Monday, February 2, 2009
Since my last post, I’ve traveled South hundreds of miles. I’ve taken copious notes but it’s been hard to find time to get to the computer. In Baltimore, I was catching up with Meara and Josh and James. In Virginia, I was running around with Hilary and her husband, James, and baby Henry. In Asheville, I had a crippling stomach flu for 24 hours and scrambled to get the lay of the land in my remaining 24. Now I’m in a shady motel in Myrtle Beach, avoiding the buggy-eyed vagrant types with 40-racks of MGD and the dirty kids who love my car, hoping to get some work done before I head off to Charleston.
I didn’t focus on local food in Baltimore—I was there to visit with friends. We ate good crab and corn chowder at the joint around the corner from Josh and James’s place. In the grocery store near their apartment, we found cheddar from Hawk’s Hill Creamery with a “Maryland Grown” sticker. I paused over the clothbound but bought the cheaper, Old-Bay seasoned flavor. The cheese was mild and smooth, a pleasant foil for the robust flavor of the Chesapeake Bay spice (bay leaf, celery salt, paprika, red pepper flakes…?). Eddie’s is a local chain with a pretty hip staff from the art school nearby. I looked around in the market for other products with the “Maryland Grown” seal, but I didn’t find any.
I did have one memorable dining experience in Baltimore, at Ixia, a fabulous restaurant where James bustles around looking officious and debonair as general manager. Ixia’s décor is opulent but not overly designed; a fine, eclectic collection of contemporary art hangs on blue walls and crystals are draped from the ceiling. Perfect red roses festoon each table. I asked the server what was local on the menu. She passed my question on to the chef, who told her “not much, this time of year.” It was, once again, the middle of a weekend rush, and I assume he thought I just meant produce—certainly some of the seafood came from Maryland. Another staffer told me that the owner grew the chard in her backyard. Wow, I thought, I just read an article about Boston chefs growing herbs in their private rooftop gardens. “Yeah,” he said soberly, “we all shit in it as often as we can. You know, for fertilizer.”
Ixia was great—eating a decadent meal with Josh and Meara was a rare treat. The food wasn’t locally-sourced but the chef is skilled and the plates looked gorgeous and tasted as rich and decadent but refined as the surroundings.
I’m finally learning the ins and outs of my camera so the photos should improve—the Ixia ones were pretty blown out and didn’t do the gorgeous meal justice so I’ve left them out. Instead, here are me and Josh and Meara looking cool.(Meara took the photo with me in it)
Yesterday I went to the icky suburban mall in Myrtle Beach to use the internet at Starbucks. I bought a tea, sat down with my computer, and was asked to pay four dollars. So I waited another day, for free wi-fi here at the Charleston hostel. I have so much more to report—Virginia and Asheville were fantastic.