Un”chain”ed Medley

I’ve recently realized how much I love eating locally.

This doesn’t mean I have a taste for the eggs that are often laid in the hanging plants out front.

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Don’t get me wrong, the chain gang offers a scrumptious selection, most of the time, but there’s just something about the satisfaction of knowing you’re feeding a business owned by someone you’d see at the mall or grocery store.

Last weekend we started a tasty tour of small spots, and I can’t wait to do it again.

Saturday started with a stop at a new French bakery in the town of Cowpens. That’s not a typo.

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For those you who don’t live in South Carolina (do I have at least 1 out of state reader??), Cowpens is a small town known for its Revolutionary War battlefield. It’s rich on history, but honestly, there’s more to it. The Downtown area is home to an array of antique shops and a small building that no doubt borrowed Dorothy’s tornado for a wild ride. Walk in and you’ll know you’re not in Cowpens anymore.

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There’s a rack of freshly baked breads. We took home the olive bread, because they were out of the rosemary focaccia.

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The rack rests up against the counter, which was basically a pastry platter. We got a chocolate croissant (buttery, flaky layers hugging a chocolate ganache), an almond croissant (same layers mentioned before, but these squeezed almondy-goodness), and almond merengue cookies.

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With every bite if the cookie, a piece of almond tumbled out.

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When she presented us with our goody bag, the owner said, “Voila!” I’m dying to know how they ended up in Cowpens.

Lunch brought us to Cuba. No plane or water skies needed.

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A Caribbean Sweetness blends into the big house that…houses… it. The place is sandwiched between a Waffle House and a gas station along busy Main Street in Spartanburg. A man who’s from Cuba moved to the area years ago for work. When he got laid off, he decided to take the risk and open up the restaurant with his wife, it’s a cute place, with a great patio out back.

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I got the Cuban sandwich (crusty bread, pork, ham, cheese, pickles and mustard pressed into a perfect plank), black beans with yellow rice, and plantain chips. Dessert was orange flan (creamy custard soaked in a citrus syrup).

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He sent us home with cups of rice pudding, I loved this version. Once the pudding sets, he purees it. The result it a creamy concoction without the chewy grains of rice. A small piece of a cinnamon stick lurked just below the surface, sending a spicy-sweet wave throughout the scrumptious pudding pool.

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Monday’s lunch came courtesy of Lawson’s Fork – Southern cafe, “Where the a South meets your mouth,”… their words, not mine… but I love them.

A church music minister (full disclosure, he’s a friend) with a calling to cook, transformed the former home of an Indian restaurant into what felt like a grandmother or mother’s dining room. This place, though, gives the country cookin’ feel some flair.

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The special was meatloaf (topped with a barbecue-esque sauce), green beans (slow-cooked flavor), and macaroni & cheese (not crafted by Kraft). I’m not a sweet tea fan, but this stuff could make Lipton do a control burn at its plantation.

Dessert was chocolate cobbler. If a brownie and a hot fudge sundae had a love child, this would be it.

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We went back for dinner on Thursday. Beef medallions, macaroni and cheese, and cheddar-garlic mashed potatoes filled me up fast.

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If I haven’t given you the appetite to try these places, I hope I made you hungry for something you can’t find in every city from Spartanburg to Spokane.

Give the little guy a chance. It’s a sign of good taste.


Tip: For a delicious dessert that won’t leave you suicidal, top pure vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of flaky salt and unsalted nuts. The idea comes from Men’s Health Magazine, and I assure you, it is a tip worth stealing. The ice cream is a creamy canvas for the fruity-bitter bite from the oil. The salt gives you a crunch that dances on the tip of your tongue. I like adding the nuts for texture. Do it. You know it sounds crazy enough to try.

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