by Cassondra Murray
Yes, I'm blogging about food again.
I had a different topic picked out, but I got to thinking about this and couldn't muster any enthusiasm for the other subject. So we'll save that one for another day because I have to tell you about this.
I've been traveling, which is why I've been scarce around the lair, and one of the worst things about travel, for me, is that I tend to eat badly. Not because I want to, but because when I travel and I'm trying to keep on a schedule, quite often I end up at drive- through windows, eating junk.
Chicken McSugarbombs, grease crunchies, and oh, yes, bread. Lots and lots of bread. Bread and more bread. And if it's not overt bread, it's bread pretending to not be bread. None of the stuff in this paragraph is on my diet.
I love good food. It's one of life's most wonderful sensual pleasures.
Don't get me wrong. I eat common food much of the time. Last night we had quickie taco salads made with an off-the-shelf seasoning packet. It wasn't very good, but it was fast and filling.
Right now I'm typing this with a bowl of cereal in front of me. Raisin Bran Crunch to be precise. That's what I'm having for supper.
But I love all kinds of good food, and take great pleasure in it when I can find it. Real Italian pasta sauces. A thick, medium rare steak. Fajitas steaming on a cast iron pan. Fresh gulf shrimp with homemade cocktail sauce. Wonderful sushi. I won't even talk about the wine. That's a whole nuther blog.
And if there's time, almost anywhere I am, I can find good food that actually fits into my diet. One of my favorite things to do in any new place I go is to find where the locals eat, and eat there.
It comes down to being interested in people and cultures I guess. I feel like if I eat the food that is native to a region, and drink their wine or beer (or tea or lemonade if the occasion calls for it), I get to know those people and their culture a little better. I just don't get that from eating in a chain that's the same no matter where you plunk it down.
So a little stage setting here....I flew to Baltimore two weeks ago, where The Duchesse, a.k.a. Jeanne, picked me up at the airport, and from there I proceeded to run like crazy from Thursday until Monday, and although there were a few bright notes, the entire experience can be summed up in three words. Hotel Banquet Food.
Yeah. It was bad.
Good company, fun people, but the food? Blech.
Then we got to Charlotte.
And right here, in front of God and everybody, I will say that in Charlotte, North Carolina, I had some of the best food I've had in ages.
I was there with Jeanne, and fellow Banditas, Donna and Nancy. Nancy knows the area well, and she played tour guide. Between rounds of working on book plots, we went all kinds of interesting places to eat. This was my first visit to Charlotte, if you don't count the inside of the airport, and it's now on my list of top ten food cities.
I have two new favorite places to eat.
Mama Ricotta's is one of the best Italian restaurants I've found. Granted, I don't live in an area where there is a large Italian community, but I love Italian food. I could eat Italian several times a week without getting bored. Bandit Buddy Dianna once took some of us to a great little place in downtown Charleston, WV, and that was pretty high on my list, but Mama Ricotta's is right there with it.
That's a picture, on the left, of the inside of Mama Ricotta's. I tried to hire our server, McGregor, to join the cabana boy staff, but he would not take the bait. Apparently word has gotten around about Ermingarde the dragon.
So if you're passing through Charlotte and have time for dinner, Mama Ricotta's is the place to go.
But for breakfast or brunch, nothing--and I do mean nothing--has ever come close to the strawberry pancakes at The Pancake House. We went there just before we left. I understand that this is a franchise, but I'd never been to one. The service was just okay, but sometimes the food is so good that all else falls away.
Yes, they got the eggs right, but I completely forgot eggs and bacon when they brought the pancakes. Three pancakes piled on a plate, covered with sliced fresh strawberries and real whipped cream. The crowning glory, though, was the syrup. This was no sugar water glaze out of a package. These people took fresh strawberries and pureed them in a blender, poured that liquid magic into a little pitcher and brought it to the table to use as syrup.
I took one bite and about had a heart attack. It was so good I wanted to put my face in it. I was about to, but Jeanne stopped me. Thank goodness, because there were other people around. I finished it all and if I hadn't been there with polite people I would have licked the plate.
I looked at the manager and said, "how do you do this?"
"We grow our own yeast in the back," he said.
I'm now wondering if ordinary, everyday people can grow yeast in a kitchen, and just how much trouble it is to make scratch pancakes the way they do. This is the ultimate pancake.
I am not a food snob by any means. I love trying out the food wherever I am. I like little greasy spoon diners and catfish houses. I've been known to stop for the occasional pecan waffle at Waffle House. I've also been lucky enough to taste fantastic food in New Orleans, and I've had plate-licking experiences in San Francisco. The pizza at Patsy's under the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC is the best pizza I've ever eaten.
But for down-home, can't put the fork down, eat until you pop, all-out yumminess, the strawberry pancakes at The Original Pancake House--at least the one in Charlotte--gets the award.
Y'all have to go there. I'm certain they got the recipe from God, and if they didn't, when I die, Heaven better have a shuttle to Charlotte, NC, because I want those Pancakes every morning. With no calories of course.
Now tell me Bandits and Buddies, what is the best meal you've ever had?
Are there cities you love to visit because of a certain restaurant you love?
What's your favorite kind of food? Chinese? Mexican? Greek? Italian? Sushi?
Have you traveled to other countries? If so, did you like the food?
Do you tend to stick to the tried and true, or you adventurous when it comes to food?
When you eat out at your favorite place, do you always get the same thing, or do you try something new each time?
If you were a roving food reporter, what places would be your top three recommendations?
Have any of you been to The Pancake House in Charlotte?
Is there a Pancake House where you are?