Foodie Travels: The Dillard House, Dillard, Ga.

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“If you tell me I can only have salt once from now until the end of time, I would drive up to Dillard, Georgia, and go to The Dillard House, and I would have the country ham.”

That endorsement by popular television food show personality Alton Brown was what initially alerted us, like so many other foodies, to the culinary wonder that is The Dillard House, a now 100-year-old restaurant in the north Georgia mountains, just across the North Carolina state line.

When we investigated the place further, we learned The Dillard House offers overnight accommodations, as well as horseback riding and other activities. Seeking the perfect anniversary getaway, we decided to take advantage of both the opportunity to stay a few nights and to enjoy a farm ride from the stables. But just like our initial discovery, our visit to The Dillard House started with the food. (Big surprise, right?)

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The restaurant serves breakfast, lunch and dinner every day of the year. A switchover from lunch to dinner happens about 5 p.m., and we arrived shortly before, still able to take advantage of the slightly less expensive lunch prices and the menu posted on the wall at the entrance.

After drinks were delivered, a cold tray of slaw, marmalade and apple butter arrived at our table. Then came the feast. We found our table suddenly and beautifully covered by fried chicken, pork chops, turkey pot pie, cream corn, lima beans, cabbage casserole, fried potatoes, squash casserole, fried zucchini, yeast rolls and corn mini muffins. Room barely remained for our plates and our elbows.

At this point, if you didn’t get lost in the list of delicious dishes, you may be wondering: Where’s the country ham? Well, it’s available by request, and servers will gladly deliver a plate to your table. It turns out, the ham is delightfully salty, just as Alton Brown advertised, and also has a slightly sweet quality to it.

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As for the rest of the plates and bowls on the table? Everything was scrumptious. The fork-tender fried chicken had a soft and crispy breading to it, which surrounded a meaty and juicy interior. The bone-in pork chops were massive and tender. Every vegetable was fresh, well-seasoned, and the buttery lima beans may have been Molly’s favorite item of everything on the menu. We enjoyed it all from our little two-person table in the corner, which was a nice surprise.

Most seating at The Dillard House is family-style, which means you may dine with strangers around a big table where everything on the menu is delivered. Since we were on an anniversary getaway, it was nice to have our own space. We even enjoyed an apple betty—slightly crisp and tart apples paired with a crunchy topping—a la mode.

There was only one problem at the end of our meal. We couldn’t finish even half of our food.

Luckily, like the table, The Dillard House has that covered, too. You can request a few takeout boxes and carry the remaining part of your meal home with you. The leftovers provided a great dinner the next night, easy to reheat in our microwave in the chateau in which we stayed in Dillard. Being able to take food with us was nice because it makes The Dillard House an even better value for your money, and we never like seeing food go to waste!

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So, if you’re looking for a good, filling meal to enjoy with your spouse, a few friends or your whole family, do as Alton Brown does. Drive to Dillard, Georgia, and enjoy a meal at The Dillard House. Don’t forget to ask for the country ham!

The Dillard House, 768 Franklin St., Dillard, Georgia

Rich and Simple Pumpkin Pie

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Along with turkey and stuffing, any official Thanksgiving meal I eat must include a Pumpkin Pie. But I enjoy Pumpkin Pie so much I’d joyously eat it any time of the year, especially throughout the fall.

This is a simplified take on a pie recipe Molly found in a Food Network magazine. The original recipe also incorporates bourbon into the filling, as well as bourbon and vanilla into the crust. Neither of those steps are necessary, and without them the following ingredients are even more affordable and the directions are even easier.

We’ve made this Pumpkin Pie a couple times, and we’ve been very happy with the results each time. It produces a delicious pumpkin-spiced filling that’s both rich and creamy. If you need an easy pumpkin pie in a pinch, here’s our recommendation.

Ingredients

1 15-ounce can of canned pumpkin

1 ½ cups heavy cream

½ t ground cinnamon (You can also use 1 cinnamon stick.)

3 large eggs

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup packed light brown sugar

1 ½ t pumpkin pie spice

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Directions

1. Mix the heavy cream and cinnamon in a small saucepan over medium-low heat on a stove burner. Bring to a simmer and then set aside to cool.

2. Transfer the cream-cinnamon mixture to a large bowl. Whisk in the pumpkin, eggs, granulated sugar, brown sugar and pumpkin pie spice.

3. Warm your oven to 375 degrees.

4. Pour your pumpkin pie mixture into your favorite pie crust. Place the pie on top of a cookie sheet or pan for any possible spillover and slide it in the oven.

5. Bake your pie for 1 hour or 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is done and the filling is set. (We like to use a pie crust shield to keep the crust from browning too much.)

Bonus Pro Tip: Mix a half cup of heavy whipping cream with your desired amount of pumpkin pie spice in an electric stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) and top your pie with a dollop of special pumpkin spice whipped cream!

Homemade Yeast Doughnuts

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Earlier this year, we tested a doughnut recipe in the #FoodieScore kitchen that allowed us to make the sweet treats without using yeast. The result was a flavorful doughnut we enjoyed and shared with you. But the doughnuts from that batch became much heavier as they sat for a day or two, and I found myself wanting a lighter, airier doughnut that could last a bit longer. After all, we shared some of the doughnuts with family, but we still had plenty to eat ourselves and could only eat so many at a time, within reason.

So, I searched for a yeast doughnuts recipe, hoping the inclusion of yeast would produce a lighter result and thinking such an ingredient might take a little more work to prepare. Both of those expectations were accurate with the recipe I selected. Molly did most of the preparation on these doughnuts, which required the incorporation, settling and rising of yeast, and the frying. The process did take more time and effort, but the recipe did produce a slightly airier doughnut.

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However, after a few days, the doughnuts still became a bit heavier and drier than when first made. So, I have a hypothesis about this and all doughnut recipes: They’re meant to make and enjoy right away. From our doughnut tests, we’ve learned there’s a reason why doughnut shops make their treats and sell them fresh on the day of production. A doughnut just isn’t as good after a few days. That also tells me something about those packages of Krispy Kreme and other doughnuts you see on the shelves in grocery and convenience stores. What kind of preservatives must they contain to help them maintain flavor and texture longer?

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This recipe linked here was provided by Ree Drummond, known as the Pioneer Woman, for the Food Network. It’s a solid set of ingredients and instructions, and we thoroughly enjoyed the resulting doughnuts. We also enjoyed getting creative with our decorations and toppings, leaving holes in some doughnuts and filling them with creams, icing others and adding drizzles, sprinkles, bacon and more. But most of all, we suggest that you use any doughnut recipe with plans to eat your tasty creations within just a couple of days. You’ll enjoy them more that way.

Foodie Travels: Chico’s Tacos, El Paso, Texas

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The United States-Mexico border is just a couple of miles down the road. You see hills jammed full of colorful houses in Mexico’s neighboring Ciudad Juarez on your drive to dinner. After arriving in the small, packed parking lot off Alameda Avenue in El Paso, Texas, you walk into an equally packed, nondescript building and walk to the counter, where orders are being taken—in Spanish. This is Chico’s Tacos.

The far-western Texas town of El Paso is America’s 20th largest city with more than a half million people. Ask any of the locals (and anyone who’s made their home in El Paso in the past) where you should eat; Chico’s Tacos, open since 1953, is always the answer.

We first heard about Chico’s Tacos from celebrity chef Aaron Sanchez on one of our favorite food shows, “Best Thing I Ever Ate.” Sanchez hooked us from the beginning of the episode by saying, “It’s always a good time to eat a taco. There’s never a bad time to eat a taco.” Amen, Aaron! Molly and I have a mantra about such food: #MexicanEveryDay. Sanchez goes on to share the delightfully simple pleasure of eating Chico’s Tacos, and those words—delightfully simple—are exactly how my wife, Molly, described the experience after our first-ever visit.

As Sanchez explains, the Chico’s Tacos are not the prettiest, most photogenic tacos you’ve ever seen. In fact, by today’s standards, they don’t look much like tacos at all. To the processed-food society we live in, they look more like what we’d call taquitos. But they are light, crispy and covered in a very thin tomato-chile sauce that fills a little cardboard food boat. Then all of that is covered in basic, finely shredded American cheese. It is indeed simple, yet so satisfying and authentically El Paso. And two people can dine (we had a double order of tacos, a bean burrito and two drinks) for about $10. For the non-taco-inclined, it appeared many of the locals were also fond of the Chico’s cheeseburger.

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I took Spanish classes for five years in high school and college, so I’m proud to say I knew what was said at the order counter and when our number was called. I was even able to answer a question from an employee about whether we wanted packets of “dulce,” or sweetener.

It was obvious we were one of few visitors in Chico’s at the time, as most folks appeared to be dining as part of a regular routine. In a time when so much emphasis is put on the struggles between different people in our country, it was nice to experience being visitors in this great place. El Paso is a city with many bilingual English and Spanish speakers, and some patrons even live or do business across the border in Mexico. Walking into Chico’s was a chance for us to experience life in the everyday world of another culture, still within the borders of our own country, though close to another.

Chico’s Tacos is essential El Paso dining. You’ll find fancier, pricier, more Instagram-ready food. You won’t, however, get a more realistic, local food experience.

Chico’s Tacos, 4230 Alameda Ave., El Paso, Texas (Other locations in town as well)

Foodie Travels: Pinky’s Westside Grill, Charlotte, N.C.

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Restaurants in converted spaces offer an added bonus alongside a meal. You can daydream about the building’s former life and inhabitants, and sometimes even enjoy the atmosphere created by hints of the past.

That kind of experience is one of the many cool things about Pinky’s Westside Grill on, you guessed it, the west side of Uptown Charlotte, N.C. The eatery is set in the location of a former Volkswagen garage, evidenced by the bay doors on the front wall and the old VWs sitting on the roof and in the parking lot.

In addition to the fun of eating in an old garage, Pinky’s offers a lively vibe with both a bright dining section and an active, and spirited, bar area. But that’s not what’ll have you coming back after your first visit. It’s the food that will hook you on Pinky’s. Creative, delicious and quickly-tabled food.

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That’s right: corn dog shrimp! It’s tough to name just one must-try item on the Pinky’s menu, but this might be it.

First up: corn dog shrimp. They’re just what they sound like. Large shrimp covered in delicious, sweet corn dog batter. Someone at your table should try them because they’re one of the most satisfying and unique culinary finds around. Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives ordered them on the show’s visit to Pinky’s.

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With all of the great menu choices, don’t miss out on the delicious burgers!

You also have a lengthy list of menu items from which to choose some of the American favorites you love—burgers, tacos, wings, hot dogs and salads. You won’t be able to sample everything you want on just one visit, even if everyone at your table tries and shares something different. (A tip though: someone should get the sweet potato fries with honey mustard. The combination is amazing!) Guess that means you’ll have to enjoy a few visits to get the full experience. That’s our plan.

Pinky’s Westside Grill is a gem of a find, especially considering each member of your party can eat for about $10. This one will be one of our top #FoodieScore restaurant recommendations in the Charlotte area. Check it out next time you visit the city!

Pinky’s Westside Grill

1600 West Morehead Street, Charlotte, N.C.

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