Shack, how could we not stay there?!) As we drove and sun set our minds turn to evening sustenance. To take full advantage of our mountain getaway, we stopped by a grocery store to pick-up bread, cheese, veggies, beer, and wine. We were set.  Or so we thought. After unpacking and starting a fire we laid out our spread. But, to our extreme disappointment, the bread had gotten lost in the shuffle at check-out. With a critical ingredient missing we had to be resourceful.  I snuck my way into the kitchen of the bed and breakfast and pilfered a few slices of bread.  Stale bread as it turned out. To save the bread and our meal I impaled the bread on the end of a knife and toasted our slices over the fire.  It wasn’t an ideal dinner, but it was the adventure road trips are made of.

The next morning it was time for the breakfast side of the Piolt Mountian bed and breakfast.  A main building housed a dinning room and the kitchen I had pillaged the night before.  A mother daughter team alternated taking orders and cooking breakfast to order. I opted for the waffles (which I layered in various jams and jellies) and bacon.  Carly’s tackled Turkey sausage and scrambled eggs. We were off to very satiated start to the day.

Our lunch spot was the one destination on road trip I insisted we stop at: Leon’s Burger Express, home of “the famous California cheeseburgers.” The website of the B&B list some local dinning options, including this Mount Airy gem. A quick glance and Leon’s website locked me. The pictures of the place and the insanely low prices screamed local haunt. When we arrived, the place was about half full of families and few older folks at the counter with the town paper in hand. Carly and I each ordered the famous California cheeseburgers, she with and order of fries and me with an order of onion rings. I supplemented with a fried bologna sandwich. Sitting at the counter, we watch a middle aged man in a once white apron drop our fries and rings in the deep fryer as he cooked our burgers and my bolonga on a well seasoned grill. Our gaze fell on the home computer printed anti-Obama signs, the Browning wall paper, and the worn counter. The food was spot on.  The burgers had been cooked with the onions, preserving moisture. The bologna sandwich was my first data point of that food type fried, but was a winner.  In the Pilot Mountain area, this hole in the wall is a most stop food spot.

After Leon’s, we hit candy shops of Main Street and acquired Gummies, chocolate covered Espresso beans , snow caps, and gummy watermelons. After tour of a museum dedicated to the history of the region, we wrapped-up out Mt. Airy excursion with some local wine at Olde North State Winery.

After a nap, we were ready for dinner.  It wouldn’t have been right to leave North Carolina without some barbecue, so we hit Bib’s Downtown in Winston-Salem. In the 50’s car dealership turn restaurant, we feasted to the point of discomfort on ribs, beef brisket, pulled pork, hush puppies, red slaw, bib’s beans, and Mac ‘n cheese all washed down with large glasses of sweet tea. We then headed to the arts district and settled our stomachs with a little whiskey at Luna’s, a tiny dive bar. But the night wasn’t over. It was time for some live music at the Garage.  If you find yourself in Winston-Salem, wander over to the Garage. If you shrunk the place and filled with too cool for school kids you could drop the Garage in the middle of Williamsburg. But the space is generous, the group chill, and the bartender talkative. We chatted with the partial owner/bar tender as folks filtered in and the first band set-up. Per our new friend, the place hosts everything form hard core metal to the country to the chill indie we were about to enjoy. The man exuded nothing by friendliness, pride in the venue, and a love of music.  I sipped a couple locally brewed Frostbite IPA as we enjoyed the show.

The next morning it was time for another breakfast in the breakfast room before hitting the road. En route to a train in D.C. for the final leg of our journey, we managed a stop at both Chick-Fil-A and a Cook Out. (Cook Out is a Southern fast food spot famous for their multitude of milk shake options.) And so, road tiered and full of amazing eats, we exited our train in Penn. Station and returned to real life and a few days of kale salads.

[There are a number of pictures that I would love to integrate, but I don’t want to let perfect stand in the way of good–maybe soon!]

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