Coffee Break: Swell COffee Co.

Mission Beach, California

by Samantha Adler

I finally found the perfect morning beverage. And an acceptable excuse to down a hoppy, cold drink at 10 AM on the beach.

San Diego’s Mission Beach is especially well equipped for this morning routine; with food vendors, cafes, a boardwalk, and little shops to accommodate surfers, locals, and wanderers (like myself). Colorful houses sprout off this main road on little alleys, with leafy and succulent-rich yards squished against each other. Walking through one of these alleys leads you from the main road to the beach.

I parked in front of one of these cozy little blocks and set off on to get my caffeine fix at Swell Coffee Co. Swell fits right in at Mission Beach, with its beach-y, chill vibes. The cafe is located completely outside, with several stools and tables located in an outside patio. I was pleased to find the bathroom even rode the beach-themed wave, with posters of Point Break serving as wallpaper.

I approached the counter eyeing their coffee options and yummy breakfast menu. Swell was also a roaster, and served it’s own coffee. They also have an extensive breakfast menu, with healthy noms and Mexi-Cali egg dishes. After only eating burritos for a week and getting distracted by several pups behind me in line, I quickly decided to go with a classic breakfast sandwich and a normal, black cold brew.

I found a sunny spot at the corner of the patio. I slurped down half of my coffee when my sandwich came out. While the egg, spinach, cheese, and bacon sandwich was the tamest option, it was so delicious that I ate it too fast to take a photo (I’m sorry!). The bread was fresh and lightly toasted, the bacon was super crispy, and there was plenty of melted sharp cheddar.

It was only after I sat down and took a closer look at the menu that I saw it: a cold brew brewed in hops. A beer ice coffee? My two favorite beverages joined together in a glorious liquid?

After polishing off my plate and my original cup of coffee, I ordered the hopped cold brew to go. I held the cold plastic cup in my hand and took off down a leafy alley towards the beach. Halfway down, standing in front of a tiny fenced yard, with surfboards and yard decorations strewn about, I took my first sip.

The familiar acidity of iced coffee filled my mouth, but then came a big hoppy punch. The flavor was strong, but pleasant for anyone who enjoys a hoppy, bitty IPA. It gave the cold brew a kick, with a hop-bite at the tail-end of every sip.

I would highly recommend to my fellow IPA and coffee enthusiasts. And if you can, drink it on the beach.

Gas Station Gourmet: Fried Chicken Gizzards and Livers


Disclosure: you can deep fry pretty much any quasi-edible-thing and dare me to eat it and I’ll do it (or at least try to). That may seem like an overstatement, but last year when I was traveling through Cambodia, I astounded and disgusted a small gathering of strangers by consuming ¾ of a fried tarantula.

What was on the line? My pride.

(I didn’t manage to swallow the last ¼ of the spider. I’d already eaten the head and legs, which were similar to extra-crispy French fries, just a tad hairier. All that was left was the abdomen. I took a bite of that rounded area and, as I did, bravely glanced at my food for the first time. The insides were the color of egg whites. As I begin to chew, the thickness of the body, soft but firm, like Gumdrops, stuck to my teeth. I found the nearest wastebin, spat it all out, and chugged a beer.)

Alas, a failure. But this episode provided me the courage to take on many a deep-fried mammal meat with elegance and grace. Or so I’d like to think.


The deep frier is the great neutralizer of the weird-eats world. Not only is deep fried food usually a safe bet (what bacteria can survive those high temperatures?) but, to be Gas Station Gourmet candid; what doesn’t batter and oil immediately make tastier?

Nothing.

Some of my favorite mouthgasm-inducing-masterpieces include fish-n-chips, fried oreos, fried crocodile, fried chicken, and corn dogs. So when I wandered through a gas station in backcountry Illinois and noticed a particularly-greasy smelling selection of hot foods, I couldn’t resist. And when I found out that I could purchase a paper baggie of deep fried chicken gizzards and livers for only $2.50 (and it came with a free dipping sauce), I felt like I’d hit the jackpot. Not only did this dish meet my standards of gross and questionable, but a side sauce like jalapeño mustard can make any bad decision, at the very least, tolerable.

(And after my rendezvous with the tarantula, fried chicken gizzards and livers felt like mere child’s play.)

I paid for the goods, grinning maniacally, and hopped back into the passenger side of the car. Here, I unwrapped my prize.

I’d eaten plenty of liver, so I was prepared for the soft-but-thick texture that juxtaposed with the nuggety-crunch of the outside crisp. It was salty, with an earthy, musty flavor and smell. The insides were the predictable gray-purple hue. Nothing outlandishly gross, nothing special. But once dipped into the jalapeño mustard, the liver bite was delightfully creamy and spicy. The sauce, as expected, both enhanced the crisp and masked the chew.

I could already feel my snack lying heavy in my stomach after a single nugget and my fingers were slimy with grease. I wiped them down on a napkin, and shook the bag, attempting to distinguish livers from gizzards. They were all pretty nugget-like.

I can’t say with certainty that after my long, convoluted street food history, I hadn’t eaten a gizzard before that moment. But I was still surprised by the intense, never ending chewiness of my first bite, like ripping into a chunk of the fattie grizzle of a steak. It took all my perseverance to keep going at it. And some bits were harder than others, with a consistency and crunch similar to that of cartilage. I tore at the flesh, which was much drier than the liver. As I did, I re-evaluated my assumption that animal organs were mostly soft. And I realized I had no idea what a gizzard was.

(I’m kind of glad I found this definition after my encounter with fried chicken gizzards.)

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. I can’t stop. Every ten minutes or so I find myself digging back into the crinkly paper bag, my fingertips desperately reaching for those golden bits of texture-and-flavor-explosion. However, I don’t know how much longer I can do it. I’m almost out of jalapeño mustard, which is key to this experiment.

I’m also beginning to feel nauseous and sleepy. Like when I binge drink and go way past my limit and my body starts shutting down, forcing me to pass out and stop consuming alcohol before I hurt myself.

Can’t write more. Must sleep. When I wake up, I may regret this.

  • Cost: $2.50
  • Tastiness: ***
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): *****
  • Car-Safety: ***
  • Digestion: **
  • Overall Edibility: ***
  • Value: ****

Conclusion: It’s a great deal if you’re looking for a meal that’s a bang-for-your-buck and a taste of grease-heaven. But keep in mind that a power so mighty as that of the deep frier must be respected by us mere mortals. If you order a bag of these organ-nibbles, make sure to share them with an equally-curious-and-courageous friend. Otherwise you may fall victim to the tryptophan-nap, like myself.

Drank in America: Bacchanal Wine

New Orleans, Louisiana

by Samantha Adler

What city can mix you the best drink, play you the smoothest jazz, and steal your heart? New Orleans, baby.

The Big Easy is easily one my favorite cities in the world. It has an electric energy that is unlike any other.

It’s a city that finds a rare balance of holding onto its past with a vibrant pride, while also pushing brightly into the future. Its Spanish, Creole, Caribbean, French, African, and American roots have influenced its food, music, and lifestyle. Not to mention, its the freaking birthplace of Jazz. And NOLA continues to grow, as it is becoming the most recent hub for film, media, and music.

I had visited NOLA once before my most recent trip. I saw, ate, and listened to all the “musts”: drank on Bourbon, listened to jazz on Frenchman Street, strolled the Garden District, and ate in the French Quarter.

This time around was a little more relaxed, but I was anxious to get back to that captivating city. I strolled the same neighborhoods and returned to Frenchman Street my first night there to listen to some jazz and grab a beer.

The next day I was set on breaking away from the routine of my last visit. After a morning of walking the Warehouse district (NOLA’s art district), my travel buddy said he had found a bar for us to check out later that night called Bacchanal Wine. 

Our cab driver overhead us and gave us the thumbs up via the review mirror.

“I love Bacchanal! That place is awesome.”

Yesss, we are actually cool.

After dinner we grabbed a cab and headed over to Bacchanal. The bar is located in NOLA’s Ninth Ward neighborhood, which was a little ways from our digs in Treme, a neighborhood next to the famous French Quarter.

It turns out that Bacchanal Wine is actually much more than a bar. Sitting squarely on the corner of two streets, it looks unimposing with a worn exposed brick exterior and forest green shutters. The inside is equally quaint...until you realize that you have a magical plethora of drink options. While it offers custom cocktails, glasses of wine, and bottled beer, its main attraction is its vast selection of bottled wine and cheese. The idea is to purchase a bottle and some cheese and to sit and enjoy the live music outside.

Its large fenced-in yard is dotted with iron picnic tables and a sea of mismatched chairs. During peak night hours the yard twinkles with bulbs strung tautly overhead and spotlights pointed towards an outdoor stage.

When we first walked into the small shop in front, my travel buddy started looking intensely through the wine selection.  Like the city, Bacchanal excluded no one from a good time, but didn’t eliminate the option of adding a little glamour to the night. With a sizable wine and cheese selection you could spend $15 or $150.

Not knowing much about wine, I scooted outside to snatch a table. I didn’t make it far before I ran into Queen Koldmadina. She stood behind a large folding table, tapping to the live music in the background. Piled in front of her were bundles of t-shirts with the words “Let Me” silk screened across the front and a stack of DVDs.

Queen is a Ninth Ward local and a hip hop musician. She was also the star of the Academy-Award nominated documentary Trouble The Water, which chronicled her heroism during and after Hurricane Katrina. We started chatting, she told me the doc gave her a platform to make a difference and she was fundraising for the New Orleans Women’s Shelter (Queen continues to raise awareness about Katrina’s continuous effects on her community. Look up her album here.)

“What does ‘Let Me’ mean?”

“It means just let me be who I am, do what I want, what I dream.”

After buying a t-shirt, I snagged a table and guarded two chairs. My buddy came out, wine and ice bucket in one hand and two glasses in another.

The acts switched and we sat back, wine in hand, listening to Dixeland jazz until we polished off the bottle of white.

A little wine drunk, with fairy lights twinkling above, and jazz swinging through the summer air, Bacchanal was NOLA perfection: music, drink, and community.

 

Food for Thought: Some (All of Nashville) Like it Hot

Nashville, Tennessee

by Samantha Adler

Recently Colonel Sanders has been taking over American Television with his announcement of the new KFC recipe: Nashville Hot Chicken. Now I love fast food to an unhealthy degree. Love it. So it breaks my heart to say: sorry KFC, I’ve had the real thing and you don’t stand a chance.

Hot chicken is a Nashville food staple, and Prince’s Hot Chicken is where it all began.

Story has it that one night over 70 years ago, playboy Thornton Prince stayed out a little too late. His woman, having none of it, decided to play a trick on Thorton and his friends. She sneakily added a hefty helping of spice to their late night fried chicken, thinking it would burn a lesson into her man’s tongue. However, Thornton loved it and opened a restaurant with this hot, new recipe. His great-granddaughter, Andres Prince Jeffries, now runs the restaurant and is the keeper of Prince’s secret family recipe.

I stopped over at Prince’s my second day in Nashville. This famous foodie pitstop is tucked away in the corner of a strip mall. The restaurant’s name spelled out in fiery crimson and orange window paint is the only indicator that you’re in the right place. I stepped inside to a line that stretched to the door, originating from a small window connecting the dining room to the kitchen. A woman leaned over with a notepad scribbling orders down and handing them behind her.  The interior was a bare bones white, with one aqua-blue painted wall and several picnic tables against the left hand side. I tried to read the faces of the munching patrons at the tables as I shuffled in line: wince in scalding pain, euphoric satisfaction, wince in scalding pain.

Hot chicken came in three levels of spice, ranging from mild to extremely hot. The crisp, juicy chicken is served with pickles atop a slice of white bread to soak up extra hot juices and provide a small relief to the tasty fire poultry.

It was finally my turn to approach the window.

 Photo credit: www.wheretraveler.com

Photo credit: www.wheretraveler.com

“What will you have?”

My buddy went with a milder, but hot chicken. I, a notorious spice wimp, ordered plain.

“Ohhhh come on,” The woman exclaimed.

“I’m a baby! I know.”

*turns to my buddy*

“You have to toughen her up. Plain...”

*laughter echoes through the kitchen as my order is passed around.*

After snagging a coveted table, we waited for our number. The dining room was packed; people slumped against the walls holding their order tickets, eyes darting up when there was any movement around the seating area. The white walls were spotted with a few framed mentions in magazines and newspapers (one with Guy Fieri's grinning face and spiky, frosted tips). We ended up sharing our seats with a pair of locals, who were also here for their first taste. Sitting shoulder to shoulder, our new friends informed us they had moved from Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, finally landing in Nashville. And they were no stranger to hot food. They were two engineers who chased the flame. It came as no surprise that they ordered extremely hot.

Our number was called and I returned with a tray of steaming fried chicken, laid out like a casual picnic spread...a picnic that would kick you in the ass with heat. My plain jane fried chicken was amazing, crispy and flavorful. I snagged a bite of my buddy’s low-level hot. It was delicious with a hard kick. The chicken is super crispy, with the spice laid into its fried exterior. We sat back satisfied with our new friends, as they wiped away pepper-filled tears.

So try KFC’s new hot chicken. But I guarantee Andres didn’t share any secrets.

Drank in America: Firefly Hollow

Bristol, Connecticut

by Samantha Adler

What’s more patriotic than sipping a cold glass of American beer? And it’s becoming easier and easier to do. With breweries popping up in cities all over the US that delicious new lager is that much closer to the the keg at your local bar or on the shelf at your corner liquor store.

I have to say I’m pretty proud of my growing appetite for craft beer (while mildly ashamed at the quantity I consume), especially considering how far I’ve come from my collegiate chugging of Nattie Lights.

A few weeks ago I came across one of the best beers I’ve had in a while, maybe ever, brewed right in my little state of Connecticut! Of course, this title is totally based on my taste. But if you love hoppy, citrusy IPAs, get ready to fall in love at first sip.

I had gone to grab dinner at the local pub in town, Celtic Cavern in Middletown. It’s a small gastropub that has an ever-changing menu of yummy beers on tap, many from local breweries. A floor to ceiling beer list greets you as you step into the basement entrance. The large array of brews are etched in colorful variations of chalk. After squinting at the chalky scribbles for a few minutes too long, the owner approached and excitedly suggest I try an Imperial IPA called Cone Flakes. I agreed, partly because anything with a name somewhat resembling the delicious, golden Corn Flakes cereal had to be good, right?

Exactly right. I took my first sip of the golden Imperial IIPA and was blown away with flavor. This beer is not for the hoppy light of heart. It’s pack full of flavor, and it takes a minute to explore all the levels of it’s hoppy-goodness. It has the normal punch of a strong IPA with a strong flavor of hops, but the added citrus and malt gives it a unique and extremely satisfying complexity.

Firefly Hollow became first on my list of Connecticut breweries to check out. The next weekend I took a drive out to the Bristol brewery. The brewing company is located near train tracks in an industrial area of town, tucked behind what seems to be an abandoned warehouse. The tasting room has a similar feel, with a lot of open space, industrial piping and large garage doors leading to an outside seating area. Iron framed paned glass allowed the late afternoon sun to pour into the open room and reflect off old growlers, glass 32 and 62 ounce jars used to transport draught beer, now used as lampshades and wall decor.

The brewery boasts more than the magical Cone Flakes, it has several different stouts, IPAs and lagers to try. I swiped a sip of the Imperial Choconaut Porter, a dark beer with hints of chocolate and oats, and the Red Lantern, a traditional red ale with a caramel and cherry kick. However, I was a bit un-adventurous and ordered Cone Flakes again AND got a growler before leaving (I’m obsessed, ok?).

The brewery was surprising crowded, for something so tucked away. Friends sat in circles of leather couches, parents fed toddlers snacks as they took a much deserved cold sip (weirdly kids are regular, legal visitors of most breweries) and regulars gathered at the bar. The seating area was spacious and airy, but held the local comfort of a neighborhood watering hole.

Firefly Hollow was my first visit to a local, hometown brewery. I encourage you to try out yours. You might get lucky and find a match made in beer heaven.

Gas Station Gourmet: The Discount Burrito

Somewhere in South Dakota

by Cassia Reynolds

I like to think of myself as the apex predator of the cheap eats ecosystem. My collective experiences as a college student in Manhattan, a minimum-wage worker in Australia, and a backpacker have gifted me with a spidey-sense-esque ability to spot “marked-down” and “clearance” stickers at grocery stores. I have the patience and precision of a lion huntress going in for the kill when scanning the aisles. If there’s a good food deal out there, I will find it. And if it’s cheap and edible-looking enough (my parameters here are quite wide), I will buy it and I will eat it. 

I noticed (with the all-seeing gaze of a hawk that catches the movement of a mouse while flying over an open field) $1.00 scrawled in permanent marker behind the rural gas station’s hot food display window. Hello bacon burrito.

I reached into the warm, moist air of the case. My fingers curled around the wrinkled aluminum wrapper of the burrito. It felt just slightly above room temperature. I hesitated.

It’s not even ten o’clock in the morning. Why is this breakfast burrito 67% off? Unless it’s yesterday’s-

I shook the bad thoughts from my head. The discount outweighed the possible safety hazards. I bought it with my spare change, grinning and wondering if the disinterested-looking cashier was judging me as he rang it up.

I returned triumphantly to my two friends who were waiting in the car. When I slapped my prize on the dashboard, they both stared at it in horror.

“Are you really going to eat that?” One asked.

“Yeah, dude. It’s bacon. You can’t mess up bacon. And it was only $1!”

“But why was it only $1?”

I ignored that ridiculous question, unwrapping my breakfast prize and holding it before me. I couldn’t tell if the pale, flour tortilla wrap was cooked.

My first bite was mostly chewy tortilla. It wasn’t bad. Just very plain. My next mouthful revealed the intricate textures of the dish: half-melted strings of cheddar cheese; crispy, bite-sized microwaveable bacon bits (and yes I can tell if it’s microwavable or freshly fried); the mushed tomato liquid of Tostitos Mild Salsa; and a mostly flavorless, soft, crumbly substance that I couldn’t identify.

If anything, the burrito was true to its name; the thing was stuffed with bacon. Entirely enjoyable for a (sometimes excessive) carnivore like myself. The flavor was so bacon-y that it wasn’t until the third bite that I realized the soft crumbly chunks were overcooked scrambled eggs.

As we drove away from the gas station, I continued to munch. A well-packed burrito is a nearly perfect car food; it’s easy to hold and drive, every bite is an even distribution of flavor, and the wrapper usually makes an excellent impromptu napkin. And this bacon-laden pocket was no exception to that rule.

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. I’m in good shape; there are no unwanted aftereffects from my breakfast burrito! This has been a successful bargain meal adventure.

  • Cost: $1.00
  • Tastiness: **
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): ***
  • Car-Safety: *****
  • Digestion: *****
  • Overall Edibility: **
  • Value: ***** 

Conclusion: Totally worth your $1. But not more. The original price of $2.99 was damn extortion. There’s just not enough flavor to merit more than a bargain hunt - because as we all know, it just tastes better when it’s an awesome deal. 

Coffee Break: Barista Parlor

by Samantha Adler

Every road trip/adventure has its ebbs and flows. You’re cruising down the interstate singing on the top of your lungs, skipping along the sidewalks of a new town or giggling gleefully at shenanigans you and your road trip buddy have gotten into. Then the adrenaline wears off and the three hours of sleep you got the night before becomes painfully obvious. You find your eyes crossing on a long stretch of highway, yourself shuffling zombie-style through that new city, and you begin to chastise your road trip companion for their song choice, boring stories and the reason they were even born.

Then you find it: coffee. That magical liquid that grants you the energy of a labrador and the optimism of Spongebob. And you’re back to singing, skipping and giggling.

In addition to it’s magical, life-giving powers, coffee is often surrounded by the culture, music, flavors and people of the place you’re visiting. Coffeehouses can transform into Friends-like hang out spots, unofficial work offices, low-key concert venues for local artists and your own mad scientist-esque laboratory for testing out experimental concoctions.

Here are a few favorite coffee break spots we've come across in our travels.


Barista Parlor

Nashville, Tennessee

I arrived in Nashville after several nights of camping and long days of interstate driving. I passed the famed Broadway, with neon signs screaming the names of famous live music venues like Tootsie’s and Honky Tonk Central. Even behind my car’s tinted windshield the lights were blinding and the faint sound of country music seeped in. I continued down several smaller streets before arriving at my destination: an Airbnb. I had chosen to stay with two super friendly girls, who were recent Nashville transplants and had a cute little house on the city’s east side.

I wanted to go out and experience the city’s famous musical allure, but after sitting on the pull-out couch and sinking into it’s feathery bed, a nap was more tempting.  

*clap to the face*

My road trip buddy shook me.

“We’re only here for twenty-four hours. You need to wake up.”

*low guttural growls*

“Let’s get coffee. I read about a great place called Barista Parlor. We can walk there.”

After a fifteen minute zombie-shuffle through Nashville’s green, hip east side we turned the corner to Barista Parlor. The coffeehouse was built inside a renovated auto-repair shop, which gives it its industrial look and feel. The large blue, concrete building sat in the back corner of a large asphalt lot, with outdoor seating and massive carnival style block lettering.

Barista Parlor is no stranger to coffee-fame. The cafe has been written up on several best coffeeshops in the US lists, due to its ingenuity, stylish interior design, fresh baked goods and array of coffee techniques and quality.

Once your step inside, it’s not hard to see why. The coffeehouse is modern, industrial and warm. The space is wide and open, a sign of it’s former car-fixin’ days, with vintage-bulbs dangling from the ceiling, expansive warm wooden tables, metal piping, modern art pieces on the walls and two coffee bars with busy, bustling baristas who were busy as bees. The baristas wore mechanic-style aprons to protect from splattering coffee.

Stepping up to the metal bar, my tired mind was entranced by the baristas’ efficiency.  I ordered an espresso and a homemade strawberry poptart that caught my eye last minute. It looked too good to walk away from, golden with a drizzle of frosting and rainbow sprinkles. Who can say no to something with sprinkles? We sat down at the wooden bar adjacent to the barista station. Priding themselves on the variety of their menu and attention to detail in brewing, the barista station mirrored a mad scientist’s lab.

The poptart was flakey, buttery and fresh with a hint of lemon. I devoured it before my name was called for my espresso, which was a beautiful, dark, earthy, tasty sip of energy. Along with my little cup, I was served a small chewy caramel which was infused with sea salt. It was the perfect post-espresso treat.

We returned the next morning, after a day of romping about Nashville, eating hot chicken and a night of seeing a few live shows on Broadway. This time I ordered the cold brew and a breakfast biscuit, while my buddy ordered a house made "BP Soda Pop" made from carbonated cascara, vanilla and orange. 

Unlike the previous morning, we didn’t beat the rush. The line circled outside the garage doors, with young families, hand holding couples and the tired pre-work individual.

Sitting at the same wooden bench, we got our cold drinks. My cold brew was chocolaty and earthy, served in a printed glass. My buddy’s orange soda was tangy and fresh, both perfect for the hot Tennessee day ahead of us.

Then the biscuit came. It was served on a wooden slab with a bandana for a napkin. The buttery biscuit sandwich was hot, fresh and smelled like breakfast heaven with ham, a sunnyside up egg and cheese. The food definitely mirrored the attention to quality and detail of the coffee.

As the crowd died down, and we sat on out wooden bench sipping cold drinks slowly. Several people stared intently at their laptops, friends greeted others in lines and the few kids munched on fresh cookies.

Barista Parlor mirrors the young, trendy feel of the east side. And like its city, it pays a heavy attention to music. The shop has a stage outside for occasional live performances. The coffeeshop also recently opened another location in an old recording studio downtown in partnership with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach.

If you’re in Nashville and feeling a little sleepy or want a tasty treat/ well-brewed coffee make sure to hit up Barista Parlor.

  • Atmosphere: *****
    • Amenities included:
    • Good, chill working music
    • Quiet and polite patrons
    • Plentiful seating
  • Coffee: ****
    • Caffeine Power: Happily Hyper
    • Flavor: Dark, Earthy
  • Creativity: *****
  • Food: ****
  • Workspace: ***
    • Amenities included:
    • Wifi
    • Outlets

Gas Station Gourmet: Cajun Style Hot Boiled Peanuts

Somewhere in Wisconsin

by Cassia Reynolds

You’ve spent the last eight hours locked in a car. Everything has begun to bleed together into that endless interstate continuum. When the fuel indicator flashes an insistent red, a wave of relief passes through you. You pull under the neon awning of the next gas station and as you open the car door, you flop out onto the cement.

Your body is heavy with that special lazy kind of soreness. Your mind is completely fizzled, half-stoned with that long distance driving daze. And as you fuel up, a tender pinging flutters through your stomach, soft but tugging. Feed me, it whines.

When you enter the gas station you’re assaulted by an artillery of smells: preservatives, grease, freeze-dried eggs, and tile cleaner. But in your weakened state you can’t tell if your nose is tingling because it’s warning you of possible poison or if it’s lusting for the source of those sterile-but-greasy fumes.

Are you hallucinating or do those grayish sausages on that open grill smell really good?

And suddenly you’re standing in front of that bacteria-infested grill, a set of plastic tongs in one hand and a paper sausage holder in another. Your mind snaps awake and you drop the tongs, stepping back in horror.

The sausages taunt you, bulbous and speckled unnatural colors. Several are oozing a pus-like yellow liquid onto the grill. Fuck no. Then you take in another deep whiff of hot, meaty goodness. Your stomach is growling. But the fear is too much. Your mind is lost, your decision is unmade, and you leave with just a packet of chips in hand, your true hunger unquenched.

If this sounds familiar, don’t be ashamed; we’ve all had our moment in the gas station, weighing the pros and cons of a questionable food product. And it’s time for someone to take a stand against the uncertainty!

This food pioneer has embarked on a noble quest for the betterment of mankind: to venture into the unknown hazards and test the smelliest, the most mysterious, and the least appealing of all the pre-packaged and quasi-edible. Just for you. And for science, of course.


Cajun Style Hot Boiled Peanuts

At first glance, the mini-cauldron filled with steaming peanut soup confused me. I’m Southern and I’ve eaten boiled peanuts plenty, but they’ve never been soaked in some strange, glowing orange broth. Seriously, this stuff radiated the kind of alluring glow that gold coins did in that old cartoon, Ducktales.

As if to counter the inedible-like ambiance, it also emitted a pleasant, spicy-salty scent that reminded me of gumbo. I attributed it to the cajun seasoning.

I picked out the smallest foam cup and dipped the soup ladle deep into the pot, stirring up the layers of orange-speckled, peanut lumps. Before I dumped a spoonful into my cup, I drained a bit of the hot liquid out. That just seemed damned unsafe for a car snack; I envisioned burnt thighs, stained seats, and a forever lingering smell of cajun seasoning.

Back in my car, I placed the cup in the drink holder beside me. I knew I couldn’t eat this snack and drive; it was way too messy. The first peanut I picked out of the bunch burned hot between my fingertips and I had to drop it and wait a moment before digging in. When I did, I wasn’t sure how to eat these things; I know you don’t normally consume the shell of a boiled peanut, but this one was particularly soft. I decided against it, peeling it open. I dug one meaty half out of a shell and popped it in my mouth.

It was hot, with a smooth, thick texture just a degree away from mushy. It fell apart without resistance between my teeth. As it did, the juices burst across my tongue. The flavor was intense and on the saltier side, but held heavy overtones of pepper and creamy nuttiness that came in waves as I chewed and swallowed. This was no snack to take lightly; it had an explosive, fiery zest.

I only made it through a few peanuts before I had to stop and take a break, fearing a sodium-overdose. The aftertaste held strong and didn’t fade until several sips of coffee later.

The peanuts came with a major downside: every bite meant wiping my fingers on napkins. I couldn’t possibly drive and eat these things at the same time. The smell also lingered forever, even after I closed the lid on the cup and wrapped it up in a trash bag.

Fast Forward Two Hours Later. My stomach is feeling fine, no problematic after effects, except for a slight salty taste in my mouth. 

  • Cost: (for a small) $2.86
  • Tastiness: ***
  • Weirdness (Sights, Smells, & Texture): ***
  • Car-Safety: *
  • Digestion: *****
  • Overall Edibility: ***
  • Value: **

Conclusion: This is an offensive, awesome visual and olfactory experience. It’s also quite tasty, with a distinct cajun spiciness. However, if you’re the one in the driver seat, it’s just not a viable snack. You will get cajun peanut drip all over you and it will smell up the whole car. It’s also not very filling for the price.

Food for Thought: Christa's Country Corner

Newland, North Carolina

by Samantha Adler

I had taken the Blue Ridge Parkway from Virginia to Tennessee to meet Cassia in the Smokies. The scenic route is one of my favorites with misty mountain views, lush wooded landscapes and loads of wild flowers. However, the nature of the windy mountain road added about two hours to my trip (sorry Cassia!) and didn’t offer much in terms of lunch options.

The Parkway boasts a few country restaurants and eateries amongst its vast forests. These are few and far inbetween and are mainly tourist sites like Little Switzerland, a pitstop filled with restaurants and shops imitating a Swiss mountain town. But, just off the parkway on Highway 181 in North Carolina, lies Christa’s Country Corner. The perfect stop for a quick, delicious lunch.

Christa’s resembles a small log cabin on the side of the highway; humble and warm. This pitstop serves as both a country store and deli. Before turning off the parkway, I had read raving reviews about their yeast buns and daily BBQ specials. Unfortunately, it was a bit too late in the day for the yeast buns. So I got a pimento cheese sandwich on a freshly baked potato bun.

It ruined pimento cheese sandwiches for me. For the rest of my road trip through the south, no other sandwich came close to the mouthwatering one at Christa’s. It’s a combo made in sandwich heaven. The cheese is perfectly salty, creamy and full of flavor, while the bun is light, toasty and a little sweet. I’m drooling while I write about it.

The store also has a variety of local sodas, jams, candies and other food goods to accompany a tasty sandwich. The staff was extremely warm and helpful, eagerly offering  sandwich suggestions and asking about my trip. They gave me my first dose of southern hospitality.

Christa’s Country Corner is the perfect stop for a cheap, delectable, best-sandwich-of-your-life lunch break!