I was supposed to leave on my roadtrip across the country on Wednesday morning, but I encountered one snafu on Thursday and another one on Saturday.
Thursday’s snafu has forced me to change my termination date to July 1, which forced me to bow out of the first leg of the roadtrip and buy a plane ticket to San Antonio.
Saturday’s snafu has left my car with one less tire. I took my car to get the tires rotated since we would be driving such a long way and found that one of my tires had a bubble in the sidewall. Of course, they didn’t have the tire I wanted on hand, but it should arrive on Wednesday morning just in time for Raisin Bread to hit the road.
Needless to say, I have been extremely stressed out by moving, but I am very excited about what lies ahead.
Another day, another city. On Sunday, we left Charlotte and headed back east towards Chapel Hill, but first, I had to introduce some of my travel buddies to Cracker Barrel. Going to Cracker Barrel reminds me of going to Disneyland. It’s a made up place with shopping and good eats, only Disneyland doesn’t have chicken and dumplings.
Cracker Barrel’s chicken and dumplings with carrots and green beans
Stopping by Cracker Barrel was meant to only tide us over until we reached Chapel Hill, which was three hours away. Unfortunately, I wasn’t at all hungry when we reached our lunch spot: Mama Dip’s. We decided to still stop for a meal though. At this point, I was officially addicted to sweet tea and Mama Dip’s was voted the best sweet tea in Chapel Hill.
Still, not hungry, I had a sweet potato biscuit and a cup of brunswick stew. This is definitely a stew, nothing soupy about it. It is basically a vegetable stew with some chicken meat, although our server said traditionally, it can be made of anything including squirrel.
Sweet potato biscuits
It was also at this point that I was really beginning to like the Research Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill). The people laugh easily and don’t take themselves too seriously. After lunch, we drove around the UNC campus and then walked along the street leading to campus, Franklin Street. It occurred to us that no one was around. School was out and everyone must have left town for the weekend, so like the seasoned travelers we are, we decided to scrap our plans and head back to Raleigh.
Another night in Raleigh gave us an opportunity to see some of the things we missed because of our mishaps on Friday night.
For dinner, we went to the Raleigh Times Bar, which seems to be famous because President Obama had a can of PBR there. I believe it should be known for its bbq pork nachos. Who ever came up with that is a genius and I don’t know why it isn’t on every menu of every bar in the nation. Barbeque pork nachos are nachos with a scoop of pulled pork on top! Hello! Genius!!! We also split a french dip sandwich, which had soft toasty bread, as well as a salad, which I didn’t take a picture of because who wants to see a picture of salad.
Raleigh Times Bar’s French dip
Raleigh Times Bar’s BBQ pork nachos
After dinner, I entertained my travel buddies for a while, hopping from one dead bar to the next, before realizing that no matter how many more bars we step inside, there won’t be more action happening. One bar patron even told me this, saying “Everyone goes to the beach” during memorial day weekend. I made a decision to stay put and enjoy some quality time with my college roommate before walking back to the hotel. Less than an hour later, the rest of the crew threw in the towel as well.
North Carolina provided some interesting high and low points during the rest of my trip. On Saturday, we got out of Raleigh and headed towards Charlotte. For lunch, we stopped at a taqueria in Durham. I asked a number of times if Mexican food was going to be good in North Carolina. I am, after all, from Southern California where there is an abundance of Mexican goodness.
I was pleasantly surprised by how great Taqueria La Vaquita was. The cow on the roof top welcomed us with open hooves.
Taqueria La Vaquita
I ordered a three taco plate (carnitas, pastor, and asada) that included rice and beans. It was a ton of food and extremely authentic with only cilantro, onions, and radish, lime and hot sauce on the side. Even in California, I would be hard pressed to find tacos with meats this flavorful. Unfortunately, I witnessed a group of people order the “taco americano” which has lettuce, tomatoes, onions, cheese and sour cream. Disappointing, indeed.
Three taco plate from La Vaquita
We drove briefly through Duke University’s campus before heading onwards to Charlotte. Unbeknown to us, it turned out to be NASCAR weekend in Charlotte. NASCAR fans made an evening out on the odd to say the least.
Marriott welcomes NASCAR fans!
Our marathon of eating continued at Price’s Chicken Coop. We shared a half chicken dinner which included cole slaw, hush puppies, and a biscuit. This certainly wasn’t the best fried chicken I’ve had in my life, but it did satisfy my fried food craving. The cole slaw was my favorite part of the meal.
Price’s Chicken Coop
Fried chicken meal from Price’s Chicken Coop
We were determined to experience Charlotte’s nightlife since we missed out on Raleigh’s the previous night. For dinner, we headed to downtown Charlotte and found out what happens in this town when it is NASCAR weekend. The entire downtown area was filled with people. It felt like New York but certainly didn’t look like it (we started counting shirtless men at this point. Shirtless, beer-gutted men.) It was also at this time that I discovered the most amazing beverage in the universe: Firefly vodka, a sweet tea flavored vodka. For the remainder of our trip, I drank it like water.
I had the most fun at one of our earlier stops due to dancing to pop music with gay men. Other than that, I was asked by someone if I was “oriental,” and we hopped from place to place looking for nothing in particular and finding nothing in particular.
Taking an extremely unprofessional step, we went off the eating path and stopped by the North Carolina Museum of Art and Museum Park for a stroll, which wound up being over two miles long. The heat was slightly unbearable, but at least we worked off some of our lunch and made some room for milkshakes! The museum was small in comparison to some of the LA and NYC institutions that we are all used to visiting.
Gyre by Thomas Sayre
Our next stop was a North Carolina fast food chain called Cook Out that has 40 different flavors of milkshakes. This particular location was a combination drive-thru and walk-up with some outdoor seating. Very simple. The four of us shared two selections: peach cobbler and mint chocolate chip. Cook Out’s milkshakes are extra thick and straws are rendered useless unless you have the lungs of a banshee. I particularly loved the peach cobbler. It reminded me of a cross between a Dairy Queen Blizzard and a Cold Stone Creamery concoction.
Cook Out’s walk up window
Cook Out’s peach cobbler and mint chocolate chip milkshakes
Our afternoon ended back at our hotel in North Hills to get guzzied up for our evening out in Downtown Raleigh.
Dinner turned out to be one of the top two meals of our trip in my opinion. Poole’s Downtown Diner is located in an old pie shop turned luncheonette turned yuppie restaurant. The cool and annoying hook of the restaurant is their seasonal menu which changes weekly, if not daily. This apparently means that they can’t print menus, although I have been to plenty of places that change their menu daily and still manage to. Their remedy is chalkboard menus, which are hung around the diner. Being dinner time and extremely dark, we had to walk around in order to see them. Some were hung above other diners’ tables, so it felt a tad rude to be standing next to someone’s table as they are enjoying a night out.
I ordered the fried green tomatoes with deviled eggs and tomato relish. I was extremely disappointed in this dish because both of the other items I got were outstanding. The tomatoes didn’t taste like anything and they were difficult to eat plus the whole combination didn’t really make sense to me because nothing seemed to complement anything else.
Fried green tomatoes
One of the remarkable items was the macaroni and cheese. This is probably the best restaurant mac and cheese I have ever had. It was creamy, not soupy or dry. The crust was just crunchy enough to add that little bit of extra texture that I am always looking for. Everything was perfect from the pasta to the sauce. Oh my, the sauce! Too bad I had to share it with three other people.
Mac and cheese
For my entree, I chose the roasted chicken mainly because I looked at our neighbor’s dish and drooled over it. It just looked like amazingly done comfort food, which is what I came here for. The chicken was juicy and tender. I could cut it easily with my fork and the mashed potatoes were a big scoop of buttery, smooth goodness. I enjoyed every bite of this dish.
Roasted chicken with mashed potatoes
Chaos struck as we discovered that one of us had forgotten her id, so we headed back to the hotel in a sudden downpour and found the hotel basement on fire. By then, it was too much for us to get ourselves back to downtown, so we spent some time getting to know our friendly hotel bartender before prepping to go to Charlotte the next day.
is not for amateurs. The plethora of barbecue joints, milkshake shacks, and southern-inspired dining establishments would make all non-professionals faint. Thankfully, my travel companions consider themselves experienced professional eaters, and our skills were definitely put to the test on our short jaunt around North Carolina.
Our first stop in Raleigh was The Pit to try Ed Mitchell’s famous piggies. Mr. Mitchell was seen kicking Bobby Flay’s butt in the most horribly conceptualized show in history, Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. The Pit had a nice selection of beers to go along with their barbecues. Three of us shared two of the lunch plates, which come with hush puppies, a biscuit and two sides. First up was the chopped barbecue with fried okra and mac and cheese. I would have preferred the chopped pork on a nice fluffy roll but it was still amazingly moist and flavorful on its own. The mac and cheese was uninspiring, but the hush puppies and fried okra were as all fried things should be: delicious and not greasy.
Chopped barbecue plate with mac and cheese and fried okra
Next, we had a half rack of Carolina spare ribs with baked beans and collard greens. The ribs were so tender that I just had to stick my fork into the meat to pull some off. Both of these side dishes were also extremely delicious. The greens was slightly spicy and cooked to the right consistency. The baked beans were interesting because a variety of beans were used for the dish.
Carolina spare ribs with collard greens and baked beans
I made a stop in the bathroom after our meal and came back to find this beautiful banana pudding on our table. Apparently, while I was gone, our waiter, who, by the way, was excellent the entire time, had come back and uttered these six simple words, “Do you want some banana pudding?” And it tasted as pretty as it looks although the meringue was ridiculously sweet for my taste. Other than that, the bananas and crust were all mingled together in a yummy partnership.
Immediately following lunch, we decided to eat some more. This time our destination was Locopops to get some hand-crafted gourmet popsicles. I ordered the mighty mojito which was limey and refreshing in the North Carolina heat. Their prices were a little higher than I expected at $2.16 for the “kid size.” But that certainly didn’t stop me from having another pop when I spotted a location in Chapel Hill a few days later. The mango chile has a hint a spice to complement a ton of sweetness.