Vacation Eats – SC Edition

I swear, I tried. I really did. I hauled my camera all the way to SC with every intention of being that annoying person in a restaurant setting up shots and climbing on chairs. But, that didn’t happen. I was too busy enjoying my time with Seth and too self-conscious to really commit to the full “foodie” (ugh, hate that title) obnoxiousness.

Garden Table Green Juice

So, my iphone photos will just have to do. Here’s a partial list of the places we went and the foods we ate on our trip. Mostly in Greenville, and a few fantastic places along the way. After today, I’m officially back to work and things will return to normal around here. For better or for worse.

In GVL

GB&D

Obviously. We got lunch here on our first full day in town and then had an amazing dinner our second to last night (all courses specially prepared by Alex, god bless him). The burger is a must (get a side of burger sauce to go with your fries) and dinner is exceptional – especially dessert! Jen took over the duties when I left and she’s doing a better job than I ever could. We stopped by the morning before we left and she gifted me lemon pound cake with fresh strawberry ice cream.

Golden Brown & Delicious Burger

The Village Grind

Right across the street from GB&D (and owned by the Alex’s sister), we stopped here every morning for a jolt. The space is gorgeous and the friendly faces are even moreso. Plus, they put up with my tedious request of things being “half-caff” (I’m the worst).

Swamp Rabbit Café & Grocery

Another place I used to work! Purveyors of local produce and some of the best scones around. Seth was a huge fan of their stecca (a sort of freeform, Italian baguette). We stocked up on local honey and kombucha before hitting the road. Plus, my former employer, Mary, took this lovely shot of Seth and I ❤

Breakfast Sandwich

Tandem

Technically in Travelers Rest, this is one of my absolute favorite breakfast places in all the land! Sweet and savory crepes that are just the ticket after a bottle and a half of wine the night before. Or so I’ve heard.

Pita House

Oh, Pita House, how do I love thee? There’s no better place to get lunch. It’s both affordable and flavorful and the staff are some of the friendliest around. Plus, they make a tahini salad that makes me forget I don’t really like tahini. I’ll say one last thing: BAKLAVA.

Pita House, Greenville SC

The Kennedy, Spartanburg SC

My cousin Maria has started working here recently and while I can’t attest to anything but the deliciousness of their burnt chocolate spoon bread (omg) and the intricacies of their cocktails, the ambiance and décor alone make me want to return!

The Kennedy, Spartanburg SC

In AVL

12 Bones Smokehouse

We were only spending one afternoon in Asheville and I knew we had to lunch here! It had been over two years since I’d had their ribs and truly, they were better than I remembered. I got a half rack of blueberry bbq basted and a half rack of Cheerwine bbq basted. With mac n cheese and a big ol’ slice of cornbread on the side, naturally.

unnamed

Summit Coffee Co.

Literally 100 yards from 12 Bones, Seth and I found this amazing coffee shop filled with local artwork and fresh brewed drip coffee that gave us enough energy to finish the final leg of our journey. (Truly, the amount of coffee we consumed on this trip was astounding.)

Summit Coffee Co., Asheville NC

And the rest

Stock & Barrel, Knoxville TN

We made it a point to stop at local, non-fast food places while driving and I’m glad we did! We pulled into Knox jonesing for a burger and ended up finding a really good one here. There happened to be a Vols game at the same time so downtown was packed. But, we were blessed with a parking spot and snagged the last table on the patio. Sure, we had to keep our coats and hats on and my red wine was inadvertently served chilled, but any place I can get onion strings on a burger is good in my book.

Stock & Barrel, Knoxville TN

Munster Donuts, Munster IN

Open 24/7, this place is slinging doonies left, right, and center. The flavors are simple staples but done oh-so-well.  And all less than $1 each!

IMG_6149

Quills Coffee, Indianapolis IN

I’ve heard nothing but good things about Quills from Em over at Today’s Letters so I was over the moon when I found out there was a location within walking distance from our AirBnb. We got there right when it opened and once again the barista put up with my difficulty/decaf nonsense. Plus, they had whole bean decaf for me to take home and an adorable astronaut cat mural across the alleyway.

Quills Coffee, Indy IN

Garden Table, Indianapolis IN

When I worked at a place that did brunch, I was always envious of people who got to have brunch. We more than made up for it on our way back home at Garden Table. Local fare, the freshest (and softest) bread, super quick and friendly service, cold-pressed juices. This place had it all! And it was all presented in the hippest/chicest/trendiest setting. Plus, I had my first oat milk latte and it was a treat! I’m a convert!

Turn-key Sandwich, Garden Table Indy, IN

Until the next time we travel (which will be Europe in March, omg)!

Coconut Icebox Cake (& light)

Crossing the state line was like passing through a filter. Everything became a little more golden, the edges softer. If I hadn’t recognized the light, the way the winter sun shined down on the road, I would’ve thought the lack of sleep and excessive time alone had finally taken it’s toll on my addled brain.

But I knew this light. I had seen it before. For years. It was dusk in South Carolina. Wintertime.

I breathed in deep.

The next morning I rose before the sun, the closed blinds in my room producing a whisper of silvery light. Dawn was coming. I watched it appear over the fields of my family’s farm. The start of my first day back. I knew exactly where to begin, too.

I parked my car in its usual place – un-shaded and exposed, guaranteed to warm up inside. The asphalt was already absorbing the heat, the light.

I forced myself to pass the back door. I wasn’t an employee anymore, this entrance wasn’t mine. Instead, I went in through the coffee shop. A regular customer.

“What’re you doing here?” Katie asked, both enthusiastic and incredulous as only she can be. I hugged her tight, tears welling up, my heart in my throat, unable to answer her question.

I saw a flash of blue-blonde hair out the corner of my eye, seconds later a gentle tap on my shoulder. I turned to see Jen, beaming – she knew I was coming, the only one who’d been aware I’d appear that afternoon. She enveloped me in a hug with her long arms. The tears spilled over as we spun.

The spinning ended and I faced the kitchen. Kris stood there, behind the gleaming prep table. He gave me a happy pout, a fake-frown transforming into a smile, and headed down the hall toward me. Now the tears were flowing more than falling. My shoulders shook, heaving sobs as we embraced.

Collecting myself, I went to order coffee. I let the familiar sounds wash over me – the steaming milk, the keyboard clatters, Lindsey and Callie’s sweet voices. I leaned against the coffee bar – cool cement in contrast with soft wood – the color of honey.

I sensed Alex before I saw him, turned to see him standing behind me in the doorway. One step, two steps to close the gap.

We hugged.

I breathed in deep.

“How’re you doing?” he asked.

“Better now.”

No tears.

Instead light. Lightness in his presence, in being back at GB&D, being home.

“So…uhh…I don’t know what your plans are while you’re here, but…do you want to make some desserts?”

Nothing would make me happier.

That decided, I took up residence at the corner table. Alex’s favorite spot. The place we had my interview.

Surrounded on both sides by windows it had the best view of the goings on both in and out of the restaurant. The afternoon sun slanted in through the panes, the décor seemingly picked out to compliment the rays – copper and plants and brick absorbing and reflecting in just the right way. The room itself hugged me, putting me at ease. The line grew, shrank, grew. I watched Jen. Alex. Kris. Katie. I cried. I ate the best burger I’d had in months.

In the morning, I returned, ready to work. But my station wasn’t where it used to be. A lot had changed in six months. Remodeling, rearranging. Alex’s quest for the perfectly situated kitchen never quite accomplished.

I found the mixer in the Annex (named after Toby’s haunt in The Office), set it up on top of the new freezer, collected the ingredients and myself. The freshly painted walls glowed white-blue under the fluorescent lights. At the right angle, I could make out the paint drips from the old mural that lay underneath – round faces with even rounder eyes. My nerves bounced around all the silver and steel in the room.

Muscle memory and music overtook my senses. It took some getting used to – new things in new places, old things long discarded. After a few starts and stutters (and a loan of coconut milk from Kris), I had assembled my coconut icebox cake – a guaranteed crowd pleaser.

Dinner service that night was like I’d never experienced. The switch to table service had made all the difference. The pendant lamps glowed softly, warmth in the winter night, the din of diners never rising above the dim light – a constant measure of contentment.

The icebox cake sold out by Saturday night. Despite the abundance of short ribs and fried biscuits – I felt lighter yet still.

Commuting Sunday morning was as it ever was. Slowly creeping out of the driveway and down the nearly empty highway. Headlights passing me on one side, taillights guiding me on the other.

Jen was awaiting me when I got there – a little late despite my best efforts to be a model pseudo-employee. How many times had I done this? How many times could I still do this? Jen let me take the reigns while she readied the line for service. I fell into the familiar pivot of dough, oil, rack, then back. Again and again. The pile of doughnuts increasing as the daylight did. It crept over the painted farm fields and variety of vegetables on the building next door. A mural celebrating local produce – tinged the softest shade of pink by the rising sun.

“Wow. We have so much time left,” Jen said, pleasantly surprised. Hands on her hips, she surveyed the work we had done. The work she let me do.

That night, when all the guests were gone and all the cleaning done, Alex and I shared a beer. New Glarus Belgian Red. A farewell tradition started the first time I left.

We sat comfortably, watching the cars go by outside. We talked about wine, apartment hunting, heart surgery, and ramen. Every once in awhile, passing headlights would illuminate a different corner of the room, a different feature of his face.

Suddenly, his entire face lit up, not from a headlight but with remembrance. He sprang out of his chair and started rifling on a shelf behind the bar. He returned with a slim, dark blue box. There was a large “GK” embossed on the top, surrounded by the outline of a spoon.

Inside was the Gray Kunz special edition spoon from last year. He took it out and handed it to me. My hand recognized the weight, the length of the handle. But this one felt softer, smoother than the others we kept en masse in the kitchen. It was copper – in fitting with Alex’s obsession. There were other flashes of it all throughout the restaurant – planters and pots and ladles and more. The entire bar front, which he’d made by hand, was distressed copper sheeting.

I rolled the spoon over in my hands as we continued to drink, to talk. About breadboxes, cookbooks, road trips, and regrets. The bottle ran dry long before the conversation would, but we had to concede. It was time to go.

“Here, hold this for me.”

I took the proffered box without thinking, assuming I was only doing a favor. Holding onto it while he cleaned up the glasses, discarded the bottle. The crooked grin and extra sparkle in his eyes gave away what he’d just done.

“No! No! I can’t! This is yours!” I tried to hand it back to him. He shook his head, waved his hands in refusal.

“Amanda. Please, take it. It’s sat in that box for months. I’ve been waiting for the right time to use it. Obviously this is it.”

I accepted the box, and the spoon inside.

Read More »

Windy City Rundown

If home is where the heart is then I’ve got homes scattered across the country.

One of those homes is Chicago. Now that I’ve moved back to the Midwest I’m taking full advantage of being within driving distance of the city, friends, and food that are so near and dear to me.

I’ve been home for a little over two months and have made two pilgrimages back to Chicago, once for a concert (more about that on Friday) and again this past weekend to celebrate both Elise’s birthday and NU’s homecoming.

There are places and people I’ve always made time for when I’d been in town over the last three years – must sees and must eats. Now, there are people and places that are more accessible to me, ones I haven’t seen in years or have never been to at all. I’m getting to delve deeper into this city – which at once feels familiar and foreign and reconnect with friends that bolster and buoy me.

I’m so thankful for that. Thankful for solo rides on the El. For running through the rain after a football game. For parking spots right around the corner from apartments. For cups of coffee direct from Colombia. For breakfasts that turn into walks that turn into long car rides together. For being able to come back home after all this time.

Read More »