Every month, Johnny and I ended up finding these awesome restaurants and bars/breweries, but the individual visits sometimes aren’t long enough to warrant their own blog post. How, then, do we share these adventures with you?! Well, in the spirit of the popular #FollowFriday (or #FF) trend on Twitter, we thought it’d be neat to start #FollowTheBison!
Since we consider our followers to be part of the herd (yeah, I know, we’re really running with this bison terminology), we thought the start of the new year would be the perfect time to use #FollowFriday as a way for you to #FollowTheBison and catch up on all the neat places we hit. If you already follow us on Instagram or Twitter, you know that some months are busier than others, so how often we post will just depend on how crazy our month is, but you can expect at least one #FollowTheBison post a month. With all of that being said, let’s kick off our first entry with some Southern spots we hit in December:
1. CAFFÉ REL
Caffé Rel is one of those places that you don’t expect much of when you pull up. I mean, it’s directly connected to a gas station (appropriately named “Hot Spot”) in little ol’ Franklin, North Carolina. But, never one to shy away from a good review, we checked it out and were rather impressed!
The place was small and cozy, with a lot of old antiques and trinkets all over the walls. It wasn’t too busy when we arrived, but I’m told during the tourist season(s) there’s regularly a wait. Also, as a heads up, Caffé Rel doesn’t accepted credit or debit cards, so bring some cash or a check with you (then again, if you forget, you can always walk through the dining room into the gas station next door and use the ATM).
We just grabbed some apps on our visit, but if it’s any indication of their entrees, you’re in for a great meal. The housemade chips were excellent – nice and crisp – and the hot bread and bruschetta that came out before our food didn’t last very long at our table. But what we enjoyed the most was a tie between the bacon wrapped scallops and the crab bisque.
John was really impressed that the scallops were cooked so perfectly: they weren’t overcooked and spongy and rubbery, but they also weren’t undercooked to the point that they were still raw (either of which seem to be common mistakes when it comes to cooking scallops).
Likewise, John appreciated that the crab bisque was a true bisque. He said his problem with bisques is that, in the 90s, they became really popular and everyone started to make them… which means that everyone started to mess them up too. People wanted to make bisques into thick, pasty soups – all in the name of heartiness and getting full off your meal (overindulgence, really) – but that’s not what bisque is all about.
A bisque is supposed to be a light and – dare we say it – dainty soup; for a cream soup, it’s not supposed to be a heavy soup because you’re often putting things like crab, lobster, shrimp, and vegetables (things that aren’t necessarily the heaviest of items) in these bisques, so in turn, to put this heavy, super thick creaminess in it doesn’t go well with the soup in general. Anyway, long story short, Caffé Rel’s bisque wasn’t like that at all. It was the perfect kind of nice and light bisque with great flavor.
Haywood Smokehouse was set up in this funky old house, which is actually one of John’s favorite restaurant concepts. We somehow beat the rush here too, which gave us the total attention of an excellent waitress. Really that’s the first thing we have to give Haywood Smokehouse credit for: their outstanding service. Though we sadly don’t recall her name, our server was fantastic. I mean, truly awesome: just so happy and smiling and helpful – really everything you think about when you think of Southern hospitality. She had great recommendations to make and we gladly took her advice, which worked out well, especially for my BBQ-loving beau.
She steered John towards the 3 meat sampler and he chose ribs, brisket, and BBQ chicken. The ribs were fall-off-the-bone tender, the brisket was really smoky (super smoky, in fact, which he likes in brisket), and the chicken was nice and juicy perfection. Our server also sold him on the coleslaw, which was that old Southern mayo and vinegar style that’s almost dry but just right. They had some really solid BBQ sauces to choose from, which John always enjoys (he’s a taster!). Their Carolina vinegar was really good and certainly lived up to its name, the golden mustard vinegar-based sauce had a nice balance, and the sweet St. Louis style brown sugar sauce was right on too. We also gladly downed a few glasses of some spot-on Southern sweet tea, which is always dearly missed when we’re in Ohio.
I went with an old favorite and ordered the pulled pork sandwich on buttery Texas toast (with mac ‘n cheese, of course), which didn’t let me down either.
Oh, and I almost forgot the banana pudding. I’m a sucker for good Southern banana pudding.
This was another hole in the wall that caught us by surprise with some real solid comfort food. We went in around lunch time and they were packed! It’s just this tiny little spot that’s hidden in a shopping complex (one of those blink-and-you’d-miss-it type spots) in Clayton, Georgia.
John ordered the seafood po boy and it was excellent. It was served on a great hoagie roll (and with a sandwich like that, nice bread is where it all starts) and the seafood was cooked just right. Like I said, having eaten at diners like this before, we kind of expected crappy/frozen clam strips and the like, but that’s definitely not what he got. This was the real deal. It came with a nice house sauce (almost like a yum-yum sauce) and the portion size was right on. The sweet potato tots that came with it were addictive. I kept stealing John’s (sorry not sorry!) and honestly probably could have just eaten a plate of those for my meal.
The Rusty Bike serves breakfast all day, so I just had to try their biscuits and gravy. Unfortunately, when the order came out (it was dropped off by another server because they were so busy), they just gave me a plate of hash browns and grits, but no main course. Meh. It took a minute to flag someone down and fix it and when our server did come around, she seemed more worried about dropping the bill (and getting us out of there) than the mix-up; to be fair, it was the afternoon of Christmas Eve, but service still matters, especially to us as restaurant people. In any case, the sausage gravy was delicious and the whole plate gave me that home-cooked comfort food feel, so we’ll definitely be back – just earlier in the day long before close!
Be sure to join the herd and continue to #FollowTheBison! We’ll keep updating on Fridays as we can and will also try to hashtag our picture posts on Instagram and Twitter as well. Until next time!