Sunday, March 28, 2010

Feeding Detroit: Sweetest Heart of Mary Fish Fry

On Friday, it was my turn to help out at the Lenten fish fry at my sister parish, Sweetest Heart of Mary. This annual event started about five or six years ago when the parish started having a fish fry. My parish, St. Josaphat, clustered with Sweetest Heart of Mary in 2003 and I have met so many wonderful people there. The SHM fish fry is unique in many ways. In addition to the traditional fried cod, they also offer baked flounder, pierogi (they make their own), soup, macaroni and cheese, a salad bar and every Friday there is a special of the day. (Pictured: the ladies are getting the bread ready for the tables prior to opening for the day.)

Last year, Fr. Mark asked me if I would consider cooking one of the Friday specials. I was happy to and thought that instead of offering another seafood dish, I would make a favorite dish of my mom's - spinach lasagna. Mom made this lasagna many times, not necessarily for Lent, but every now and again. So, last year I made three pans (36 servings) and it all sold. This year's fish fry was even busier than last year's - word is getting out about this wonderful event - so I made four pans (48 servings) for this year. I'm glad I did! The SHM fish fry opens at 3:00pm and closes at 8:00pm, and by 6:30pm, and we served our last piece of spinach lasagna at 6:30pm! Who knows, maybe next year I'll need to make five pans! (pictured: the kitchen crew is busy filling orders during one of the dinner rushes before Stations of the Cross.)
A lot of people always ask about how the lasagna is made. Like most pasta dishes, it starts with the sauce. Everyone has their own sauce recipe, and I was never sure what my mom put in her sauce, but I used to watch her put it together. I made about four gallons of sauce, not only for putting the lasagna together, but for putting on top of it when it's served. Then, I use frozen chopped spinach, ricotta, mozzarella and Parmesan cheeses and Barilla lasagna noodles (the no-bake thing since sliced bread!). All told, there are four layers of cheesy spinach goodness. (Pictured: the spinach lasagna waiting to go out of the kitchen)

Putting this much of anything together requires a bit of an assembly line, and my dad and sister are always in the kitchen with me helping out on all these crazy projects I get involved in. But, when people come together to enjoy good food and each other's company, it really doesn't feel like work at all. This coming Friday - Good Friday - is the last fish fry. There won't be any spinach lasagna this week, but there will be lots of good people and lots of good food. Sweetest Heart of Mary is at the corner of Russell and Canfield in Detroit and the fish fry is from 3pm to 8pm. Stations of the Cross takes place at 6:30pm - if you've never been there, I think you'll agree that it's one of Detroit's most beautiful churches. (Pictured: pan one of four filled with spinach lasagna for the fish fry)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Feeding Detroit: Corned Beef & Cabbage Dinner @ St. Josaphat

Well, we may have missed St. Patrick's Day by a little, but that fact certainly didn't dampen the spirit of this afternoon's festivities at St. Josaphat's. A tradition for many years, the Sunday preceding or following St. Patrick's has always been celebrated with a corned beef and cabbage dinner. While the parish's roots may be Polish, it's true that everyone likes to be Irish for this holiday. Knowing some people who are actually from Ireland, they don't eat corned beef and cabbage for St. Patrick's Day. Leave it to us Americans to invent new traditions for others! (Pictured: many hands make light work - 50 lbs. of carrots peeled in 25 minutes!)

There are a few dinners a year at St. Josaphat that can usually be counted on to sell out - this is one of them. Going into this weekend, I knew that we were going to have about 140 dinners to serve, and, the Polish cook in me always makes a little extra "just in case." The corned beef is the star of the show, and before going into work on Friday morning, I found myself at the plant where the corned beef is processed picking up 100 pounds. I get our corned beef from Wigley's in Detroit's Eastern Market. I generally order the "supreme trim," which is exceptionally lean. As a matter of fact, Wigley's always gives me extra fat to add to the pot when I'm cooking the meat for extra flavor. In total, I cook the corned beef for well over five hours. On Saturday, it cooked for three hours, then I take it out, let it cool and then dad and I start slicing. My sister counts the slices (not an easy job!) and then we kind of figure out how many slices we can give to each person. I put the slices in buffet pans with some of the cooking liquid and cover with foil. (Pictured: carrots are peeled - dad starts slicing them up for the pot)

This morning, the corned beef went back in a low oven for almost another three hours. Talk about tender! No knives needed - this corned beef you cut with your fork. We also cooked up 50 pounds of potatoes, 50 pounds of carrots and about 20 head of cabbage. We also served a tossed salad, rolls and butter, dill pickles and pickled beets (hey, we're Polish after all!) and cake and coffee. If anyone ever leaves St. Josaphat hungry it's their own fault! (Pictured: Shirley and Busia cutting 140 slices of cake)

I don't know what I would do without my most excellent cooking crew: dad, sis, Ken, Shirley, "Busia," and Delphine. Thanks to all their help, we pulled another dinner off! More than just the prep and the cooking, there's the serving and all the clean up after it's all over. A lot of parishioners and friends help out with every dinner, from picking up dirty plates and silverware to keeping the coffee pots full. It's really a collective effort - I'm just the ring master! (Pictured: a batch of cabbage cut and ready to get cooked - there's something about the smell of cabbage that makes me feel good!)
My friends Helen, Marianne and Adrienne (all good cooks themselves) came to the dinner today with their friend Rosemary. This was their first St. Josaphat dinner and I think they had a good time - I know they were all winners at the raffle! I love having new folks come and join us for these celebrations of food, faith, family and friends. (Pictured: friends and family at one table - Helen, Marianne, Adrienne and Rosemary sit with my cousin Robbie, his lovely wife Michelle and a couple of their kids)

We're not cooking a dinner in April what with all the preparations for Easter and other doings at this time of the year. But, we'll be back in May with our Polish Pork Chop dinner - another favorite. These are the pork chops my mom made: thin, with the bone in, lightly breaded, browned and then baked in the oven with slices of onions. Until then, there will be more life to live and food to eat!
(Pictured: what it's all about - the corned beef at the buffet. Below - boiled potatoes with lots of butter and parsley.)

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Eating On The Road - Day 7: Sausage Gravy & A 5-Way In Columbus

Ralphie and I are in the home stretch. Despite the chronic rain, we had a great time putting on the miles through West Virginia and Ohio today. We ditched the Ohio Turnpike to Nowhere's-Ville and decided to take the smaller state highways to take in more of the local color. Every 20-30 miles we went through a small town. Usually, there was something of interest awaiting us. Lots of antique and resale shops, some Amish country stores, as well as a lot of historical architecture. (Pictured: The "Special" at the Downtowner - Ripley, WV)

Our day began in a small town in West Virginia where we stayed the night, called Ripley (believe it or not!). We left the hotel in the morning and drove into the downtown area where we found a number of places to stop. The Bargain Barn Flea Market was first on the list, but we thought we should get a bite to eat before we got into the heavy junkin'. (Pictured: Graham Cracker Pie - sure, you can have dessert with breakfast.)

On Court Street, we sited "The Downtowner," a sweet little diner that looked full of locals, which is always a good sign. We parked and walked in. There was a long counter and about eight booths. Most of the restaurants we've stopped in on this trip had a counter, which I think is great, especially if you are eating alone.

We no sooner sat down than the waitress, Tiffany, came over to see what we wanted. We asked for coffee and looked at the menu. Ralph and I both ordered "The Special," which included two eggs, ham, bacon or sausage (here everyone gives you a choice of patties or links), hash browns or home fries, sausage gravy and toast or a biscuit plus coffee. Eat this breakfast every morning and they'll throw in a complimentary angioplasty. But, what the hell, we're still on vacation.

The breakfast came fast. It was awesome - and that sausage gravy was filled with big chunks of fried sausage. Dunking the biscuit in this gravy was a complete delight. So, while we were eating our breakfast and talking about the plans for the day, Ralph happened to notice the board behind the counter that listed some specials of the day, including the pies. One of them was a "Graham Cracker Pie." He asked me about it and I had never heard of this pie, so when the waitress came back to the table, he asked her what that pie was all about. She told us it had a graham cracker crust, was filled with a vanilla pudding with a Dream Whip top and graham cracker crumbs on top. Ralph looked at me and then looked at her. "We'll try a piece." (Pictured: Ralph outside the Downtowner, located on Court St. in downtown Ripley, WV)

The pie was everything we thought it would be and more. The buttery graham cracker crust held a creamy, almost custard-like vanilla filling and then a thick layer of whipped cream was put over that. I can't wait to make one of my own.

After making all of our stops in Ripley we hit the road and were soon in Ohio. The journey is half the fun. I'm so glad of having the luxury of time to make a trip like this. Sometimes, you just need to get in a plane and get somewhere. Other times, like this, it's great to take your time and stop everywhere you want to stop. Get out, walk around, talk to people, and get to know a place that you never heard of before. One stop was Logan Ohio, where we saw the last surviving American factory that makes washboards - yes, they still make washboards and they make them in Logan, Ohio!

(Pictured: The Columbus Washboard Company - our nation's last surviving manufactuer of washboards located in Logan, OH. On the building, the world's largest washboard!)

We made a lot of stops before we got to Columbus. The Town & Country, packed to the gills, chugged it's way north and before we got to Ohio's capital city, we saw a sign for Skyline Chili. Since it was dinner time anyways, we thought we had better stop. Neither Ralph nor I had been to a Skyline for years. The one we wandered upon seemed fairly new. It was bright, clean and not very busy. We sat down and a waitress was right over. After ordering our drinks, we drooled over the menu and thought about what we wanted. There were two things we wanted - a Skyline cheese coney dog and a five-way chili spaghetti, which is topped with Skyline chili, onions, beans and cheese. (Pictured - Skyline Coney Cheese Dog)

Skyline's founder was Greek. This has something to do with the wonderful way the chili is seasoned. It's spiced very differently from Detroit's coney island chili, which usually has chili powder and cumin in the mix. Skyline Chili seems to have a little cinnamon in it, and some other Mediterranean spices that elude me, but man is it delicious! Then they pile on the finely shredded cheddar cheese. I don't know how Mr. Skyline came up with the idea of putting his wonderful chili on top of pasta, but it's pure genius. (Pictured: Skyline Spaghetti - 5 way style, baby!!)

Tomorrow we will be back home, but I'm hoping for one or two more adventures before we get there. (A sign familar with folks in central and southern Ohio)

Eating On The Road - Day 6: Heading Home

We're making our way back to Detroit and the weather has been wet the past couple of days. Driving in the rain doesn't bother me, but going through the twisty-turny mountain highways in this part of the country is slowed a little with wet pavement. Some of the elevations are quite high, and you actually drive through the rain clouds. In some parts, the fog hovered over the ground with the leafless trees poking through and it looked like something out of a 1950's horror movie.

One place we wanted to stop during the trip because Ralph had never been there, was a Chick-Fil-A, which is a fast-food chain that we don't have in the Detroit area. Known for their chicken sandwiches, these restaurants are not open on Sundays. The man who founded the chain many years ago still feels that Sunday is not a day for working, so all his stores close on that day. We were disappointed not to be able to eat there on a Sunday (we tried), but I have to respect the man's views about not working on Sunday. He put his beliefs in practice and that's the way it is. I'm sure it costs the chain a lot of potential business, but this is obviously more important to him than the money. (Pictured: Rallph's deluxe chicken sandwich)

As we started our journey back to Michigan, we stopped at a Chick-Fil-A in Burlington, NC. It was sort of between breakfast and lunch times, and the place was busy. Each of us ordered a chicken sandwich (two different kinds) and got some of their waffle cut fries and coffee. Now, this was fast-food, but that said the chicken was really tasty. It wasn't dried out, it had a very light breading, which gave it a little bit of a crunch when you bit into it. They put pickles on their chicken sandwiches, which provides a great, unexpected flavor. (Pictured: The Chick-Fil-A's waffle fries - Outstanding!)

We left the Chick-Fil-A and headed north and east into the mountains. We'd get off the highway every now and then if we saw a billboard for something interesting (a store, antique place, etc.) or to get gas and coffee. One such stop was the town of Wytheville, Virginia. There we found a great little downtown area filled with shops of all kinds, including, from what I could see, at least three barber shops. The town must be well groomed!

At one of the corners was an irresistible place called Skeeters. They sell hot dogs. Hot dogs are very big here. They aren't the coney island style dogs we have in Detroit, which are usually made with a natural casing. No, these hot dogs are red - like, crayon red. Obviously, they add some sort of coloring to the dog, why I don't know, but these red, skinless hot dogs are served everywhere. (Pictured: Skeeter's World Famous Hot Dogs. How could you resist going into a place like this - Wytheville, Virginia)

Skeeters has a counter and a few tables and chairs inside. There was a woman behind the counter and another at the register. They serve hot dogs in all variations, including a "Skeeter Dog" which had a kind of Cheeze Whiz on it. Ralph ordered a "Slaw Dog," which came with creamy sweet cole slaw, onions, mustard and chili on it. Ralph said it was "$1.70 worth of heaven." I got a chili dog, which had a very mild chili sauce on it, onions and mustard. They put the chili over the onions, which is different then how this kind of dog is served back home.

Behind the counter, where they make the hot dogs, is a big stainless steel cabinet with doors on the top. It's like a big steamer, and behind one door are the buns. They come out hot, soft and smelling like fresh bread. Another door reveals the hot dogs, and then she puts everything together and serves it to you on a napkin. Food at its most simple and its most satisfying. Skeeters was one of my favorite finds on this trip and I hope to visit the place again someday. (Pictured: Inside Skeeter's)

Friday, March 12, 2010

Eating On the Road - Day 5: My Brother's Keeping Me Fed

It has been more than a year since I saw my brother Greg who lives in North Carolina. He usually makes a trip back to Michigan at some point during the year, but last year he just couldn't get away. The last time I went to NC to see him was almost ten years ago, so I really looked forward to seeing him. And, like traveling anywhere, the best advice of where to eat can always be found from someone who lives there, so Greg had a few places in mind that he wanted to share with me and Ralph. (Pictured: Ready to eat - Ralph, Greg and Jon)

Ralph, Greg, his partner Jon and I began the day going out for breakfast at a local diner in the neighboring city of Burlington called the Burlington Diner. It's one of those places that look small from the outside, but once you walk in you're amazed by the size. They definitely do a brisk breakfast business, and there was plenty of both southern and Yankee standards to choose from.
(Pictured: The diner's "regular" order of pancakes)

I'm convinced that there is something different about the coffee in the south. I'm not talking about Starbucks (you actually don't see nearly as many down here as in the Midwest) or other chains. I mean the coffee that is dispensed at diners, truck stops and other local places. It has a little sharper edge to it - it's darker but not in a French roasted way. Maybe some use chicory in their coffee, but to me it tastes bolder but not burnt. And all the sweet tea! Love it! (Pictured: Eggs and savory patties of sausage)

Breakfast was great - everyone enjoyed what they had and we spent more time talking and catching up than we did shoveling the food in our faces. But, that's what these kinds of things are all about.
(Pictured: Waldorf salad, broccoli, fried Whiting and seven layer salad)

After breakfast, Greg took us into Chapel Hill to do a little shopping. There's a couple of great food/cooking stores there. One of the stores, A Southern Season, blew me away with their selection of cooking gear and gadgets, candies, cheeses, wines and prepared foods. Incredible! I could have spent hours looking around that store. We picked out a couple of bottles of "un-oaked" wine (wine that is fermented in stainless steel instead of oak barrels - very different - bright, crisp notes), some cheese and candy.

While we were at the candy counter, there was a big display of handmade truffles made by a candy maker from Raleigh, NC. As I was talking to Ralph, a man behind the candy counter approached me and said, "You have to be from the Midwest with that accent!" I said, "I'm from Detroit." He said he was originally from Wisconsin and those were his truffles being featured. His name is Reginald O. Savage, a retired Philosophy professor from NC State who named his line of fine chocolates, "Azurelise," after his daughter, Azure Elise. We talked about working at a university, and how he got into making candy. He offered me a sample of one of his truffles, and I knew I needed to take a box to-go. I asked him what his favorite was, and he said he particularly liked the Chocolate Julep, which is made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. That's all he needed to tell me. I immediately put a box in my cart!

Well, after all this shopping and candy conversations we worked up a little appetite, so Greg took us to a K & W Cafeteria, which was located next to the shopping center. Wow! How come we can't have these back home? I remember a time as a kid when we would go to these kinds of cafeterias. I always loved it because you could get exactly what you wanted, essentially creating your own entree. So, if you wanted salad and coconut cream pie for dinner, you could have it! (Pictured: hush puppies, pintos, creamed corn, golden fried chicken)

There were literally hundreds of choices on the line, and on the other side were people standing by asking, "What would y'all like?" I really had to hold back because I wanted to try everything. The first thing I got sucked into was hush puppies, which I never have in Detroit because no one offers them. At K & W, they were four (about the size of ping-pong balls) for 40 cents! How can I go wrong?? Add to that a couple of pieces of friend chicken (dark meat), creamed corn, beans and a cup of good southern coffee and I called it lunch. The pies along brought a tear to my eye. They had a lime chiffon pie that stopped me in my tracks. If I wasn't busting at the seams after lunch, I'd go back and get that pie. Regrettably, I was completely stuffed after lunch. (Pictured: Greg and Ralph enjoy the spread at K & W)

We had barely worked off breakfast and now it was time to work off lunch. We rolled out of the K & W Cafeteria and loaded into the Town & Country. Destination: Pittsboro, NC. The rain was starting to come down, but we had a nice ride in the van and enjoyed seeing more of the area with its rich, red dirt coming through the dormant winter grass. Pittsboro isn't a very big town, but like so many other towns we've been to along the way it's rich in history and there's a lot of wonderful architecture. In the middle of town, there is a round-about with a statue to the Confederate Soldiers in the center. The hot spot in Pittsboro is a place called the S & T Soda Shoppe. Another place lost in time, this soda fountain/diner is filled with antique soda and drug store fixtures. They have about 30 flavors of ice cream, some I had never seen before. They also serve soup and sandwiches. (Pictured: Inside the S&T Soda Shoppe in Pittsboro, NC)

We kept telling each other how full we were, but we couldn't just sit in the soda shoppe and drink a glass of water! So, Greg ordered a hot fudge sundae (just one scoop) and I ordered a pimento cheese sandwich and a cup of coffee. I've heard a lot about pimento cheese and have seen people making it on the Food Network, but I've never had it. Now, I never want to live without it! (Pictured: Greg is very happy he ordered this sundae)

Greg's sundae was made with coconut ice cream and hot fudge and came with extra spoons. We passed the pimento cheese sandwich around and declared it delicious! After we finished, we headed back to Greg's where we'd break open the un-oaked wine and spend some precious time together. (Pictured: the pimento-cheese sandwich was a melt-in-your-mouth delight!)
What a great day!
(Pictured: a good cup of coffee)

Eating On The Road - Day 4: Andy & Barney never had it so good

Determined to get to my brothers place in North Carolina, we continued drive through Virginia as the afternoon got late. The amazing views from the interstate of the valleys and mountains was a dramatic reminder that not all of our nation is flat. The beauty of this countryside, so steeped in history, was exceeded only by the kindness of the fine people we encountered along the way. (Pictured: The real live Snappy Lunch located on Mt. Airy's Main Street)
(Pictured: My plate - up front between the hush puppies and fries is the wonderful BBQ cole slaw)

Finally crossing the state Virginia-North Carolina state line, we still had about a two hour ride ahead of us to get to our final destination, the little town of Mebane, which is east of Greensboro. One of the places we wanted to stop that was just inside NC, was Mount Airy. (Pictured: Ralph's plate - pork BBQ, pintos and green beans)

What's interesting about Mt. Airy is that it is the hometown of Andy Griffith, and he modeled "Mayberry" very much after Mt. Airy. Unlike the movie set where "The Andy Griffith Show" was filmed, Mt. Airy, NC has a real main street with a real Snappy Lunch and Floyd's Barber Shop. Yes, it is a tourist destination of the highest order, and regardless of whether you liked the TV show or not, or ever watched it, Mt. Airy captures small town America in a grand way. (Pictured: They serve Pilot-Knob coffee at Aunt Bea's)

When we got into town, it was after 5pm and, no surprise, most things were closed. While I had my heart set on a pork chop sandwich and a piece of peanut butter pie at the Bluebird Diner (I had eaten that meal there many years before), we were going to have to find a place to get a quick dinner. Thinking about it, if you're a hungry stranger in Mayberry, where would you turn to get a hot meal? The answer seemed obvious - Aunt Bea's. And that's just where we went. (Pictured: Floyd's City Barber Shop on Main Street)

Now, we didn't pull up to the old Taylor place and knock on the back door. Aunt Bea's is a local restaurant, there are a few in the area, that serve up barbecue and all the fixin's! Ralph and I both got the barbecue - a pulled pork with Aunt Bea's hot and tangy sauce. Then there was the sides. We got hush puppies (what a treat!), BBQ cole slaw (it had sauce in the slaw), pinto beans, green beans, fries and peach cobbler. The food was fast, hot and tasty! While I still wanted my pork chop sandwich, Aunt Bea came through with a good hot meal to fortify us for the rest of our day's journey! (Pictured: Aunt Bea's Peach Cobbler)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Eating On The Road - Day 4: Blue Moon & Biscuit Bonanza

The Ron, a Mary B, Tootie and Golden Eagle. That was breakfast yesterday morning in Charleston, West Virginia. Say whaaaaa?

Ralph has a beautiful, sweet sister - Christina - who lives in Charleston. She owns and operates the Blue Moon Cafe. Over the years, she has run a number of restaurants and bars in Charleston, and we stayed with her during our stop in this capital city of West Virginia. Christina is up and out early in the morning to get the Blue Moon ready for the lunch crowd, so Ralph and I thought we'd stop and get breakfast somewhere. (Pictured: Christina's Blue Moon Cafe in downtown Charleston)

Now, years ago, Ralph lived in West Virginia for a while and helped his sister by working in one of her restaurants. So, he's very fond of Charleston and has a lot of memories here. One of those fit right in for our need to have a nice southern breakfast. We saw a Tudor's Biscuit World, a regional chain of restaurants that feature, among other things, big, tender, tasty biscuits. (Pictured: Inside the Blue Moon Cafe, Christina gets ready for the lunch rush)

For breakfast, the have these enormous biscuit sandwiches with all kinds of things on them. Most of them have an egg, some have bacon, ham, sausage, hash browns, cheese and a host of other delicious, fattening choices. Each biscuit has a name, and I'm sure there's a story behind each one. I'd love to hear why one of my sandwiches was called a "Tootie" or one of Ralph's was called a "Mary B." Whatever you call them, these things make an Egg McMuffin look like something you'd get out of a bus station vending machine. These were southern eating at it's best: full of flavor, big portions, and honest straight-forward food that makes you feel good when you're eating it! (Pictured top: The "Mary B" - egg, cheese and lots of bacon. Pictured bottom: The "Golden Eagle" - Canadian bacon, hash browns, cheese and an egg. An entire breakfast on a biscuit.)

Eating On The Road - Day 3: 8th Street Confectionery - Fairmont, WV

We had a good tip that there was something to check out along our journey; a little place in Fairmont, West Virginia (just south of Morgantown) called the 8th Street Confectionery. The name alone intrigued me, so we put it on the agenda.

Coming from Detroit, we sometimes forget that our city was once filled with places like the 8th Street Confectionery. As Detroit became abandoned and neighborhoods emptied out, all those small mom and pop businesses went away. The bakeries, candy stores, bars, butcher shops and hardware's that peppered the many neighborhoods of Detroit are gone, with a handful of exceptions. (Ralph outside the famous 8th Street Confectionery in Fairmont, WV)

But in some parts of the country, these kinds of businesses still exist. Located not on a main street but rather in the middle of a neighborhood block, the 8th Street Confectionery (located on 8th Street!) is a small lunchroom that has serviced its Fairmont neighborhood for generations.

Coming into Fairmont you can't help but be distracted by the scenery. The hills and mountains, even this time of year, with their bare trees, draw you in. It was about 62 degrees outside and there was still a lot of snow on the mountains. It's been a hard winter in these parts, with a lot more snow than usual. As you pull in to the downtown, you are immediately taken back in time. The architecture is beautiful - many century old buildings on every block. As I was trying to figure out how to get to 8th Street, it seemed wise to pull into a gas station and get some directions (I've never been too proud to ask a local where to find something!). I pulled into an Exxon station downtown, and before I could get out of the car to start pumping gas, I was approached by a gentleman in a blue shirt with "Steve" embroidered on it and he asked, "How much would you like?" Stunned, I thought for a moment and said, "Fill it up, with regular, please."

I didn't know there were still places on this planet where there are people who actually come out and pump your gas for you! Well, in Fairmont, West Virginia, there's at least one station that still does. "Do you know where 8th Street Confectionery is from here?" I asked him. "Sure do, it's about ten blocks" he said. "Go two blocks, take a left. Go one block take a right. Go eight blocks then a left. You'll see it." Luckily, Ralph had the good sense to write it down before we pulled out of the Exxon station!

No surprise, it was right where he said it was. The entire place consists of a very long counter and about six small booths. The whole place probably seats about 30, and I'm guessing there are times when you can't get a seat. But, we were there at an off time, and there were only about ten others in the place when we walked in. Their speciality is the pepperoni roll, which I wanted to order even though we had just eaten a full lunch less than two hours before. Ralph talked it over with me, and when we saw "White Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie" on the specials menu, I decided to just get a cup of coffee and a piece of pie. (Pictured left: One of the menu boards at 8th Street Confectionery -Pepperoni buns are hot sellers)

Pepperoni rolls are everywhere in this part of the country. Very popular things in many diners and little stands. Hot dogs, too - they're everywhere.

Imagine the heartbreak when the waitress informed us that they were out of the peanut butter pie. She said she still had some "Cherry Delight" left and some coconut meringue pie, too. So, we got a piece of each and a cup of coffee. The desserts were very homemade - fresh and delicious. And for a half hour or so, we took in a little part of a little neighborhood and got a sample of what life was like in this special little town. (Pictured left: The pie and coffee - they serve on the same plates I have at home!)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Eating on the Road - Day 2: Pittsburgh - Nadine's

What a grand time Ralph and I were shown in Pittsburgh by wonderful hosts and tour guides, Ralph's niece Debi and her husband Mario. Now, Mario is a real foodie and we spent a lot of time talking about our favorites places to eat in Detroit (he was born and raised there) and he clued me in on the food scene in Pittsburgh, which is a vibrant one. (Pictured left: Nadine's - South Side Pittsburgh)

Mario and I both spend a fair amount of time watching the Food Network, and they have featured any number of Pittsburgh restaurants in the past couple of years. So, while we were in town, we'd thought it would be fun to check out one of the places that we'd seen on TV. Mario had the brilliant idea to go to Nadine's, a small off-the-beaten-path neighborhood place that was featured on "Diners, Drive-Inns & Dives." He hadn't been there, but still had the episode of the show recorded that starred Nadine's. After watching it, we all agreed that was the place to have dinner, so we loaded up their three kids, Debi and Mario and Ralph and myself and headed for downtown Pittsburgh.

One of the things that I love about Pittsburgh is all the bridges crossing the three rivers which cut through the town. Each bridge is different and takes you into various parts of the city. Thank goodness Mario was driving, because I couldn't tell you how we got there other than we went through a tunnel and crossed a bridge and then ended up in Pittsburgh's South Side neighborhood. I can tell you that Nadine's isn't a place that you would probably ever see if you were just sightseeing around Pittsburgh - (Pictured left: Having a good time at Nadine's - from left: Mario Sr., Mario Jr., Dominic, Debi, Nadine's son Matt, Antonio and Uncle Ralph)

Nadine's is a bar and they serve food. But not "bar food." Here you will find real honest-to-goodness home cooked food, served up hot, friendly and in portions that insure you'll never leave hungry. As a matter of fact, when you order one of the specials, you can get seconds - that is, if you have room for them!

A woman named Nadine runs the place along with her son Matt. Nadine is there for the early shift and was gone by the time we arrived by dinner, but Matt was there and sat the seven us down at the only big table in the place. The menus are filled with sandwiches - the fried bologna is a long time favorite and made in a super-deluxe way. We were interested in the specials of the day, which included Na's Pasta, hot roast beef sandwich and beef stew. The soup was chicken noodle.

Between all of us we tried all the specials. Na's Pasta was featured on the Food Network show, and it was outstanding. A variety of pastas baked with Italian sausage, salami, capicola, onions, tomatoes and lots of other good stuff. The recipe is here on the Food Network site. It was bursting with flavor, a little heat and talk about a good old fashioned stick-to-your-ribs plate of food! It's something I could eat once a week and never tire of. We washed it down with a couple bottles of Yuengling Beer (a local favorite), and it was close to the perfect meal. (Pictured left: Ralph's big plate of Na's pasta: dee-lish!)

We also got a couple orders of the hot roast beef sandwich. Thin slices of delicious roast beef between two thick slices of crusty Italian bread and topped with the most wonderful beefy good gravy. How do you add to that? How about a huge heap of real mashed potatoes with more of that gravy on top! A hot roast beef sandwich is generally standard fare in most diners and lunch counters, but this really took it to another level of comfort and flavor. (Pictured left: The best hot roast beef sandwich I ever had - and that gravy!)

You can tell how the food is prepared at Nadine's. They cook there like they would at home for family and friends. The food is simple but by no means ordinary. It's honest food, food that makes you feel good and reminds you of a home cooked meal. Pittsburgh is a great town, filled with great people. There's so much to see and do, but Nadine's alone is good enough reason for me to look forward to my next trip back. (Pictured left: Nadine's famous oven complete with string that is used to keep the door closed - hey, it works!!)