Category Archives: OUT OF STATE

REVIEW: Caffe Peroni – South Boston, VA

Jim W. on Yelp.com

I have been making a few trips outside of the North Carolina state lines to Virginia for work and, as always, I am on the lookout for good local eateries. I usually jump on my phone and hit up Urbanspoon and Foodspotting to see what restaurants everyone is talking about in the area. I have run across some decent places so far but nothing worth blogging about until I went up to South Boston, VA a few weeks ago and found out about a place called Caffe Peroni in downtown South Boston.

The 95% Urbanspoon rating was what stood out first to me about Caffe Peroni followed by one or two reviews which mentioned the “slow food movement” that Caffe Peroni has incorporated into its cooking so you can sit back and enjoy the restaurant instead of “being served, billed and thanked in less than 20 minutes” like Bath Piatti wrote in their review on Urbanspoon. I had about 2 hours before I had to be anywhere and it sounded like a good way to check out some local food and kill some time.

Caffe Peroni has been open in South Boston since 2008 and the owners’ intention was to recreate the Italian home cooking that they remember from their childhood. They start every meal from scratch when ordered plus the chef cooks it right in front of you in an open air kitchen near the dining room (I took a picture of this but it turned out blurry).

As soon as I stepped through the door at Caffe Peroni, I had the feeling it was going to be a neat place to eat at. There was a young couple already seated enjoying an early dinner which was surprising because it was 4:45 p.m. and I tend to beat even the early birds when I eat dinner while out on the road. The space that Caffe Peroni fills reminds me a lot of an old bookstore minus all the books. It had a very relaxed atmosphere where you could come do some work on the computer while having a coffee or just curl up and read a book on one of their couches while munching on a little bit of gelato.

I ordered the Insalata della casa ($3.95) which came with a bottle of both olive oil and balsamic vinegar as a dressing. I believe that you can choose from a variety of dressings but I was trying to be health conscious since I already knew what my entree was going to be. The presentation of the salad was nice and the ingredients were fresh as well as plentiful which is what I look for in a salad. They diced the tomatoes & onions then tossed them together with some Parmesan and croutons on then laid it over the lettuce. Each bite had a little bit of everything from the salad in it. I might be doing this at home from now on when I make salads.

 

I ordered the Porcini Ravioli cremolati which is a ravioli dish made with porcini mushrooms and then placed in a heavy cream sauce. Caffe Peroni’s version adds a good amount of pancetta and prosciutto making it a little bit heartier that usual. The prosciutto that they added wasn’t the thin, sticky type that you find in the grocery store or on sandwiches from national chains. This was close to the thickness of sliced ham for a sandwich and it not only added a delicious salty taste to the dish but also added a great texture to contrast the softness of the ravioli. (NOTE: Prosciutto dipped in cream sauce can become heavily addicting.) The pancetta in the dish mainly sunk to the bottom of the cream sauce so I didn’t start getting to mix its taste in until about halfway through the meal but it was worth it when I hit the proverbial gold mine of pancetta.

The highlight of the dish for me was the ravioli which was cooked al dente but was still soft enough that a knife was unnecessary. I have been a big mushroom fan since back in the day more than likely because I saw Mario eat them while trying to save peach and gain superpowers. In hindsight, I am pretty sure that Mario was munching on hallucinogenics the entire time as its the only logical explanation for the storyline…but I digress. The filling had a lot of taste that was overshadowed a bit by the cream sauce but I was able to pull some out of one of the pockets and it had a fantastic taste on its own which could allow it to be served with a lighter sauce if you weren’t feeling the cream. The dish was loaded with 16-20 ravioli pieces making it a behemoth of a meal and I was very surprised with myself that I was able to finish it.

Everything about my experience at Caffe Peroni was amazing. The service was outstanding. The food was on target. The atmosphere was friendly and warm. The holiday lights in downtown South Boston were stunning in that Mayberry sense that a small town can have. I couldn’t have asked for a better overall experience at a restaurant and I have since recommended to various couples in the Greensboro area that I know to head up to South Boston one night on a date night because it would be well worth the 30 to 45 minute drive.

Caffe Peroni on Urbanspoon

LINK: My review of Alleia in Chattanooga, TN for Eat It, Tennessee

I did a little guest writing for our sister site, Eat It, Tennessee, and it was just posted recently. The photo above is of the wood-fired pork shoulder with a grilled peach and balsamic whose taste rivaled that of many of the delicious pork shoulders that I have had here in North Carolina.

Head over and check out my review of Alleia in Chattanooga from a few weeks ago on Eat It, Tennessee. It was a delicious experience and I had a great time writing the post for my buddies in Tennessee. Thanks again for the opportunity!

ROAD TRIP: Chick’s Oyster Bar – Virginia Beach

Chick’s Oyster Bar is a dockside seafood restaurant on the Lynnhaven Inlet (by boat) or just off of Shore Drive on Vista Circle  (by car) in Virginia Beach. This restaurant is a Virginia Beach staple that both locals and tourists have been eating at since it first opened as a seafood shack many years ago (not sure how long ago but I heard that it has been there for a while). They have increased the size of the restaurant to allow seating more people and have a great Bloody Mary bar on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

I was  up in Virginia Beach for one of my best friends’ weddings about two months ago and he had planned the groomsman’s lunch  at Chick’s that Saturday before the wedding. The groomsmen all headed up there  for lunch and had a blast. It is a great place to get together with friends especially when one of them is about to get married. Grab some cocktails and some good seafood and sit back and take it all in.

They have over a dozen picnic tables out on various patios right on the water and plus inside seating (but come on…why would you sit inside? You’re at the beach!!!). The inlet that Chick’s backs up to is a pretty busy waterway with boats constantly going up and down which is a lot of fun to watch. You will see everything from speedboats to Grady-Whites to shrimping boats so you won’t be bored as you watch them pass alongside the restaurant as you read the names on the boats and see where they hail from.

I do want to note that because you are sitting outside on the water that insects like mosquitoes and flies are prevalent. The benefits of sitting outside on a nice day far outweigh the issue of dealing with a few bugs in the air. It is so worth it when you see an old school 80’s speedboat idle by that looks like it was pulled off the set of the original Miami Vice.

When I think of Virginia Beach, I think of two things: jet noise and Orange Crushes. Jet noise is prevalent around Virginia Beach due to F-18s flying out of Oceana Naval Air Station and flying low enough around the beach area to make noise. Locals are so used to it that they seem to like it and actually even have bumper stickers reading “I (Heart) Jet Noise” but it may be a little too much for visitors who aren’t used to it. I guess it is like getting used to living with crickets in the country and bright lights in the big city.

However, I am more fond of Orange Crushes than I am of jet noise. An Orange Crush is a alcoholic drink served at many restaurants on Shore Drive in Virginia Beach that consists of a freshly squeezed orange, vodka, triple sec and Sprite over crushed ice. There are few things better than sitting out on a patio in the sun with some friends drinking Orange Crushes all afternoon. It might be the simplest beach bar drinks that you can easily make from scratch at home.

Here is the recipe for an Orange Crush that I found from Waterman’s which is considered by some as the best place to go for Orange Crushes in Virginia Beach However, Chick’s is up there with one of the best crushes on the beach:

  • 1 freshly squeezed orange
  • 1 oz orange vodka
  • 1 oz triple sec
  • splash of Sprite
  • crushed ice

Combine and then pour all ingredients over the crushed ice and enjoy. I prefer using pebble or pellet ice instead of crushed ice which I have heard that you can pick up by the bag at Sonic Drive-Thru’s but that is only what I’ve heard..

The Beach Party Combo ($17.00) is the combination appetizer consisting of four Oysters Rockefeller, four Clams Casino and four fried butterflied shrimp. If you are looking for a taste of what Chicks has to offer.  Seventeen bucks is kind of pricey for these for 12 items but they were all delicious and were off the plate almost as quick as the waiter was able to put it down.

We also ordered the North Beach Nachos ($9.50) with blackened tuna bites (+ $4.00) for the table. This was probably the least impressive of the dishes that we ordered. The blackened tuna bites were pretty good but I prefer my tuna when it is cooked Pittsburgh rare. The tuna served on the nachos were well done and kind of chewy. The kitchen could also have layered the nachos a little bit better because once the top layer was eaten, the remaining chips were almost naked and very bland.

We also ordered the Fried Oyster Basket ($12.00) which as you can see was already half-eaten by the time I was able to get a picture of them. They are served with a house dipping sauce called Lava Sauce which is a creamy and spicy. I love the way that Chicks fries their oysters because they use a light breading that has both a hint of salt and a hint of spice to it but let the oyster provide most of the taste. These were a hit and we reordered them the second time.

 

I don’t know why I ordered the She-Crab Soup ($6.00) that day because it was pretty dang hot outside but I had read on Yelp that you don’t want to miss Chick’s She-Crab Soup. It came in a large bowl with saltines and oyster crackers. Even though it was a hot outside, the She-Crab Soup was on point. It had large chunks of crab and some onions. I couldn’t tell what thickening agent they used outside of heavy cream and the crab roe. This was a great soup and would be even better if the outside temperature was a little cooler and there a nice breeze. I would recommend getting it no matter the weather.

 

I ordered the Golden Fried Flounder “B.L.T” ($10.50) on recommendation of a few of the guys who had been there before. The sandwich was a bun-sized piece of fried flounder with two pieces of bacon, tomato and lettuce on a kaiser roll. I was so impressed with the fried flounder that  I actually ordered this both days that I went to Chick’s that weekend. However, the bun was less than impressive. It fell apart, both days, as I was eating it especially if it touched any of the cocktail sauce that they serve with the sandwich. I decided not to put as much cocktail sauce on it the second day. The first day, the bacon wasn’t cooked to a crisp as I think it should be on a sandwich but they made up for it the second day with some extra crispy strips. The lettuce was great both days but the tomato was sub-par and could have been a little more ripe.

The fries for both the flounder B.L.T. and the burger were fresh cut and fried perfectly. I actually kept the Lava Sauce that came with the oysters and used it for dipping the fries in. They don’t pile on the fries but they do give you enough for a meal.

 

Someone ordered the Jimmy’s Ultimate Crab Topped Burger ($11.50) which was your average cheeseburger topped with an abundance of backfin crab meat. Both the cheese and the burger looked great but I didn’t get to try it. It seemed to be a winner. It is definitely a little pricey for a burger but anything gets expensive when you put crab meat on it. You will be spending anywhere from $8.00 to $11.50 depending on what type of burger you order.

Chick’s is considered one of the gems of Virginia Beach but it hasn’t been getting the best reviews on social media sites like Yelp and UrbanSpoon. Most of the negative comments have been about the food or wait staff. I went twice over the weekend and received great service plus the food was fantastic. I don’t know if this place is hit or miss but it hit both times that I went. You should check out this place if you are in Virginia Beach on a beautiful day and let us know what you think.

Chick’s Oyster Bar only has valet parking, which is free, so make sure that you have a couple of bucks to tip the valets. I don’t believe there is an option to self-park. This seems to be pretty common in Virginia Beach due to parking limitations in the area. You will probably see some $200,000 plus exotic cars there so take a camera if you are a car lover.

Chick's Oyster Bar on Urbanspoon

 

ROAD TRIP: New Orleans – Mother’s, Deanie’s & Crescent City

I just got back from a long weekend down in New Orleans for one of my best friend’s bachelor parties and thought I had so many incredible food experiences down that that I thought I would share them with you. There are so many unbelievable places in The Big Easy that someone could eat out every single meal for a year and would be hard pressed to be disappointed in a meal.

I didn’t research much food before I went down there like I should have and we didn’t stop into many of Emeril’s restaurants. We basically just asked the locals where we should try within walking distance of our hotel which was located just a few blocks from Bourbon Street. We also used the Foodspotting app (my favorite mobile food app) to find some places in the area. We didn’t jump in one cab the entire time so everywhere we went was on foot and within about three to four miles of each other.

On Saturday, we went to the Crescent City Brewhouse for a little while to stop in and sit down for some beers after walking around the French Quarter Festival. It was a lot of fun because we were able to sit out on the balcony and watch everyone as they walked to and from the festival. We ordered two different appetizers. The first was a dish called Baked Oysters Three Ways which consisted of half dozen fresh shucked oysters topped with crab & saffron, spinach & herbsaint, and spicy eggplant and then baked. The baked oysters were delicious and the flavors were outstanding. It was the first time that I had tried herbsaint, which is a herb-flavored liquor produced in New Orleans, and I really enjoyed it. My only issue is that the oysters were a little gritty but I would no doubt order them again if I went back.

The second appetizer we got before lunch was called the Seafood Cheesecake. It sounds a little iffy but the dish was delicious. It consists of shrimp, crab, crawfish and a blend of goat cheese and provolone served with a pepper sauce and little crispy, buttered baguettes. The seafood cheesecake was delicious as either a spread on the baguettes or as single, seafood filled bites. I definitely recommend getting this.

Crescent City Brewhouse also had some great craft brew made in house. I stuck with their seasonal called the Saints Ambrosia which was a Euro dark lager. Just like Red Oak in Whitsett, NC, Crescent City brewmasters follow the Reinheitsgebot which is the Bavarian Purity Law of 1516 stating that the only ingredients that can be used to produce the beer are water, malt, hops and yeast. It was delicious and one of the only beers other than Abita that I tried while I was down there.

Crescent City Brewhouse on Urbanspoon

Deanie’s Seafood was the first restaurant that we went to when we all got in town. We heard from the bellhop at the hotel that it had some of the best fried seafood in town and he was right. We got to Deanie’s and there was about a 15 minute so we grabbed a few of Abita’s high gravity beers from the bar including the Andygator and the S.O.S. (Save Our Shore). While we waited, I made sure to eye some of the people that were eating at the bar and it looked awesome.

I started out the night with a small bowl of seafood gumbo. The gumbo came as a side to a po’boy for a few bucks extra but I was glad I got it instead of fries. The gumbo was filled with shrimp, crab and a bunch of delicious spices. It didn’t have as much rice as I am used to but, then again, I don’t eat down in Nawlins much so I can’t call myself a gumbo connoisseur. However, this was great and I would go back just for a big bowl of this stuff.

My friend, Jake, and I split an oyster po’boy and a shrimp po’boy so we could get half of each one. The shrimp po’boy (above) was our favorite of the two. I think it was because the shrimp were cooked perfectly and that the oysters may have been fried a few seconds too long. We also smothered the fried shrimp po’boy in Crystal hot sauce which you could find on about any table throughout New Orleans.

Deanie's Seafood on Urbanspoon

I am pretty sure that we failed at our attempt to go to the infamous Mother’s Restaurant. Everything that I have read about it since has said that you must get a po’boy or muffuletta when you go. We woke up early on Friday and it was about a block and a half away from our hotel so we decided to go there for brunch. However, they don’t start serving lunch until after 11:00 a.m. so we were locked in for breakfast after waiting in line for 20 minutes.

The breakfast is served all day but we were limited to only that because of the time we arrived. I ordered the crawfish étouffée omelet with a side of grits and a biscuit. Étouffée is a gumbo-like Cajun soup and it literally means “smothered” in French. The omelet was basic but cooked to a perfect fluffiness with a light cheese filling. The grits were plentiful but pretty bland and needed a couple of shakes of ground pepper. The biscuit was great and came with an awesome fruit spread.

I was pretty pleased with the breakfast but I just wish that I had been able to get a chance to try their po’boys or muffulettas. Esquire Magazine wrote that the Ferdi’s Special (a po’boy with their famous baked ham, roast beef, and “debris”) is one of the best sandwiches in America. I will be getting one of these the next time I go down there. One issue that I had with Mother’s is that most everyone that worked there acted as if the patrons were lucky to be eating there instead of the other way around.

Mother's Restaurant on Urbanspoon

 

 

ROAD TRIP: Duke’s Bar-B-Q – Waltersboro, SC

Each year, my family takes a road trip down to Jacksonville, FL to visit family over Thanksgiving. We have traditionally stopped at quick stop places like Wendy’s or Subway or something similar so we could get back on the road as fast as possible. We planned on picking up some $5 foot longs which no one really wanted but figured that it would be decent road trip food.

We pulled off of I-95 on exit 57 in Walterboro, SC looking for the Subway that we saw on the restaurant sign before the exit. As we pulled down the exit ramp, my dad noticed a billboard for a place called Duke’s Bar-B-Q. It had a picture of a cartoon pig and we all immediately agreed that it sounded a whole helluva lot better than Subway. It was about two miles off of the exit which normally doesn’t fly for the Brinson family but we decided to make the time to try it out.

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