Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Returning to Illinois

We had another whirlwind trip over the past few days, enjoying some nice temps in the mid 60s, only to return home to a big snowstorm, and the news that Sullivan's has been sold. We had heard rumors that someone was trying to buy the place, so it wasn't a huge surprise, but we've made the place a new hangout of ours as of late, and change is threatening.

On the travel front, we had a very difficult time finding nice local places to dine on our trip. I told StfRon that the next time we plan a big trip, we're going to have to do some serious research before we go.
We did find some gems, and some stinkers on this journey.
Our first memorable local meal was lunch in the burg of Sainte Genevieve, Missouri, which dubs itself as Missouri's most historic town. We saw a billboard on the highway that drew us in with the promise of the historic town, so we pulled off in search of food.
We had to drive a bit to find the historic district, and once we arrived, we found some of the restaurants closed. We did find one open, Stella and Me, so we went in for a bite.
The dining room was tiny and brightly colored, with a chalkboard along one wall listing the menu. I decided to have a 1/2 cranberry walnut feta salad, and a cup of clam chowder, most certainly the healthiest meal I had on this trip.
StfRon went with a ham sandwich served with chips, and a great orange garlicky chip dip.
Everything was very good, and our meal was about $13.
Sainte Genevieve was neat, and reminded me of Bishop Hill. If we lived closer, I would definitely visit on a Saturday, poking around in the shops and trying the restaurants.

Our next memorable meal was that night, at Rendezvous in Memphis. We did plan to visit this place, so we used our GPS to get us to the street, parked and got out to look for the restaurant.
As we were waiting for the crosswalk signal, a jolly gent bopped up and asked "Where y'all headed?" We told him we were looking for Rendezvous, and he said "I'll show ya where it is. This is what I do." Turns out he was apparently quite the Memphis "ambassador" and was just jonesing for a tip. Having just received some holiday money, the smallest thing I had was $100, which I didn't want to flash on the streets of Memphis (or give to the ambassador for walking us a half block to an alley), and we had just plugged all of our silver change into the parking meter, so he didn't get much in the way of a tip from us.
Rendezvous has been serving up charcoal ribs since 1948. The basement restaurant was interesting, with room after room of tables and a mosaic tile floor, which we saw repeatedly during our travels this trip.
I had a chicken breast, and StfRon went for the famous ribs. Both meals came with cole slaw and baked beans. The chicken was OK, the beans were great, and the slaw was unusual, with lots of curry mixed in. StfRon liked the ribs, prepared with just a dry rub.

We hit the road the next morning, and went in search of some local southern breakfast along th way. We struck out in several towns, and finally pulled into a place in Grenada, Mississippi that said breakfast on the front.
If we had not been so frustrated after driving around so much, we might have turned away when we noticed that the place was also a bait shop, but we forged ahead.
I have no idea what the restaurant name was, but it will forever be known to us as Pro Lures Tackle Yard, as that's what came up on our credit card statement.
Some granny was smoking in the dining room, watching TV with the grandkids. Several people wandered in while we were there, most roaming back behind the counter. One even came in sporting some PJs.
The server asked us if we wanted breakfast or burgers, as she was picking up some menus. We said breakfast, and she stopped to put the menus back and said, "Let me just tell you what I've got left". I had some toast, grits, bacon and a glass of milk, since she said they had no orange juice. StfRon had toast, the last biscuit and gravy and a piece of smoked sausage.
The food hit the spot, and didn't hit the wallet, at $7.35.

Our next memorable dining experience was McGuire's Irish Pub in Pensacola, Florida. I had seen the restaurant on the web, and at least wanted to stop there for drinks to check the place out.
McGuire's is dubbed one of Florida's great restaurants, and opened in 1977. This restaurant, too, was room after room of tables packed with diners. One of the coolest rooms was the wine cellar, with room for 8,000 bottles of wine. The wine list features a huge selection of Chateau Mouton Rothschild Artist Series, pick your vintage year and they probably have it. We could have ordered a bottle of wine from the year of my birth for a mere $2,000.
The bar and lobby ceiling, plus parts of the restaurant are covered with dollar bills bearing names and messages from patrons of Irish descent. There are well over half a million dollar bills hanging in this place.
For dinner, I ordered yellowfin tuna with a side of asparagus. StfRon decided to try the hickory smoked prime rib. Our meal was preceded by a delicious loaf of warm brown bread drizzled with honey, and some great garden salads. The tuna was excellent, as was the prime rib. We also split a bottle of wine, a $25 Pinot, instead of the $2,000 bottle. Our meal with tip was about $90.
Our enjoyment continued when an Irish chap took the corner stage and played some tunes, so we hung out for a bit longer.

The next morning, with our hotel coffee failing to hit the spot, we went in search of a good local coffee shop. We asked a jogger where we could find a coffee shop, who pointed us to Crema Coffee and Baking Co. in Pensacola (but not until after he mentioned Starbucks).
Crema says they roast their coffee in small batches. The coffee was very good, and the servers were friendly. They also had some glass cases filled with great looking pastries, but I had already taken advantage of the continental breakfast at our hotel.

We went exploring along the coast, and when we saw Flora-Bama, we decided to stop for a drink.
Flora-Bama is a roadhouse/package store near the Florida/Alabama state line.
Walking into the place was like walking into a hillbilly house party gone awry. We had a drink, had our picture taken and hit the road.

That night, after checking into a couple of seafood places that didn't seem very enticing, we ended up back at McGuire's Irish Pub.
This time I had the hickory smoked prime rib, again with asparagus and a great salad, and StfRon tried the ribs. These ribs were covered in thick meatiness. There was no way to finish this rack. My prime rib was excellent.
For dessert, we split some bread pudding, which was delicious.

After dinner, we decided to try Seville Quarter, a complex of bars we had noticed on the web.
The building is an old brick structure, with wrought iron decorative balconies, reminiscent of New Orleans.
All of the bars/restaurants are attached inside, so you can wander from place to place to see what's going on.
We found deuling pianos in one location, 80s music and aviator's decor in another, a live rock band in one, and a nice outdoor courtyard with gas heaters in back. There was a small oyster bar location as well, which seemed to be our speed, but the place was full up.
There was a place to play billiards and video games, and all of the locations allowed smoking, which was something we had not seen anywhere on our trip.
Seville Quarter really is a sight to see, with gates from the governor's mansion in New Orleans, chandeliers from England, French doors also from New Orleans, brick flooring from a theater in Pensacola, old train station benches, bar stools from an 1870s café, ship's doors, the list goes on and on. It's really quite stunning, and seemed to be the place to be as the night wore on, more and more people piled in.

The next morning, StfRon said he could go for a good everything bagel. Remembering our search for restaurants the night before, I had seen a place called Bagelheads. We found our way there and each ordered a bagel with veggie cream cheese. The coffee of choice was Seattle's Best. The counter staff warms and butters up the bagels, then delivers them to the tables. These bagels were slathered with about an inch of cream cheese. There was so much, we went in search of knives to scrape some off. The bagels were good, but not quite as good as our local coffee shop's offering.

Another dining place of note was in Louisiana, Ponchatoula, to be exact, called Hi-Ho #2. The restaurant touted burgers and BBQ.
Don't go, unless you like really weird BBQ pork sandwiches. I don't know what the deal was with the BBQ, but it was odd. Watery, thin sliced pork without a hint of sweetness or vinegar. The only thing I can come up with is that it might have just been some creole seasoning, and not a typical barbecue base. After a couple of bites, I started to wonder if it was gator and not pork.

Our last meal in Memphis was at Coletta's Restaurant.
I saw Coletta's listed on the Food Network's web site, and it is also Memphis' oldest restaurant. They also claim to be the home to Elvis' favorite pizza, the BBQ pizza.
There are two locations, but we chose the original 1923 location. The restaurant was probably quite nice in it's heyday, however the floors and ceiling could use some real work now.
We both decided to try pizza, but not the Elvis special. I had an Italian spinach pizza and StfRon went with sausage.
The pizzas were very good, with a nice crisp crust and salty, buttery browned cheese on top. The spinach pizza was covered with tons of spinach, so much so that I started pulling it off after a while.

On the road again, we drove through Osceola, Arkansas looking for a place to have some breakfast. We ended up going back to the first place we had driven by, after passing through the rest of town and finding nothing interesting open, the Cotton Inn. It wasn't much to look at from the outside. The inside was sort of 1980s style, but clean.
Our friendly waitress greeted us, and I ordered grits, toast, bacon and a scrambled egg, plus a cup of coffee. StfRon went for biscuits and gravy and toast with eggs over easy.
The coffee was good, which is always a plus in my book. The bacon strips were some of the longest strips of bacon I've ever seen, and were very savory.
This meal set us back about $14 before tip.

After all of this, it's nice to be home. Right now we've vowed not to travel anywhere new for quite some time, but it seems like our memory usually fades, so who knows. In any case, it's always an experience.


Fraochán said...

awhhh it's too bad you didn't run into more of those "mom and pop" places to eat. Ohhhhhh I have so many happy memories of those places growing up - the south has such good cooking!

StfRon said...

A perfect run down, of a not so perfect trip- You forgot to mention the Pralines in New Orleans-

Boss Lady said...

Mmmmm, rendezvous ribs, everyone must go there once in their life, it is the best