Wednesday, August 26, 2009

EpicRoadtrip: Traveling with a Foodie

As should be evident now, I am no stranger to the roadtrip, as a musician, as a son of a gypsy, and a man that just loves some time behind the wheel with an amazing collection of music in the dash, roadtrips have always been one of my favorite things. Until EpicRoadtrip ’09 food had never really been a focus of the journey, inevitably there would be a neon sign squawking burgers or bacon when your belly growled, and we’d pull over to fill the tank. This time, traveling with Stephanie, food Blogger extraordinaire, food was not only a focal point, it actually guided our schedule.

One of the things that I enjoyed most about traveling with a foodie was every meal presented a photo op. To this point, I had only taken pictures of my food twice, once last summer when I went home to San Diego and had an amazing plate of Mexican food sitting before me, and once last Christmas when my Aunt Dantina showed me how to make her sauce, and then my mom constructed the most amazing lasagna I have ever had. Do not let the Ketzer fool you, I may look all Germanic, four inches away from Arian, but I was raised by a Zaio, and have always embraced my Italian heritage. That lasagna ended up being very significant because it was the last time my Aunt DT made sauce. She had been battling cancer for quite some time, and she left us a couple weeks later. [Wipes tears…takes deep breath…presses on]

I think Steph did a great job of recapping all the food we ate in her blog Ironstef. Rather than duplicate that, I am only going to talk about 3 of the meals. There is no way I could write this without mentioning the Hot Chicken in Tennessee.

Hi! My name is Eric and I am a hot food addict. There are 5 acceptable taste sensations: Sweet, Sour, Savory, Salty, and Bitter. Note, heat was not listed there because heat does not interact with a taste receptor. Heat triggers Substance P, which is a neuropeptide that acts as a neurotransmitter and alters the excitability of the pain responsive neurons. This in turn releases endorphins, hence the addictive properties, much like a runner’s high. Yeah! 5 points for reading a blog written by someone with a Psych major and a serious brain fascination. When we arrived in Nashville our first stop was Prince’s HOT Chicken. Steph ordered up the Medium, and I manned up and went with Extra Hot.

I think my addiction to hot food began while I was in the Navy. They would serve up the most disgustingly bland stuff on the Mess Deck, but there were always trays of jalapenos on the salad bar. So, I’d take one bite of slop and one bite of jalapeno, and the two would balance each other out. When I got my paper and was freed from the Nav, I was introduced to Tapatio by some friends in college, and from there the quest to go even hotter began. No matter what I am eating, Indian, Thai, Vietnamese, or Hot Chicken, I am going to ask for it extra hot. Nothing to this point had prepared me for what I was about to ingest.

If you follow my twitter, you may recall a tweet where I was contemplating whether or not you could die from eating hot food. That was not me being Twitter funny. That was me realizing I was in a battle and was in jeopardy of losing it. The chicken itself was tender and juicy with a nice crust, but the heat was just oppressive. The sweat shower was wide open, nose was a leaky faucet, lips had a sunburn chap going, and there were moments when the heat actually took my breath. This was some seriously HOT Chicken. But, I took it down. Not only did I battle the heat, I battled the fact that I do not like to eat meat off the bone, too carnivorous for me, and this was a straight-up breast quarter, bones and all. I will say, although I won the battle, ultimately, the chicken won the war, as it stayed with me all night. My belly did not stop burning until the next morning when I woke up. If I was carrying any stomach viruses I assure you they are dead now.

The next two meals for me happened in Memphis. Spending the last two Christmases in Hereford, AZ with my mom, niece, 2 dogs, 4 cats, her horse, and a whole lot of nothing to do, I became mildly addicted to the Food Network. That and HGTV are her stations of choice and she rules the remote. One of my favorite shows on the Food Network is Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives (Triple D). When we set out on the EpicRoadtrip, Steph and I decided that hitting some Triple D approved joints was a must. Our first an only opportunity came in Memphis, Uncle Lou’s. Uncle Lou has become famous for created a sauce called, Sweet Spicy Love which amounts to honey, hot sauce, and some secret seasonings. And he is embracing the fame.

I had been sampling complex foods for the last few days, so I decided it was time to go with something simple, and it doesn’t get much simpler than a fried bologna sandwich; however, when you get it at Uncle Lou’s they call it round steak. I think this photo explains why.

It was delicious, had some nice char on it, a tasty dose of Sweet Spicy Love sauce, and the mustard and slaw were perfect toppings.

The last meal I will mention was one of the unplanned stops. We had been looking for a good southern breakfast in Birmingham, and were directed to a Waffle House…a what? This actually initiated a minor Facebook war when Waffle House devotees thought I was dissing their palace, but I was not. What I was trying to express was the best restaurant in any town, or the restaurant that is suggested when an out of towner is looking for a recommendation, should never be a chain. Before heading back to St. Louis Steph popped open the Mac, and found Bob’s Barksdale Restaurant. I am a simple man with simple tastes, and I LOVE me some breakfast food. So, this was my favorite dinning experience of the trip. We bellied up to a cramped counter in a dingy little dive, and were served up some amazing food: bacon omelet with grits, some hash browns, and the southern staple biscuits and gravy, the perfect ending meal to a truly EpicRoadtrip.

I felt like I gypped you last time by not including a poem, so here is “Man Made Finger,” written in an attempt to provide a visual of the many bridges we crossed.

Man made fingers
Stretch towards heaven
Fold in prayer

Laser lights of lives in transit
A waterfall of reds and yellows
Kissing Easter’s Peep
Forming Halloween’s jack-o-lantern smile

Midnight sky
At eye sight’s edge
Clouds feather horizon near

This moment a Trinity of Material, Motion, and Miracle

Material the Son
Born into this world to provide passage
Carrier of souls, receiver of prayers

Motion the Great Ghost
Trails of energy felt more than seen
Omnipresent chill giver, breath stealer

Miracle the Father
Provider of Physical Laws
Creator of motion and material

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