Sunday, April 28, 2013

Wagon Wheel Restaurant

 I've always had a soft spot for the food and traditions of the American South. Hushpuppies, meat and three, grits, she-crab soup are dishes -- though they weren't served in my childhood home -- I grew up revering and wanting to make part of my future home's culinary lexicon.
As a rambling spirit on countless road trips through the south's backroads I tasted these and many other specialties and took to heart the rural tradition of quality cooking from scratch. The way my grandmother cooked and the way I've always been determined to cook myself.
These days I have cause to worry about that precious tradition. In countless grocery stores here in Charlotte I still see self rising flour, mercifully, but only instant grits, no hoop cheese, more ready-made mixes than ingredients.
Sadly the streets are rimmed with more Olive Gardens and Friday's than locally owned home cooking spots. The Wagon Wheel in South Carolina is one such survivor. Though they've "modernized" with a salad bar instead of vegetable sides in the evening they still offer a menu of home cooked traditional entrees -- country ham with redeye gravy, sugar cured ham, pork chops -- along with shrimp, steaks and sandwiches and their specialty, fried squash. Crispy and honestly somewhat bland the squash has an addictive crunch that pairs perfectly with the side of ranch (not homemade) dressing. The country ham was super salty but a great combo with coleslaw (off the salad bar) and the restaurant's homemade yeast rolls.
Was the Wagon Wheel's food itself worth the long drive from Charlotte. Maybe. Was preserving the style restaurant where the bread is homemade and the waitress calls you "dear." worth traveling for? Any day!

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