Thursday, April 14, 2011

Road food

Not surprisingly, one of my favorite aspects of vacation is eating out. Many travelers advance plan their food stops, or seek out a famous restaurant in a city they're visiting, but I've been known to detour hundreds of miles out of our way to hit a particular food destination. I think I may have even thrown in an extra country once (Eurorail, so long ago, can't recall exactly).

No such decadent behavior on our most recent trip, which was the usual Spring Break sojourn to southern Virginia and North Carolina to visit family. We did vary the route slightly this time, going through Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., to visit colleges with Dylan, our high school junior.

In D.C., Dylan and I had fun playing with the Urbanspoon application on our iPods and, since we were all tired after a day of travel and college tours, we chose the nearest eatery, Guapo's, a Tex-Mex restaurant with a high "liked it" rating on Urbanspoo that was conveniently next door to our hotel. I had low expectations, but as soon as I tasted the freshness of the complimentary chips and salsa, I knew it would be safe to order from the menu. I chose the masitas de puerco al horno (slow-roasted pork medallions in a Spanish-style sauce), which were excellent. I enjoyed them so much that I forgot to stick my spoon in Leah's sopa de tortilla, which she assured me was very good. John and Dylan had something boring like fajitas or burritos, but they were satisfied.

I won't mention our interstate stops. We do the best we can, but with long drive times and two finicky teens, sometimes simply avoiding golden arches at lunch counts as a gustatory victory.

Our next opportunity for fine dining was in Raleigh. This was "date night" and John and I left the kids to enjoy pizza with their cousins and grandparents while we checked out the Bloomsbury Bistro. I was expecting the southern version of my favorite restaurant, the Cooks' House, but such perfection is rare. Still, the Bloomsbury served excellent food; some ingredients were local, and the dishes were regionally inspired. I had an outstanding duck breast flavored with cranberries and accompanied by a sweet potatoe puree. It was almost like Thanksgiving. I've already forgotten what John ordered, but I tasted it and proclaimed it delicious.

I was most disappointed in our Durham dining, or lack thereof. I had compiled a lovely list of well-reviewed Durham eateries and was excited to explore the city's renowned local foods scene, even though we only had time for one lunch. Unfortunately, I left the list (and directions) at home, and after Dylan's Duke tour, we had two hungry teen boys (his cousin joined us) and I couldn't find from memory the place I had intended to stop at on the way to Chapel Hill. We ended up having lunch at a Franklin Street sports bar where the walls are adorned with famous Tarheels and, I was told by the boys, Coach K's face decorates the urinal in the men's room. Sigh.

Family dining at Meadow
I have a brother who lives at the beach (yay!), so on our finest weather day, we made the road trip from Raleigh to Wilmington, stopping en route to lunch at the famous Meadow Restaurant, which my parents have been raving about for years. This place is the antithesis to an upscale urban bistro. It's a big country all-you-can-eat buffet full of fried chicken, country-style steak, green beans, turnip greens, hush puppies, pork rinds, and the like. The buffet also includes a dizzying array of cakes and pies, the most popular of which is the chocolate pie. The low buffet price (a little over $8) explains its fame.

For dinner, my brother and sister-in-law took us to a pleasant seafood restaurant in Wrightsville Beach, the Fishhouse, where John could get his mandatory platter of deep-fried ocean critters. I enjoyed the grilled mahi plate.

Unfortunately, being a slack food blogger, I forgot to take photos, except for the Meadow one. I'll do better next time, which will probably be our mid-May trip to Chicago (more college visits).