So it turns out that my USA holiday posts aren’t going to write themselves and I know that there are a few people keen to hear them so I better pull my finger out. We spent a total of 3.5 weeks in the USA – an absolutely amazing country to visit and one that I’ve already had the pleasure of visiting twice previously, although this was MS’ first time. We arrived mid afternoon in LA after about 20 hours of flying and transiting through Sydney and what seemed like an eternity of MS chucking the sh*ts on the flight over because of the lack of leg room in economy. We’re all in the same boat buddy – well kind of. The fact that he is 6 ft 2 and I am all but 5 ft surely makes a difference to the level of comfort onboard a 747.
We overnighted in LA close to the airport in a reasonably priced hotel. It wasn’t anything flash but the beds were comfy and the copious amounts of hair loss ads on the TV sure made up for it. We ventured down the road to get some food for an early dinner only after confirming with the clerk that it was safe to do so. It is LA after all and almost everyone is packing, or at least that’s what we’re led to believe. We ended up at the clerks recommendation of Waba Grill which was only a 10 minute walk down the road and wasn’t particularly amazing. Imagine a fast food place that serves brown rice and teriyaki marinated meats with avocado and there you have Waba Grill. It was a little better than the other option next door – Little Caesars, whose newest product was bacon wrapped pizza. Actually on second thought maybe we should have gone to Little Caesars. It was the first day of the holiday however and I was still holding onto the completely ridiculous notion that I wasn’t going to put on any weight in the USA despite the long lists of burger and BBQ joints I had in mind.
Early next morning we flew from LA to Charlotte in North Carolina for a short stopover that ended up being delayed (thank goodness for the rocking chairs at Charlotte airport) and then finally to Columbia in South Carolina where my uncle met us. My mum’s brother and his family have lived in the USA for about 15 years now and this was MS first time meeting them. Just for a bit of inside info my uncle and his family are moonies and their particular way of life, as you can imagine, is a little different to many including both MS and I. It was MS first time being in such close proximity to people that are so deeply religious and he found it both fascinating and horrifying at the same time. He challenged my uncle on his beliefs (in a polite way) with conversations about the big bang theory, Adam and Eve and even Obama Care over the few days we spent with him – at Walmart, at Sam’s Club, in the car, at Verizon and back at Walmart again. Despite how it sounds it was a very friendly interaction but it’s obviously a conversation that my uncle has had plenty of times. In fact he freely admits that his responses have been well crafted over the years whereas MS was almost completely out of his depth. We had a great time with them but without being rude or disrespectful since my uncle will most likely read this I live my life very differently to those of the Unification Church.
Three days after we arrived we hired a car, said goodbye to my South Carolina family and after MS got his bearings for driving on the complete other side of the road in 6 lanes of traffic at 90 miles an hour we were on our way north to Durham in North Carolina (about a 3 hour drive). Along the way we passed a road sign advertising a Gun Expo in Charlotte and since we weren’t constrained by time we figured we would stop off to check it out. Sadly I wasn’t allowed to take any pictures inside and my Go Pro had to be put away the minute I stepped in the door. Pointing a high powered assault rifle with a scope and a laser sight at someone elses head so they can show me the accuracy of their favourite weapon isn’t something I thought I would ever see myself doing but it was pretty interesting to see the conservatives in their element.
Later that afternoon we arrived in Durham and headed straight to the Backyard BBQ Pit which was due to close earlier than we expected. It meant an early dinner of 5pm but it would have to do. I had heard about Backyard BBQ Pit on my beloved show Man Vs Food and kept it on a list ever since as one place I wanted to go to. We arrived to an unassuming brick restaurant on the side of the road with a sweet smell of barbecued meats in the air.
There was quite a line inside because the place was very popular and despite the questionable cleanliness of the eatery (cue waitress swatting blow flies with a broom) we took our place in the line. I’ve eaten at plenty of places where the hygiene was questionable and still lived to tell the tale. One that comes to mind was a road side hut that my cousin and I stopped at whilst touring Sri Lanka with Intrepid. We had a fantastic curry lunch served in large clay pots in an open air dining room. Before getting back on the bus I went to use the bathrooms and caught sight of the blow fly laden kitchen, a sight I would have preferred not to see.
Back at the Backyard BBQ Pit MS ordered the rib dinner with a trio of meats including brisket, ribs and pulled pork with sides for US$10.49 while I chose the Brisket plate with choice of sides for US$6.49. We both chose the mac n cheese as well as the hushpuppies – think deep fried mashed potato – and took a seat at a booth on the side.
The styrofoam take away boxes that seem to be a popular serving option in the US don’t make for a particularly aesthetic meal but they do the trick. One thing that was very obvious to me in the USA is that they live in very much a throw-away society. I thought we were bad in Australia but sh*t they are leaps and bounds ahead of us in terms of waste produced and no one seems to care (unless they are from San Francisco).
The best part of my meal was easily the mac n cheese. That cheesy, fat ladened pasta was so ridiculously rich I shudder to think what was in it but I didn’t come to the USA so question the calorie content of my food. My brisket was lovely in a vinegary sort of way. I recall my South Carolina cousin telling me about the difference in BBQ in the southern states – some swear by the vinegary type brisket and pulled pork whilst others think covering it in BBQ sauce is the best way. I’m definitely the later. Bring me the BBQ sauce! In fact, you can just leave it on my table. I tasted MS’ ribs and got a bit of food envy – he had definitely made a better meat choice than I had.
Later we explored our first Whole Foods supermarket of many which was conveniently located across the road from our hotel. If only for the entire fridge of different Kombucha (my new found love in life) I give Whole Foods 5 out of 5.
Next morning after a gym session in the ‘no judgement zone’ that is Planet Fitness we were on our way to Richmond in Virginia but not before stopping at the ridiculously popular bagel house Bruegger’s Bagels.
As you can imagine, bagels are hugely popular in the USA and the line for bagels at this place was well out the door. Bagels for breakfast soon became our ritual much to the dismay of my ass.
For lunch we made it to our first Chipotle for the trip as recommended by my mum and dad – think Zambrero but tastier and not such a damn rip off. In my opinion it’s one of the best fast food options in the USA and there are thousands of them around the country. I can recommend the Barbacoa with lots of Tabasco Sauce.
Later that night was our second BBQ stop Buz and Ned’s Real BBQ, another one I had seen on Man Vs Food. This was the other type of BBQ that my cousin was telling me about, the one with the BBQ sauce smothered all over the meat (aka my kind of dinner). We both ordered the BBQ Pork Sandwiches (MS had two because he’s a growing boy apparently) with more mac n cheese, hushpuppies and also fried okra (another popular southern dish). The mac n cheese wasn’t nearly as good as the one we had the previous night but I enjoyed the brisket burgers way more. And the fried okra? Well that kind of just tasted like oil. I love BBQ and it was one of the things I most looked forward to in the USA but I find it very rich and filling and can’t eat a whole lot of it.
The next day we were back on the road again and after our regular bagel breakfast we stopped at a random servo somewhere on the outskirts of Virginia. Inside I glanced at a newspaper on the counter with about 15 mugshots of people on the front of it. I asked the attendant if those were people that had gone missing and she said that it was people that had gone to jail that week. Only an emoji could convey my reaction to her reply.
To be continued… xo
There have been a few places I have been wanting to go and eat in the last few months but being so restricted food wise all I could do was dream about them and lay in waiting for the time when I could eat real food again. That time has finally come, well about a month ago anyway. Two of those such places were The Clever Duck and Mama Coco who coincidently are run by the same people. I have previously written posts on both of The Clever Duck and Mama Coco however Davey, Bill and co are doing exciting new things at both establishments and I thought that called for a brand new post. Besides if I was going to eat there then I was definitely going to post about it! I’ll have to save the Mama Coco one for another day because this post is reserved for The Clever Duck.
Having only been open since April this year The Clever Duck has already developed a huge following of locals and fellow foodies because of it’s delicious food and breezy, serene location in Forest Gardens. Only recently they have come up with The Clever Canteen on Saturday’s and Sunday’s from midday to 4pm. This particular time we went was for the Labour Day Long Weekend on the 6th of October (yes I realise that was nearly a month ago but I have been overseas, no not working but on holiday). More on that very soon.
I got a group of friends together and we headed out to Forest Gardens for an afternoon of eating and drinking. When we arrived the TCD was only about a third full but our group of 9 filled the place up a little bit more. Bill, the host, politely showed us to our table and explained the menu to us. The menu at The Clever Canteen is designed for grazing with a choice of four different types of meats for $9 per portion and salads, grains and veggies $5 per portion. There is also the option of three tasty sauces for $1, grazing plates with sour dough and antipasto for $25 plus things for the ducklings (kiddies) at around the $5 mark.
Since The Clever Canteen is currently BYO with no corkage MS and I took full advantage and planned to get absolutely wasted so we pulled out our bottle of tequila and some shot glasses. Haha, just kidding. A couple of Rekorderlig Ciders on a Sunday afternoon at TCD was just what the doctor ordered (I think Rekorderlig is amazing or as my good friend TW would say are ‘like angels peeing on my tongue’).
After having a look over the menu which true-to-form I had already looked over many times on TCD‘s Facebook page we ordered a few plates each and went from there. First up I went for the Dry Rubbed Smoked Pork Shoulder with Southern Style Whiskey and Sweet Onion Sauce and a side of Saffron Basmati Rice, Dried Cranberries, Pistachios and Mixed Herbs all for $15. Shit yeah! Pretty good if you ask me. MS ordered the same except instead of the Basmati Rice he chose the Pink Eye Potato Salad, Radish, Dill, Sour Cream and Horseradish as his side. Across from me my favourite sweet toothed blogger Baking Myself Happy ordered the Prosciutto Wrapped Rosemary and Chicken Thigh with Thyme Roasted Pumpkin, Mushroom, Tomato and Shallot. With the delicious aromas of the BBQ sizzling away outside with Davy at the helm our first round of food didn’t take long to arrive. Initially I thought the portion size was a little small but then I looked at the size of the cut of Pork Shoulder that was in front of me and remembered that it had cost a mere $15 and soon realised what awesome value The Clever Canteen was.
The Dry Rubbed Smoked Pork Shoulder was probably some of the best, if not the best pork I have ever had. All too many times I have had dry, chewy pork but this… this was something else. It was juicy and succulent and the Southern Style Whiskey and Sweet Onion Sauce was that good that I pretty much licked the ramekin clean to finish it off after my pork was gone. The Saffron Basmati Rice was also a hit at our table with just the right amount of sweetness from the cranberries, crunch from the pistachios and herbs to flavour the dish. MS and I also ordered some Wood Fired Sour Dough with Wattle Seed Dukkah and EVOO for AU$5 because lets face it, who can resist dukkah and sour dough! Everyone declared how excellent their respective meals were and after we finished our first plate half the table was already looking at the menu for what they were going to have for their next plate – not because we were still hungry (well I was but I am an eating machine to put it lightly) but because we wanted to try more of the amazing dishes that were on offer.
Next up I chose the Herb Crusted Roast Tableland Sirloin this time with Smokey Chimichurri for the sauce and the Pink Eye Potato Salad and MS got Sirloin also except he chose the Roasted Pumpkin and Mushroom Salad. As we finished off our first cider and moved onto our 2nd (I had 2, MS was driving so he only had one) our second plates of food arrived at the table. My big cut of sirloin, like the pork, was cooked to perfection and had that lovely grilled/BBQ taste. The chimichurri sauce was the perfect accompaniment and the potato salad was definitely my favourite side dish of the day. I have a massive weak spot for potato salad. And macaroni cheese. I loved the sirloin but I just couldn’t go past the pork. That was an absolute standout for me whilst MS thought the sirloin was better. Different strokes, different folks but they were both awesome.
Across from me KK who was still relishing in her first meal of Dry Rubbed Pork had ordered a Grazing Plate of Soft, Hard and Blue Cheese with Chutney Fruit and Sourdough for $25. The Grazing Plate served on a large wooden bread board was presented beautifully and neatly and I secretly wished that I had ordered one. Lucky for the rest of us at the table KK ate as much as she could (hardly any) and then moved the board into the middle of the table for the rest of us to devour. I went straight for the blue cheese because lets face it, a cheese platter isn’t a cheese platter without that mouldy goodness. The soaked dried fruits were delicious and I am now kicking myself for not finding out what they were soaked in.
Although I wanted to keep eating savoury dishes and get through all four of the main BBQ portions – fish and chicken still to go – I knew that it was time to check out the dessert dishes inside the cabinet near the counter. MS and I went over and had a look and after at least 10 minutes of umming and ahhing what each of us should get and then what the other could get so one could taste it and then consulting the waitress as to which one was better than the other. We finally chose a small slice of the Chocolate and Sultana Brownie with Ice Cream, the Almond, Pear and Frangipane Tart and a slice of Banana Bread, warmed up with butter. It was a hard choice and if I could have had my way I would have eaten one of everything in the cabinet but alas I have to exert a little bit of self control. Yes MS and I are fatties (on the inside) but we workout *insert chorus for the song I’m sexy and I know it*. A lot. All three of the desserts were fantastic with the exception of the Almond and Frangipane Tart which was exceptional. There is something about the texture of the tart that just did it for me. MS was content eating his boring slice of Banana Bread (good but boring) and left me to my own devices with the entire tart and the brownie.
About halfway through our lunch more people started to arrive until the place was chock a block. Not too many people but enough to fill the place up both outside on the deck and inside where we were sitting. The amazingly talented and beautiful singer Amy Chase and her guitarist set up outside on the deck and played some lazy tunes whilst families set up picnic blankets in the afternoon sun out on the lawn in front of the deck. It was the perfect afternoon to end finish off a perfect Sunday with fantastic food, great service and great friends in a relaxed atmosphere by the pond. I really like the concept of The Clever Canteen – being able to mix and match your food. There are exciting times ahead as the team at The Clever Duck and Mama Coco are doing some great things for the local food scene with pop up restaurants and weekend BBQ’s like The Clever Canteen. I only hope that other cafe’s and restaurants take a leaf out of their book to help create a more diverse Melbournesque food culture for our vibrant city. Bring it on!
PS: If you haven’t got your tickets for the Melbourne Cup Soiree at TCD then you better get in soon. With canapés, a bountiful banquet and a dessert pony (whatever that is) it’s the winning trifecta for a kick ass day.
PPS: After all the ranting and raving I have done about these guys I just want to say that I have no ties or links to Mama Coco or TCD. I do however believe that if a café or restaurant in Cairns is up to scratch then I will shout it from the rooftops, or at least from the safety of my couch and my Toshiba Ultrabook. As many of my readers should know it’s hard to find good food, good service and good atmosphere in Cairns so when you find all three you know you’re onto a winner.
The Clever Duck
Lakeside, Forest Gardens Blvd, Forest Gardens QLD 4868
Ph: (07) 4036 3936
Opening Hours: The Clever Canteen – Sat and Sun 12pm – 4pm, normal hours Wed – Fri 7.30am – 2.30pm, Sat and Sun 7.30am – 4pm