Foodie Travels: Causeway Café, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

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Tucked into the coastal North Carolina community of Wrightsville Beach, there’s a little diner called the Causeway Café, known for more than 30 years for its delicious breakfast and lunch plates.

The café opened in 1987, not long before my family started visiting Wrightsville and nearby Wilmington each year for our summer vacations.

I can remember going into the Causeway with Mom and Dad and enjoying pancakes and waffles topped with fruits formed in the shapes of smiley faces. And the restaurant still serves up great and creative dishes for all ages.

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Each beach community seems to have its local breakfast/brunch destination. Most such places are home to both locals and tourists, and that’s what you’ll find at the Causeway Café. It’s a relaxed atmosphere where, in the summer, you might see folks riding their bicycles or their convertibles up to the restaurant, and you’re guaranteed to see diners in sandals, swim shorts and comfy T-shirts inside.

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On the menu, you’ll find a wide variety of pancakes, waffles, omelets and eggs, as well as sandwiches, salads, wraps and seafood selections. It’s the kind of place that pleasantly blurs breakfast and lunch to suit your mood for the day. That’s probably one of the many reasons the Causeway’s still going strong after all these years. That and the homey atmosphere.

So when you’re cruising around Wilmington or over to the coast for a day at the beach, remember the Causeway Café for a good breakfast, brunch or lunch to fuel your adventure or relaxation.

Causeway Cafe, 114 Causeway Drive, Wrightsville Beach, N.C.

 

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: Ronda’s Kitchen, Grover, N.C.

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NOTE: In 2017, Ronda’s Kitchen underwent changes and became the Highway 29 Grill. The cheeseburger and mozzarella stick photos directly below are from food at the Highway 29 Grill, which we enjoyed very much!
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Original Post on Ronda’s Kitchen
There must be something about the word “kitchen” that helps a restaurant serve a delicious cheeseburger…and other delicious food.
My favorite cheeseburger ever is served at Kim’s Kitchen restaurant in Stanley, N.C. It has the perfect combination of fresh beef, soft and hearty bun, melty cheese and fresh toppings.
One of my other favorite cheeseburgers served in western North Carolina is the burger I order at Ronda’s Kitchen in Kings Mountain. It has the same delightful combination of delicious fresh beef, soft and hearty bun, melty cheese and fresh toppings.
But Ronda’s success doesn’t rest solely on its cheeseburgers. This place has it all, and they do all of it well.
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You can get your burgers, hot dogs or other sandwiches. There’s seafood (our family recommends the fried oysters). Or you can eat a meat-and-three-style plate with a variety of side options. And then there’s dessert: Try the delicious homemade banana pudding with the bananas cut fresh on top, or sample one of those huge cookies you see at the checkout counter.
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Ronda’s is reasonably priced for the generous portions you get. And in case you’re wondering with the types of diner or kitchen-style food I listed above, you aren’t walking into a grease pit when you dine at this place. I’ll be completely surprised if you tell me later that the food was “too greasy,” no matter what you order.
This is a great local place to take your family, and it’s easily accessible, right off I-85. Let me know what you think, especially if you try the cheeseburger.
Ronda’s Kitchen
1842 S. Battleground Ave., Kings Mountain, N.C.
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Foodie Travels: Carolina Cafe, Gaffney, S.C.

“Get there early.” That’s the advice we received from several sources about the Carolina Cafe, off Highway 11 in the Upstate of South Carolina. And when we rounded the corner and saw the parking lot of the place at 7:15 p.m. on a Friday night, we understood.

We were told to expect a 40-minute wait for a table for the two of us, but it only took 15 minutes before we were seated in a cozy, but very chilly, corner of the restaurant. That pleasant service surprise was the first of many fond moments during our dinner experience.

img_8314Warm yeast rolls and fresh honey butter arrived at the table along with our drinks, another check mark for a great dining outing. It’s always a plus when you get delicious bread with a meal; it’s a type of free appetizer, if you will.

The menu offers a little bit of everything you’d expect to find at a nice casual American family restaurant in the South. There are burgers, sandwiches, salads, steaks, seafood, ribs and more.

Molly ordered the shrimp and grits, one of her favorites. The grits were creamy, and the shrimp were plump, flavorfully sautéed and generously portioned. It was also a great deal at $10.99. You’ll often pay closer to $13 or $15 or more for this dish. And I often have a hard time justifying that cost, unless I’m eating premium shrimp and grits in a coastal area.

img_8316I decided to try the beef tips – a less-fussy compromise for a steak. As much as I love a great cut of beef, I often find my steaks come with too much fat, or not enough bites, not cooked as well as I like, or too much price for what I’m eating. I’m not saying any of those apply at Carolina Cafe, but restaurants in general have led me to the beef tip. And the version at this particular establishment was very satisfying: a great portion for $10.99, served alongside a flavorful baked potato.

We both got salads as part of our meals, and they were just as satisfying as the rest of the entree. Nice portion, fresh ingredients and just the right amount of dressing on the side. Outback Steakhouse serves one of my favorite side salads, and the Carolina Cafe’s salad matches it.

img_8323Our visit was a special date night on the spur of the moment, so we decided to order a dessert. Our choice: the $4.99 Caramel Apple Cheesecake. The piece we shared was a rich and creamy cheesecake, filled with small pieces of flavorful apple, topped with a caramel sauce layer and covered with pecans. Along with the Graham cracker-style crust, it was one of the tastiest cheesecakes we’ve sampled in recent memory. And we love a delicious slice of cheesecake.

Carolina Cafe impressed us at every turn, from that very first glimpse around the highway corner. The restaurant was full of families and couples all night, and a crowd was still waiting outside when we left. The recommendations we received to try this place were spot on. Similar to a well-known pancake house’s slogan, when you come to Carolina Cafe hungry, you leave happy.

The Carolina Cafe gets a $-$$ on our price scale of $ (cheapest), $$ (middle of the road), $$$ (expensive). You can go $ with burgers, or you can go $$ with steaks and shrimp. As always, it’s your choice!

Carolina Cafe

211 Old Metal Road, Gaffney, S.C.

CarolinaCafeGaffney.com

Foodie Travels: Superior Seafood, New Orleans, La.

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Superior Seafood’s profiteroles

In the culinary haven of New Orleans, which delights foodies with specialties ranging from gumbo to beignets, Molly and I were fortunate to stumble upon a restaurant that serves up a number of those classics, all in one place.

Superior Seafood, located in the city’s historic uptown, has that traditional New Orleans atmosphere feel to it and just enough parking to allow us to snag a spot on a weekday afternoon. We discovered this restaurant by searching online for a good option for lunch while driving through Louisiana on a road trip from Texas to North Carolina.

Our meal started with a fresh loaf of French bread and fresh butter. You get the whole loaf and have the pleasure of slicing off pieces yourself.

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Superior’s gumbo

Among the choices of a large variety of entrees, we opted for a few Southern classics. Molly savored a bowl of fresh shrimp over creamy grits. I enjoyed a po boy with fresh crispy, fried shrimp and a cup of seasoned gumbo. 

Satisfied but intrigued by desserts we’d seen on an adjoining table, perhaps our best part of the meal was dessert. For Molly, it was a flavorful, spiced bread pudding. For me, it was a pair of profiteroles, delicious small pastry-puff sandwich with fresh cream and ice cream. Each dessert was more than enough for one person, and each was $2. How many nice sit-down restaurants offer a specially made dessert for $2?

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The shrimp po boy

Along with the jazz music you’d expect as the ambiance accompaniment to delicious food in New Orleans, Superior Seafood’s dining rooms almost felt like the scene of a step back in time to a slice of America in the 1940s and 1950s. The Southern charm of the restaurant and its staff certainly added to our experience.

Superior Seafood

4338 St. Charles Ave., New Orleans, La.

SuperiorSeafoodNOLA.com

$$ (on a scale of $ most affordable, $$ middle of the road, $$$ expensive)