Friday, August 1, 2008

Comfort in Setting and Food

I like going out for breakfast. I mean I really like going out for breakfast!!! When we were in Wycombe, we didn’t think twice about driving a half an hour to get to our favorite spot – the Groveland Grill – for their omelets, pancakes, link sausage, and home fries. Since we were headed yesterday to the Music Center and planned to spend the entire day there ( 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.) and since they don’t have any food concessions, a late and large breakfast was in order. Chuck read about Tina’s Hub Restaurant in Galax in our Guide to the Crooked Road, and when the writer enthused about Tina’s pancakes and country ham--well, a stop here was a no brainer.

"What do you take pictures of?" asked our server.

"Food," I quickly answered.

Before I could expand on other subjects of our photographic interests, came this question from our server, "Have you been to Lexington, North Carolina? If you want good barbecue, you have to go to Lexington."

Another customer quickly jumped in with: "That (Lexington barbecue) has too much vinegar for me."

"I like my barbecue sweet," chimed in a second person.

Our served admitted she was from Lexington and tried valiantly to present the case for vinegar-based barbecue sauce. But she was outnumbered.

This conversation, like others in the comfortable restaurant where the locals assembled daily, extended beyond the boundaries of adjacent tables.

The informal nature of the setting was characterized by the young child crawling on the counter to reach for something behind it. The fellow in the center of the photo stopped by our table as he was leaving to ask if we planned to attend the Fiddlers Convention in Galax next week. He proceeded to tell us that he was going to be in charge of selling 50-50 raffle tickets for the Moose, the sponsors of the Convention. "I tried to get a different job this year, but they said I was so good at this work that they couldn't replace me," he added. He said he hoped to see us next week.

Before we leave Tina's, we need an Adler Report. Now Tina’s is a small and unassuming place. We must have driven past at least a half dozen times without noticing. Seating no more than sixty at tables and the counter, décor is basic to say the least. But, oh the food. When my plate arrived, even I doubted if I would be able to finish. But one taste of the pancakes and I knew this would be no problem. At first I thought that the batter contained corn meal but our friendly server with the cook and told us there was no corn meal. That’s when I discovered that the flour was coarse stone ground and this is what gave the pancakes their texture.

Chuck’s French toast was dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar, and Chuck is sure that this was no ordinary white fluffy bread French toast. And, is there ever a bad slice of country ham. Tina’s was a generous slice with a minimum of fat. There is something about the salty ham that offsets the sometimes overly sweet taste of syrup. Our only question was the home fries – not that they weren’t good. But the pieces seemed to be too uniform to be kitchen cut so we suspect that they came from a bag. In all, we give Tina’s Hub 4.5 out of 5 Addies and will certainly return if time and opportunity present themselves.

While at the Blue Ridge Music Center, we heard the words "country fried steak" from one of the people in the audience. We later learned she was from Texas and after we received some recommendations of places to go for good brisket barbecue in the Austin-San Antonio area, we asked about where she found country fried steak. She steered us to the County Line Cafe, another local favorite based on the number of cars in the lot as we drove in.

As is typical with the local eateries, before the order is taken, there is conversation about where-have-you-been, how-are-the-kids, and I-heard-your-sister-was-in-the-hospital. When these topics have been covered, the business of placing a meal order can begin.

Adler Report #2. I still hadn’t worked off my breakfast, so I went light with a piece of catfish with slaw and deviled eggs. They were good but the star of the evening was Chuck’s dinner. The saucer-sized piece of minute steak was dipped in a coating of batter that, when fried, was so crisp that you could hear it crunch when cut. And the meat was tender without any fiber or gristle--not always the case with minute steak. Their mashed potatoes, which they call creamed potatoes, were heavenly. The green beans were standard issue and long-cooked, but the hush puppies, subtly seasoned with onion, may have been the best I’ve tasted. I don’t know how fried batter can be both dense and light but these were. My only quibble, and a minor one, is that white pepper gravy is better made with pan drippings. (Being full from breakfast did not stop me for liberally sampling from Chuck’s plate.)

Since I didn’t have the chance to really sample the menu, I can only give the County Line 4.0 Addies. However, we will be in Galax every night next week for the Fiddlers Convention, and we’ll be going back, so I reserve the right to re-evaluate.

Like Tina's, the County Line Cafe is a comfortable place serving comfort food.

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