Thursday, August 21, 2008

Guy Fieri Wannabe

I want to be Guy Fieri. All I have to do is bleach my hair blond (leaving some black roots) and get tattoos. Who is he you ask? Guy Fieri was the second season winner of the Next Food Network Star competition and has a program called Guy’s Big Bites which I watch occasionally. But Guy is also the star of the Food Network’s program Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives. He visits the type of restaurant we like – casual, off-beat, inexpensive, and locally- and/or family-owned.

Which is why we were so excited when Chuck, while doing investigation on the Web, came across two books on small, off-beat local restaurants. Nothing could stop him from running out to purchase the first and second volumes of The Place Setting by Fred W. Sauceman. The two restaurants that I’ll be writing about here were found in these books.

On Sunday, we headed off to Gate City looking for a lunch counter in a drug store. We understood that the place was open on Sunday afternoon but, upon arriving, learned that only the drug store was open and not the lunch counter. Time for plan B--the Campus Drive-In. Local legend has it that the football team owes as much of its success to the food of the Campus Drive-In, located next to the area high school, as it does to the coach’s football acumen. While offering curb service, the Campus Drive-In has two inside dining rooms and this is where we elected to eat.

The drive-in is noted for its hamburgers, but is better known for the “ugly” sandwich (upper left in the photo below), a version of the Philly cheesesteak with onions, peppers, lettuce, tomato, and mayo. Listed on the menu as the Sliced Sirloin with Cheese, they receive extra points for not calling this a “Philly Cheesesteak”--a sin committed by many a local restaurant. I chose this for my lunch and while not a cheesesteak it was delicious. Juicy with a generous amount of fried red and green peppers and onion which kept falling off--hence the “ugly”.

Chuck ordered the hamburger, a chili dog, and fries. (Yes, I do feed him at home.) I forgot to taste the hot dog and all I can tell you is that Chuck said it was good--whatever that means. The hamburger came with bacon, lettuce, tomato, and mayo which, unless you specify otherwise, is the norm (with mayo) here. Whenever I see crinkle fries on the plate, I assume they came frozen from a bag. These were good but not spectacular. All in all, not the best lunch we’ve had but not the worst. We give the Campus Drive-In 4.0 Addies – a half an Addie for not trying to tell me I was having a “real” Philly Cheesesteak.

Back during our urban experience of the early 70’s, we lived in Philadelphia around the corner from a small take-out place that specialized in Broasted Chicken. This was a favorite Friday night “I don’t feel like cooking” option. (To reach this place, you walked past the gentleman who sold produce from the back of his truck while preaching the gospel loudly over a microphone.)

Broasted chicken places are hard to find and when we read the Nick’s Family Restaurant specialized in this method of preparing chicken, we had to go. Now broasting is the process of frying chicken in a pressure cooker so that the skin gets very crisp while the inside of the meat remains moist.

Since Mr. Sauceman also had kind words about Nick’s hamburgers, our choices were the two breast platter with potato wedges and slaw and a hamburger with fries and beans. The chicken was everything I remembered broasted chicken being. The batter coating was so light that it shattered when cut. The meat underneath was moist and tender. The hamburger was very good and enhanced by the buttered toasted bun. The beans were delicious--have we found any other kind here?--with a slightly sweet and slightly tart sauce. And the cole slaw was also delicious.

Our quibbles were with the potatoes. The wedges were so large that some were not cooked thoroughly. The fries were hand cut but not twice fried so didn’t have the crispness we were looking for. So based on the potatoes, we will give Nick’s 4.0 Addies.

A word before closing about cole slaw. Some of you may be old enough to remember when the blender became the “must have” kitchen appliance. One of the selling points was the speed with which one could make cole slaw by placing chunks of cabbage in the blender with an unknown quantity of water and pulsing. After draining the water, the result was finely chopped cabbage.

Now I prefer my cabbage for slaw sliced--the finer the better--but the chopped variety has been the norm during this part of our travels. But, the dressing is of the creamy type rather than the vinegar type so I have been assessing the cole slaw for what it is rather than what I might want it to be.

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