Our Search for the Best Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

Time-Out Biscuit

In a happening university town in central North Carolina, we discovered a dynamite chicken-cheese biscuit we just can’t stop thinking about. Each bite of this biscuit delivers a combination of soft and buttery bread, plump and seasoned chicken, and melty cheese. It’s a huge sandwich for one equally huge appetite, or for several friends to share.

You can get your hands on the “Chicken n’ Cheddar” for $5.49 on the “Oversized Biscuit Sandwiches” menu at Time-Out, a 24/7 diner on East Franklin Street in Chapel Hill. But that’s just our trouble: We can’t make a regular three-hour, one-way drive from our home in western North Carolina to get our mitts and mouths on this Southern specialty. So we decided to do the next best thing and explore the available chicken biscuits at fast food restaurants in our town, asking each to add cheese to the order.

We developed a grading scale of 1 (lowest possible) to 5 (highest possible) in the categories of Chicken, Cheese, Biscuit, Overall Freshness and Price, for a total of 25 possible points. Based on the delicious Time-Out biscuit, we laid out desirable criteria for each category. To get a perfect score in each category, a chicken-cheese biscuit needed to meet every demand with the same zeal as Time-Out’s Chicken n’ Cheddar.

With the chicken, we wanted seasoning, size and cooking perfection. The cheese needed to be melty, plentiful and flavorful. In each biscuit, we sought a crunchy outside and soft inside. Ultimate freshness meant a hot biscuit sandwich that wasn’t too hard or crumbly. And price, well that’s obvious. We’re a couple of foodies always on the search for a great meal and a great deal. So we didn’t want to pay too much for any one sandwich, and we ordered the cheapest possible chicken-cheese biscuit available on each menu.

It’s important to note that we surveyed Bojangles, Chick-fil-A, Hardees and McDonalds in this search because those are the common fast food establishments in our town that serve a chicken biscuit we could buy. This search did not include local, one-of-a-kind restaurants, which are our normal preference for any kind of meal.

Without further ado, here are our findings. We hope you enjoy, and we encourage you to share your thoughts and experiences with chicken-cheese biscuits in the comments or via social media @FoodieScore on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

Chicken-Cheese Biscuit

5 Easy Tips for Stellar Homemade Shrimp & Grits

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I discovered the glorious flavors of Shrimp & Grits as a teenage foodie who often visited Charleston, S.C. Many places in the city (and throughout the South) serve the dish, and several make it very well, but every version is different. Some restaurants serve the shrimp aboard cheese grits. Others top the bowl with a seafood gravy. Chefs even add bacon, sausage and other flavors to their renditions.

 

As I began cooking more as a bachelor in my 20s, I started experimenting with Shrimp & Grits in my own kitchen. It’s a dish that really lends itself well to creativity, which is a must when I’m cooking. As I’ve shared before on this blog, a hard-and-fast recipe is not my friend, and that’s why I’m not a baker by nature.

There are so many ways to do Shrimp & Grits well, so you really must figure out what you like best. Here are five quick tips to help you concoct your own Shrimp & Grits. You just might decide your way is your favorite.

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1 – Pick the right shrimp and the right grits for you.

Some folks will want to get fresh-from-the-sea shrimp, where available, and some kind of locally ground grits. Me? I actually prefer quick-cook grits (you can dress them up, big time) and frozen shrimp (for the flexibility of making them whenever you like). The way I see it from experience, you can poorly execute fancy and expensive ingredients, or you can hit a home run with simple ingredients.

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2 – Season the shrimp first.

You should cook your shrimp in a separate sauce pan from your grits and any other toppings (you’ll add the shrimp simply to the top of each bowl of grits before serving), and seasoning is a must. The most tongue-popping flavor in the whole dish should come from your seasoned shrimp. I like to use a half a lemon, a ½ teaspoon of paprika and a ¼ teaspoon of salt for each two servings. Add them to the pan and stir around your shrimp for while-cooking marination, over medium heat. As a rule of thumb for me, I like to prepare about 10 shrimp for each serving of Shrimp & Grits, cooking them just until they get light pink all over.

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3 – Use milk or cream in the grits.

But start with water. I’ve found that for each serving, I like to start with a ½ cup of grits and 2 cups of water, and cook on medium heat. The grits cook more quickly and without scalding in water. Then add the creamy ingredient later. I like about ¼ cup of cream or milk for each serving. You will really taste the difference when you add this step. So much more flavor than water alone. The other value in adding the milk or cream later is that as the grits cook and thicken, the creamy ingredient will help thin them back out a bit before serving. You don’t want to serve watery grits, but you also don’t want them to get sticky. The cream, especially, helps keep that from happening.

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4 – Whisk, don’t stir, your grits.

Like the milk or cream, using a whisk has a major impact on the texture and creamy nature of your bowl of grits. If you stir with a spoon, the mixing process just isn’t the same.

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5 – Add flavoring ingredient(s).

We like cooked beef sausage, chopped into smaller pieces and sautéed in a separate sauce pan, and then a topping of a little grated cheese. Bacon is also a great topping (because who doesn’t love bacon?). These types of ingredients add a little extra flavor without overpowering the shrimp, and they add a little something nice to the presentation as well.

Foodie Travels: Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, Cleveland County, NC

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The more I travel this amazing country of ours, I can picture the evolution of the American restaurant, living out the timeline of growth through my own eating stops.

In the past year especially, I’ve noticed a specific trend from the past that’s getting harder to find — the country grocery and diner. From Texas to Mississippi to my home state of North Carolina, I’ve experienced the wonderfully familiar feeling of walking into a longtime business that houses both convenience items, groceries and a restaurant. Or, in some cases, these places used to offer all of those goods and services. Many of the former “grocery” spots that also serve made-to-order food have turned into one or the other — but not all have changed completely.

A visit to Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill is a blissful step back in Southern time.

The roadside corner shop is a convenience and home goods store in the front and a meat counter and grill in the back. You can pick up fresh meat, hand-canned goods, a made-to-order cheeseburger or meat-and-vegetable plate and a snack for on down the road, all in one place.

“Speak up, or you’ll be hungry.”

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Photo Credit: @hamricksgrillandstore on Facebook

When you step to the back grill counter, the wait and cook staff exudes familiarity. Even if they don’t know you, they’ll welcome your order and bring it out to you. If they do know you, expect to be greeted by name. And either way, don’t be shy, or you might hear the prodding statement above.

I’ve known people who’ve eaten for many years at Hamrick’s, which as the crow flies is just a couple of miles from where my Dad grew up here in western North Carolina. Most repeat diners I’ve known are fans of the burger off the Hamrick’s grill, and so am I.

It’s like unwrapping a homemade burger, right off the grill. You can get other toppings, but I like mine with what I call the basics: lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. The tomato is like a thick cut you’d slice yourself, and the hearty bun aptly houses the whole sandwich.

“Anything else I can get for you today, hon?”

When you step toward the front register to pay, the friendly experience comes full circle. There are plenty of options to take with you from the country store. On a recent visit, I spotted a handmade book shelf, cookbooks from a nearby church, jars of home-canned food, and plenty of convenience items like bottled drinks, snacks and more.

What Hamrick’s offers in hometown gusto, it lacks in frilly and impersonal modern commercial culture. And that makes it a good place to pick up a biscuit for breakfast, pause for lunch, gather the family for supper, stop to stock up for the road, or even make a few new friends.

It’s places like Hamrick’s that connect our fond memories of the past with the lives we lead in the present.

Hamrick’s Country Store & Grill, 3142 Cliffside Road, Shelby

Phone: (704) 313-7270

Foodie Travels: The Real Deal, Spartanburg, S.C.

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The name says it all, folks.

The Real Deal crafts Philadelphia-style (Philly) cheesesteaks. And the combination of lightly toasted bun, tender seasoned beef, melty cheese and other toppings…well, it melts in your mouth.

We learned about this foodie stop from an Upstate S.C. resident while talking over a meal at a bed-and-breakfast inn. That should’ve been our first clue to take his advice, right? If you’re talking about other food while enjoying food, it’s a foodie match and a suggestion worth pursuing.

Less than a week after the recommendation, we made the short trip down I-85 to Spartanburg for a Saturday afternoon treat. We almost drove right past the restaurant and its simple signage, so pay attention on your route.

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Inside, the cooks behind the counter greeted us and told us they could tell we were first-timers by the way we studied the menu. I should’ve known the cheesesteak would be good by the cooks’ observations.

Molly and I both ordered the Liberty Bell, a cheesesteak with onions and melted cheese. She added mushrooms, and I added green bell peppers.

We decided to enjoy our cheesesteaks in the restaurant. I might not have known that was an option until the cook asked “for here or to go?” At first glance, it looks like a take-out-only place, but a step around the corner reveals a few tables for dining in.

Waiting on the food was a sensory experience all around. The walls are covered (and I mean covered) in photos of patrons. The cling-clang of the cook’s sandwich assembly rings. And the smell of cheesesteak ingredients wafts.

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Now, I must confess, when these cheesesteaks came to our table, we were so excited that we started eating without sharing a blessing for our food. In two years of marriage, we’ve never completely forgotten to pray for our meal, but these cheesesteaks were so inviting that we didn’t say a word of grace. Just “mmm” and “mmhm.” We realized it moments later and paused for a prayer.

Molly’s enjoyed an authentic Philadelphia-made cheesesteak, and The Real Deal was the next best thing, in her assessment. She also enjoyed that she could order Kool-Aid as a drink at this foodie destination.

There aren’t many places to get a cheesesteak in the South, and even fewer places offer such a sandwich that’s worth its price. I’m not a big fan of dining out to eat a sandwich because I often feel I can make something just as good at home and pay less for it. Not so at the Real Deal.

We’ve made cheesesteaks at home, and they were good. But they weren’t The Real Deal. If you like a cheesesteak, this place must be on your list.

The Real Deal

1311 Asheville Highway, Spartanburg, S.C.

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Foodie Travels: Phillips Grocery, Holly Springs, Miss.

Fifteen years after America’s Civil War in the 1800s, Oliver Quiggins built a saloon across from a Mississippi Central Railroad depot and hotel in Holly Springs, Miss. Business boomed until prohibition, when the saloon transitioned into a grocery store and new owner Walter Curry started making hamburgers. W.L. Phillips and his wife acquired the old saloon building and store in the 1940s, and it has served up the popular local hamburger ever since.

img_1135You can picture the small town’s busy past when you drive up to Phillips Grocery in northern Mississippi, but life is much different in these parts now. Though there’s consideration of restoring the old hotel and depot across the street, the neighborhood is quiet, far different I’m sure than its days with a saloon.

The inside of Phillips Grocery has the feel of an old country store, with relics of the past on the walls, snacks and bottled drinks for sale and just a few tables set up in the back. When you step to the counter, you’re greeted by a hand-written menu above a small window into the kitchen.

img_1136Our visit to Phillips was a cheeseburger trail stop for me, so I knew what to order. I sampled a Phillips single, served with unique toppings of mustard, onion, pickle and muenster cheese. The juicy burger patty was no doubt freshly homemade, and the toppings were a delightful mix that offered such wonderful variety from the typical lettuce, tomato and mayo we experience most places in North Carolina.

My side of seasoned fries were crunchy and, well, tastily seasoned as well. And Molly was very pleased with her thick-cut bologna sandwich (one of her favorites) and side of tater tots.

img_1127After our meal, we ventured back out into the street, and as I snapped a few pictures, I imagined the saloon and grocery past. On the way to the car, we encountered a local Mississippi photographer. After exchanging pleasantries and learning he was in Holly Springs to talk to the owner of the depot property, he wished us well on our journey. “Welcome to Mississippi,” he said. Welcome, from both the past and the present at the wonderful Phillips Grocery, indeed.

 

Phillips Grocery

541 E. Van Dorn Ave., Holly Springs, Miss. (if following GPS, be patient, it may take you along a few turns and lead you to believe you are lost…this is a local place tucked off the main roads of town for an out-of-town traveler)

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Info Credit: History of Phillips Grocery inside the Holly Springs location