Friday, April 04, 2014

Kitchn Tour: Foodlab

TheKitchn's in-depth profile of Michelle continues with a tour of the Foodlab.

the kitchn tour Foodlab fig. a:  Foodlab Kitchn

The thing is, TheKitchn doesn't typically cover restaurants.  They're very much focused on home kitchens and home cooking.  But they were interested in how the Foodlab works with homestyle cuisine, and they were especially interested in how Michelle's philosophy and her practice extends from home to the workplace, and from the workplace back into the home.

The photographs are lovely, and they were taken last fall, so you can see Seth & Michelle and rest of the gang working busily on their Provence menu.  All I could think of was warmth, and al fresco dining, and rosé, and it felt pretty good.

Thank you, TheKitchn!


Thursday, April 03, 2014

Kitchn Tour: AEB HQ, rev. ed.

We've provided you with plenty of glimpses before, of course.

the kitchn tour AEB fig. a:  AEB Kitchn 1

But have you ever wondered what an outsider's perspective on our beloved AEB headquarters would look like?  Well, here's your chance, because the good people at TheKitchn have posted an extensive tour + an interview with Michelle in this week's editions, as part of their ongoing Cook's Kitchen series.

Michelle dishes on a wide variety of topics--minimalist tastes, maximalist collecting, baking, home cooking, epic dinner parties, etc.--and TheKitchn's camera-eye examines our kitchen and dining room to see what secrets they may hold.  You can find the whole she-bang right here.

iron skillets fig. b:  AEB Kitchn 2

And if you find yourself with lingering questions about our collection of cast-iron, well, those get answered here.


Saturday, March 29, 2014

Greens Revolution

Labo Culinaire (a.k.a. Foodlab) made it into the pages of Bon Appétit last month!

They appeared in the RSVP section of the magazine, where readers write in asking Bon Appétit to lobby on their behalf and get a restaurant's heretofore secret recipe, because Elizabeth Munsell, of Boston, MA, did just that--she was curious about a dish she'd had at Foodlab last summer.

She wrote:

Dear Bon Appétit
The sautéed greens at Labo Culinaire in Montreal were the highlight of our vacation.
These were the greens she had in mind,

sauteed greens w: labneh fig. a:  sautéed greens with labneh

they appeared as part of Foodlab's Jerusalem menu last summer, and I fully understand Ms. Munsell's interest.  They were seriously delicious--a key part of Foodlab's Greens Revolution Summer--and a total crowd-pleaser, and I, too, have been curious about the recipe ever since.  So, thank you, Elizabeth Munsell, and thank you, Bon Appétit!  You made Seth and Michelle very happy, and you made me happy, too.  You'd be surprised how difficult it can be to get a recipe from a chef, even when you live with one.

If you're having a hard time figuring out what's going on in the photograph above.  The greens are wilted with garlic.  There's a dollop of labneh on top, which has been drizzled with olive oil.  And the ensemble has been topped with toasted pine nuts, fried shallots, and lemon zest.  Sounds good, right?

The brilliant thing about this dish is that it's great year-round:  it's just as good with winter greens as it is with summer greens.  It would be great right now as a Lenten dish; but it would also be delicious with an Easter lamb.  Serve it alongside grilled meats and seafood all summer long, or as part of a meze-style meal.  You get the idea...

And it's not difficult to make.  It's really all about the balance of flavours, and, for me, it's the fried shallots that really make it (although the pine nuts and the lemon zest are killer touches, too).
Sautéed Greens with Labneh and Pine Nuts 
2 tbsp pine nuts
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced into rings and separated
1/2 cup vegetable oil
kosher salt
3 tbsp olive oil, plus more for serving
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 lb hardy greens, ribs and stems removed if necessary, leaves torn
1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup labneh 
Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Toast nuts on a baking sheet, tossing occasionally, until golden brown, 6-8 minutes.  Let cool. 
Combine shallots and vegetable oil in a small saucepan.  Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until shallots are golden, 8-10 minutes.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the shallots to a paper towel-line plate and season with salt. 
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat; cook garlic, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds.  Add greens in batches, tossing to wilt slightly before adding more, about 2 minutes.  Add lemon juice and toss; season assertively with salt and pepper. 
Serve greens with a dollop of labneh; top with lemon zest, shallots, nuts, and a drizzle of olive oil. 
Serves 4.
Bring on the Greens Revolution!


Thursday, March 27, 2014

Top Ten #53


guadeloupean duo

Dark Glow

1.  The Great Ecstasy of the Woodcarver Steiner (1974), La Soufrière (1977), and The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1984), all directed by Werner Herzog, plus Herzog on Herzog, ed. Paul Cronin

2.  Destroyer, Il Motore, February 7, 2014

3.  Grand Budapest Hotel birthday dinner, featuring Hungarian goulash, Hungarian home fries, roasted carrots, salad, sausage, cheese, and Sour Cherry Torte

do the charleston

4.  sweet memories of  Charleston


5.  Tim Hecker, Virgins (Kranky)

sample track:  "Amps, Drugs, Harmonium"

6.  the pleasures of cucina povera

7.  Rebecca Solnit, The Faraway Nearby (Viking)


8.  The Incredible String Band, Earthspan (Reprise)

sample track:  "Sunday Song"

9.  ongoing experiments with whole wheat and rye

the clock

10.  The Clock (2010), dir. Marclay, Musée d'art contemporain de Montréal


Saturday, March 08, 2014

Poor Man's Carbonara

I was too young and dumb to realize it at the time, but years ago something momentous happened in the kitchen of Freak Nation, a big, old Northern Virginia house I shared with three other twenty-year-olds like myself.   They say necessity is the mother of invention, but sometimes hunger can be, too.  You see, one evening after work, driven by a fierce appetite and an extreme economy of means, John quite spontaneously invented cucina povera right there in our test kitchen.

boyz 2 men fig. a:  J & R:  top chefs

I remember Rex and I walked into the kitchen and asked "what's cookin'?" and John rather proudly showed us his latest creation.  It didn't really smell like much, and it just looked like a gleamin', steamin' heap of plain pasta, so we asked him, "What do you call it?"  "Pepper Pasta," he told us--basically, spaghetti, butter, and black pepper, or "Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper."  Rex and I literally couldn't stop laughing at the time--we still laugh about it just about every time we see each other--but, really, who's laughing now?  Because, you know, John may have just been in early-'90s-postgraduate-bachelor mode, cooking the cheapest, quickest thing he could think of, but he was onto something.

"Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper" may not have been a thing (although, who knows, it probably is--cacio e pepe certainly is, and burro e pepe sounds like it could be a tasty dish), but cucina povera is as real as it gets.

What is cucina povera?  Well, it's pretty much what it sounds like:  it's Italian for "the cuisine of poverty," "poor food," or "peasants' food."  In other words, it's the term that's often used to describe Italy's most basic, honest, and elemental dishes.  And it's a good thing to know about, because most of the dishes that fall under this category are both simple and tasty, and they're also meat-free.  In fact, with Lent upon us, this is really a great time of year for such dishes.

Michelle and I have a bit of a thing for these kinds of recipes from around the world.  One of our favourite discoveries from a few years ago, back when the subprime mortgages market collapsed and the global economy teetered on the edge, was a recipe that we found in George Lang's The Cuisine of Hungary that seemed ideal for the times.  It was called Caraway Soup, and it basically consisted of water, salt, and toasted caraway seeds.*  Sounds ludicrous, but it was actually pretty satisfying, and if you bourg-ed it up a little with some chicken broth instead of water and some croutons, it was downright delicious.

Anyway, we're still firm believers in such recipes, and our favourite recent cucina povera recipe is a pasta dish that's really not that much more involved than John's Butter Spaghetti with Black Pepper.  This one comes from David Tanis's One Good Dish:  The Pleasures of a Simple Meal, it's called Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs and Pepper, and it's an unbelievably simple weekday stunner.  In fact, Tanis comes right out and states the following:  "For me, this frugal pasta dish ranks among the best things to eat.  It has the same appeal as pasta alla carbonara--and it satisfies even without the pancetta, cheese, and eggs."  And, you know, I think he's right--on both counts.

The secret, in my opinion, has to do with three things:  crushed red pepper flakes, fennel seeds, and using hand-torn bread crumbs whenever possible.  It's these three ingredients that really elevate this dish.

What are the details?

Well, let's just stay you have a day-old leftover baguette end kicking around one day...

leftover baguette fig. b:  stale baguette

Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs and Pepper 
A 4-inch length of stale dry baguette or a few slices of dry old French bread
2 tbsp olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
3 to 4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 tsp coarsely crushed fennel seeds
salt and freshly ground black pepper
crushed red pepper flakes
1/4 pound spaghetti
a chunk of Pecorino Romano cheese for grating (optional, but highly recommended) 
With a serrated knife, saw the baguette into thin slices.  Crumble the bread with your fingers, which will produce a nice mixture of coarse and fine crumbs. 
Untitled fig. c:  hand-torn bread crumbs
Heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Add the crumbs and let them fry gently and slowly take on color, stirring occasionally.  When they are golden and crisp, add the garlic and the fennel seeds and cook for a minute or so.  Season the crumbs generously with salt and pepper, and add a bold amount (up to your discretion) of crushed red pepper flakes as well.  Remove from the heat. 
Cook the pasta in boiling well-salted water until just al dente.  Drain and toss with the bread crumb mixture.  Drizzle a little more oil.  Add grated cheese to taste, if you wish. 
Serves 1.
[recipe borrowed almost verbatim from David Tanis's One Good Dish
spaghetti with bread crumbs fig. d:  one damn good dish

I'd made Spaghetti and Bread Crumbs recipes like this before, but this is the very best version I've ever encountered.  For me, the crushed fennel seeds are the genius touch.  Use sweet Italian fennel seeds, if you can get your hands on them, or, my favourite, Lucknow fennel, for a somewhat more exotic finish.

You might think Tanis is exaggerating about this dish, but he really isn't.  Few dishes are as dead easy, or as satisfying.


* Okay, okay--I'm exaggerating a little.  The dish was actually called Caraway Soup with Garlic Croutons, and it involved a simple roux, an egg, and some butter, in addition to those garlicky croutons, but Lang noted:
In most Hungarian families, when the housewife has to make ends meet, the egg would be eliminated and lard would be used instead of butter.  This is a perfect example of the Hungarian talent for making a delicious dish out of meager ingredients.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

You can't always get what you want...

Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens fig. a:  Old Nova Scotia

A few weeks I got caught up in a small-scale research project of sorts.

A friend of mine, S., was on the lookout for Nova Scotia-style brown bread.  S. hails from New Scotland, and she had a hankering for a taste from home.  She thought there must be somewhere in Montreal that baked or offered Maritimes-style brown bread, but I wasn't so sure.  After all, it's nearly impossible to get loaves that have deep roots in Montreal--like a true caraway rye--let alone loaves from beyond Quebec, and especially loaves from other provinces.

Now, at first I thought she had something along the lines of Boston brown bread in mind.  S. had mentioned molasses and I was fairly certain that steamed brown bread could be found in the Maritimes, too.  I was right about that,* but it turned out she had a more conventional baked bread in mind, one that came topped with rolled oats.

All of a sudden, I could picture it.  This Maritimes-style brown bread was definitely something I'd seen in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island a few years ago.  In fact, I was convinced I'd tasted it, too.  And I was pretty sure I could smell its sweet, homey aroma.

Now, as it turns out, I'd been on something of a molasses kick in my bread baking.  For a few months, a good percentage of the loaves I'd made on my weekly adventures in baking were either corn rye or Danish rye loaves, both of which featured the lovely rounded flavours of molasses.  So I decided to take up the quest for Nova Scotia-style brown bread as a challenge, and I told S. I was doing so.  My only caveat was that, no matter what I discovered, I was going to develop a sourdough version of brown bread.

Now, that might sound a little ungenerous, but I was fairly certain that at some point in the past, sometime before the advent of industrialized yeast, Nova Scotia brown bread had been made with sourdough starter.  S. is a historian--I was hoping she'd understand.

When I began to research Nova Scotia brown bread online, I became even more set in my ways.  It might just have been the quality of the photographs in question, but I wasn't crazy about the kinds of recipes I was finding--or the way the results of those recipes looked.

Well, it turns out I was wrong, or, at least, the predominant method for baking Nova Scotia brown bread was altogether different from what I'd imagined.  Apparently, traditional bread baking in the Maritimes had been accomplished with homemade yeast.

As Marie Nightingale explains in our copy of Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens:

For the wise mother who still insists that home-made bread is a necessity for her family's health and enjoyment, bread-making is an easy task as compared to that of earlier days.  Today we begin with prepared yeast, either in cake or granular form, but in the old days the yeast had first to be made before thought could be given to making bread.
Making the yeast starter from hops and potatoes was a process that involved days, so care had to be taken to keep a supply always on hand.  Kept tightly corked in stone jars and stored in a cool place, the yeast would stay sweet and fresh for a couple of months.
As intrigued as I was by the idea of making homemade yeast, I had a sourdough starter on hand, and it was definitely sweet and fresh, so I stuck to my plan.  And, basically, I used this project as an excuse to overhaul my whole wheat bread recipe, which I'd always found a little ascetic.

This is what I came up with:

Untitled fig. b:  is for brown & bread

AEB Brown Bread 
200 grams leaven (20%) 
630 grams water (80º F, ideally) + an additional 50 grams of warm water (68%) 
100 grams fancy molasses (10%) 
[total hydration:  780 grams (78%), including the molasses] 
600 grams whole wheat bread flour (60%) 
400 grams AP flour (40%) 
[total flour:  1 kg (100%)] 
20 grams kosher salt (2%) 
rolled oats (as needed)
Notes:  Top each loaf with untoasted rolled oats before the final rise.  I don't bother slashing my loaves before I bake them, as the topping of rolled oats makes this too difficult.  I just let these loaves go freeform.
Untitled fig. c:  rolled oats

I've mentioned this before, but my sourdough method is borrowed directly from Chad Robertson's from Tartine Bread.  For optimum results, you should follow his directions closely.  Here, I'm just providing the measurements (in weight) and baker's percentages that you need to make two large loaves (roughly 2 pounds each).

Anyway, I was pretty thrilled with the results.

Untitled fig. d:  sliced bread

In fact, this brown bread instantly became our house favourite, a loaf that made particularly great sandwiches, not to mention a loaf that had us bolting out of bed in the morning (well, at least it had me bolting out of bed in the morning) to make toasts with only butter on them.  Nothing else is needed.  Except maybe a soft-boiled egg.

Untitled fig. e:  e is for egg

Or possibly the occasional drizzle of honey, but somehow that usually seems like gilding the lily to me.

S. liked it, too.  Because, of course, as soon as I tested it, I invited S. and J. over for dinner and baked her her very own loaf.  Nova Scotian verdict:  "super tasty!"

I took that to mean success.  But mostly I saw it as another example of how you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometime, well, you just might find you get what you need.  We certainly did.


* Steamed Brown Bread shows up sixth in Out of Old Nova Scotia Kitchens' section on Breads, after Anadama Bread, Rolled Oats Bread (one of the inspirations here), French Bread, Salt Rising Bread, and Sally Lunns.

Friday, January 24, 2014

High, Low, and In Between, pt. 2, rev. ed.

charleston churches

I'm sure there were some who questioned the sanity of driving 1,800 kilometres (each way!) to spend Christmas in Charleston, but to us it made perfect sense to spend the holidays in the Holy City.  And it was definitely something of pilgrimage.

For one thing, just crossing into South Carolina taken on its own is a big deal, as anyone who's ever made the trek by car down to Florida will tell you:  SC is when you start to see the palm trees, and when the air starts to get a bit balmy.

We were also looking for culture, and history, and architecture.

But most of all, we were looking forward to Charleston's renowned cuisine.  And if the weather was nice, all the better.

ocean time fig. a:  ocean time

A Charleston, SC primer:

This is a city that contains a truly mind-boggling number of churches and ex-churches,

ex-church fig. b:  ex-church

not to mention an impressive number of Synagogues, all of which are a big part of the reason the city earned its moniker.

Its historic districts are riddled with mysterious alleyways.

mystery alley fig. c:  mystery lane

Its architecture can be quirky,

shell building fig. d:  shell building

and its cemeteries spooky.

cemetery fig. e:  Magnolia Cemetery

It's a city and a region haunted by its history.



plantation scene figs. f, g, h:  Magnolia Plantation

It has a very unique landscape, one that is oftentimes dominated by the marshes and wetlands that made it a natural for rice production.

rice country

low country sunset figs. i, j:  wetlands

It's a region of independent-minded characters,

shrine fig. k:  shrine

many of whom we instantly recognized as kindred spirits.

friends don't let friends... fig. l:  kindred spirit

And it's safe to say that these people are serious about their food, and that the region is positively abundant with fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seafood of all kinds.


ruke's 2

ruke's 3 figs. m, n, o:  Ruke's!

Ruke's, in Mount Pleasant, SC, was our local farmstand.  We were astounded by the plenitude we found there--in December!--and we made a point of loading up on collards, black-eyed peas, field peas, butter beans, and pecans before we left.

ruke's 1 fig. p:  peas and "peacans"

We also loved Ruke's boiled peanuts and quickly got hooked on the habit of throwing our very own Happy Hour at our B & B with some hot boiled peanuts and a couple of ice-cold beers.

Of course, Ruke's wasn't the only local stand offering boiled peanuts.  We found them all over the place.

Now, we didn't actually try the boiled "p-nuts" at this establishment, but we did buy some of their insanely delicious raw honey,

boiled p-nuts fig. q:  p-nuts

and we also had quite a run-in there.

sasquatch & co. fig. r:  squatch!

If Ruke's was our favourite farm stand, Timbo's was our favourite boiled peanuts cart.  His boiled peanuts were piping-hot, they were seasoned to perfection, and the Timbo's experience came complete with a super friendly mascot--Max, the Australian shepherd, who was kind enough to let me photograph him (along with Timbo).

timbo's fig. s:  Timbo's

And if Ruke's was our favourite farm stand, and Timbo's our favourite boiled peanuts joint, well, there's no question that Martha Lou's was our favourite soul food kitchen.

martha lou's fig. t:  Martha Lou's

Martha Lou's is a classic meat-and-three specializing in fried chicken, and we definitely loved their fried chicken, but in many ways it was the "three" that stole the show, especially their luscious butter beans, their smoky dirty rice, their silky collards, their oh-so-satisfying mac & cheese, and their deeply roasted candied yams.  Just how good is Martha Lou's?  Good enough to go twice over the course of a lightning-fast four-day visit.  And the second time we made a point of getting all our favourite sides à la carte--in larger formats.  It was worth going back just for those butter beans alone.

the ordinary fig. u:  The Ordinary

Charleston's Got Mad Skills:

You're obviously taking a risk when you name your restaurant The Ordinary, but if you do happen to knock it out of the park, you'll have people like me quipping that The Ordinary is anything but.  The Ordinary doesn't even look ordinary--it's actually a gorgeous, even grandiose seafood restaurant that resides inside a former bank.  It's also the latest offering from the people who brought you FIG, one of the catalysts of Charleston's recent culinary renaissance.  Put simply, everything was extra-ordinary, from the heirloom pumpkin soup with bay scallops, to the seafood platter, to the breathtaking rice pudding we had for dessert.

McCrady's has to be the restaurant that's most closely connected with Charleston's recent culinary revival.  It's the place where Sean Brock first rose to national/international prominence (and where he won his James Beard Award in 2010 as Best Chef Southeast), and where he's still executive chef.  But it's also a time-honoured establishment--it began as a tavern in 1778.  In spite of a slow start, this was quite possibly our Meal of the Year.  Once our sommelière showed up, and we clicked with her over the pleasures of Gamay, things started to happen, and, as a wise man once put it, "if you get in the stream, you are off!"  Frankly, everything was great, but standouts included the Calico scallops with roasted butternut squash, chervil, and green peanuts; the trout with Meyer lemon, thyme, and a medley of brassicas (in fact, that the wood-fired cabbage was so totally transcendent that we ordered it a second time); the fall greens salad with charred pecans, country ham, apples and turnips (this was most definitely the Salad of the Year); and the frozen parfait of grits with a bright, juicy, huckleberry coulis, which was both dangerous, and dangerously delicious.

Butcher & Bee is the new-fangled luncheonette of your dreams, featuring phenomenal bread (they do the bread & biscuits baking for McCrady's and Husk), an enticing line-up of sandwiches (like their pimento cheese and country ham combo), and some wonderfully creative (and tasty!) salads (including their magnificently vibrant kale slaw).  Great selection of sodas, too, including Michelle's Soda of the Year:  Mr. Q. Cumber (guess the flavour!).

grits are good for you  fig. v:  yes, they are!

The Hominy Grill is a full-service restaurant that does a brisk trade in breakfast & brunch and that serves a definitive shrimp & grits plate, as well as an amazing biscuit & sausage gravy plate, and some wicked-looking Big Nasties.

If you're looking for barbecue in Charleston itself, the local branch of Jim 'n Nick's Community Bar-B-Q is the place to go.  It's exactly the kind of new-fangled barbecue establishment you wish you had in your hometown, because in spite of any ironic old-timey-ness they might be selling, these guys take their barbecue seriously, the results are sultry 'n' smoky (check out those spare ribs!), and they've got all the sides and the fixin's down pat, too (from their slaw, to their slow-cooked collards, to their mac & cheese).  After all, Jim 'n Nick's comes with a pedigree--they're a crucial part of the Fatback Collective team of old-school barbecue aficionados, and, therefore, very well connected.

the belmont fig. w:  nightcap at the Belmont

Our favourite place for a nightcap was The Belmont.

The best (and cutest) sweets shop we encountered was Sugar Bake Shop, whose cupcakes, cookies, and iced tea were all superlative.

 home comfort fig. x:  home comfort

And Page's Thieves' Market in Mount Pleasant was definitely our favourite antiques shop of our trip.  It was also the friendliest, the one with the most character, and the one that was the most kitchen-friendly.  And it had the best name, too.

In a sense, my title is a little misleading, because in Charleston and environs, when it comes to food, distinctions between high, low, and "in between" aren't nearly as rigid as they are in so many other places.  This is a region that self-identifies as the Low Country, after all, and traditional ingredients, like grits, golden rice, and peanuts, and preparations, like corn bread, appeared repeatedly during our stay.  In fact, everywhere we went, the overwhelming sensation was one of pride in the local cuisine.  And, frankly, that's our kind of town.


Ruke's farm stand, right next to the Holy Trinity AME Church, 378 Mathis Ferry Rd., Mount Pleasant, SC

Timbo's Boiled Peanuts, 2484 Ashley River Rd., Charleston, SC

Martha Lou's Kitchen, 1068 Morrison Rd., Charleston, SC, (843) 577-9583

The Ordinary, 544 King St., Charleston, SC,  (843) 414-7060

McCrady's, 2 Unity Alley, Charleston, SC, (843) 577-0025

Butcher & Bee, 654 King St., Charleston, SC,  (843) 619-0202

Hominy Grill, 207 Rutledge Ave., Charleston, SC, (843) 937-0930

Jim 'n Nick's Community Bar-B-Q, 288 King St., Charleston, SC, (843) 577-0406

The Belmont, 511 King St., Charleston, SC

Sugar Bake Shop, 59 1/2 Cannon St., Charleston, SC, (843) 579-2891


Saturday, January 04, 2014

High, Low, and In Between, pt. 1

If I had to pinpoint it, I'd say our recent Southern mini-odyssey officially started soon after we pulled into that gas station in Petersburg, VA.  Up until then it had just been a road trip.  But by that time it was about 10:00 pm and we'd been driving since early in the morning.  When we got out of the car it was downright balmy.  The guys next to us were pumping gas in t-shirts and shorts and we were the ones who looked out of place--I mean, Michelle was still wearing her winter boots.  But what really cinched it was when we went into the Quickie Mart and saw that hot boiled peanuts counter flanked by two pyramidal stacks of canned boiled peanuts.  That's when we knew we'd arrived.

By 11:00 am the next morning we were in Chapel Hill, NC, it had gotten even warmer, and we were on our way for our BBQ brunch date.

BBQ sandwich, Allen & Son fig. a:  classic combo

Allen & Son had provided me with one of my favourite chopped pork sandwiches on my North Carolina BBQ mini-odyssey earlier in the year, and I couldn't wait to dig into another one.  I was also excited to share the Allen & Son experience, with all its considerable charms,

allen & son2 fig. b:  classic interior

with Michelle.

She couldn't have been happier.  After all, this was her very first visit to a true Southern barbecue establishment.  Not that she had too many doubts, but with that bright sun and those warm Southern breezes outside, and the smoky succulence of Allen & Son's barbecue pork sandwich inside, this Southern mini-odyssey was already making a lot of sense.  We left Chapel Hill with a large to-go cup of Allen & Son's champion sweet tea and the very best hickory-smoked flavours lingering on our palates.

A couple of hours later, when we crossed the border into South Carolina, the Southern breezes were even warmer and we started to see a whole lot of palm trees.

And a couple of hours after that, as the sun began to set,

scott's 2 fig. c:  Southern skies

we arrived at our second barbecue destination of the day:  Scott's Bar-B-Que in Hemingway, SC.

scott's fig. d:  classic exterior

If Allen & Son is a true barbecue restaurant, with a double dining room out front, an adjoining full-service kitchen, and a sizeable brick barbecue pit area out back, Scott's is a true barbecue joint:  an informal enterprise run out of an aging country store that only serves take-out.  No tables.  No seats.  No fuss.  No muss.  You join the queue, place your order, pick up your goods, and you're off.  You want a bottle of Texas Pete or a loaf of Sunbeam to go with that?  Pick 'em up off their shelves.  Want to dine on premises?  Take your order across the street and you'll find a large open-air shed with some picnic tables underneath.  If it's warm enough--and it certainly was on the evening we were there--you can settle in and enjoy your barbecue right there.  And that's exactly what we did.

What's the attraction?  World-class whole hog barbecue, Scott's famous spicy barbecue sauce, some true Southern hospitality, and a whole lotta love.  And that is no joke.  This joint was jumpin', and with good reason.  If you're a fan of real pork barbecue prepared and served according to the Carolina tradition, this is the BBQ of your dreams:  luscious, smoked to perfection, and resplendent in Scott's signature red sauce.  (Need more proof?  Check out this slideshow.  Or read John T. Edge on Rodney Scott and a whole of other keepers of the flames in Saveur's 2011 "BBQ Nation" issue.)

The very next day Rodney Scott--Scott's current pitmaster, and the heir to the Scott's Bar-B-Que throne--was in Charleston to run a barbecue fundraiser so that he can rebuild a pit that burned to the ground back in November, just two days before Thanksgiving.*  Let's just say that there was something of a mob scene.  Rodney Scott is a legend in these parts, and this was a rare opportunity to score one of his phenomenal barbecue pork sandwiches without having to make the 90-mile trek to Hemingway--and all for a great cause.  How big a crowd are we talking about?  Well, according to Sean Brock, the famed Charleston chef (and a fellow Fatback Collective colleague of Scott's), the scene put "the Cronut line to shame."

We beat Rodney down there.  About two hours after our barbecue feast alongside the Hemingway Highway, we'd reached Charleston, the final destination of our Southern mini-odyssey.

xmas in c'ton fig. e: xmas in the Holy City

By that time, with two highly acclaimed Bar-B-Ques under our belts (adjusted accordingly, of course) and a tantalizing city before us, we knew we'd really arrived.

To be continued...

Allen & Son, 6203 Millhouse Rd., Chapel Hill, NC

Scott's Bar-B-Que, 2734 Hemingway Hwy., Hemingway, SC

Note:  If you aren't likely to be passing through Hemingway, SC anytime soon, but you are going to be in the South in late January and early February and you'd like to sample Rodney Scott's barbecue and contribute to the cause of keeping true Southern barbecue alive and smokin', you might want to keep your eyes open for the Scott's Bar-B-Que in Exile Tour.

* Rodney appeared to have taken this setback in stride:  "That's what happens when you cook with fire."