We had a couple of adventures last night. First, we bit the bullet and got our hair cut. This was something of a signal event, because our friends Frank and Rick in Arlington had been coming to our house every six weeks to cut our hair and hang out for more than 20 years. We hadn't set foot in a hair emporium of any kind--hadn't even thought about it--in all that time. So many questions came to mind. Do guys down here go anyplace but barber shops? If I went to a barber shop would they snicker if I gave them a few directions about what I wanted done? (Thin the sides so I don't look like a Kremlin dome, among other things...) Finally I discovered Edenton Hair Solutions "for Gals and Guys" right downtown and made appointments. A matronly lady named Anita, who, she told us, has been cutting hair since 1964, welcomed us to her one-chair operation.
There was a slightly shaky start when she asked us what we did for a living. When I told her I was retired from the Peace Corps, she said, "So. The military." It's been so long since I explained what the Peace Corps is to another American (have I ever?) I wasn't quite sure where to start. I told her it was a government program that sends people to live and work in poor overseas countries to help them. No glimmer of recognition from Anita--not even a perfunctory "that's nice." I had no idea what reaction the word "Kennedy" might elicit and wasn't particularly anxious to find out, so we left the Peace Corps and moved on.
Anita was clearly grateful for our business and chatted about how things in Edenton are changing. She bemoaned the fact that most of her customers are newcomers anymore, replacing the old timers who have either moved away or passed on. More and more businesses are catering to tourists instead of locals, and that can be hard...and I agree it's ridiculous that people in this relatively prosperous little pocket have to travel more than 30 miles to get to the Elizabeth City Super Wal-Mart to get cheap groceries, or to Lowe's...and the nearest Home Depot, if that's your preference, is all the way up in Virginia. We asked her about the county fair, coming up at the end of October. She told us she's with the American Legion and is there every day cooking. We used to love the Arlington County Fair and visit it to sample the various ethnic foods available. Now, down here we aren't expecting satay with peanut sauce, not even kielbasa with peppers. But chili dogs? Not a word about barbecue in this literal hog heaven. But, strained conversation aside, Anita did a good job on our hair for less than half what we used to pay Frank and Rick, so we'll stick with her until we move up to Hertford. Then we'll probably find someplace else for our haircuts in (relatively) urbane Elizabeth City. (We hope once we're in our house we can entice Frank and Rick down for an occasional weekend visit. Maybe every six weeks???)
Speaking of barbecue, our other adventure was a barbecue dinner at Captain Bob's, a big roadhouse on US 17 we pass every day on our commute to the property. There's always a lunch and dinner crowd there, so we figured it must be the place where the locals know they'll find the best BBQ around.
The official name of the joint is "Captain Bob's Barbecue and Seafood" (emphasis mine), and its sign has a picture of an old salt with a parrot on his shoulder, so we should have been clued in to the preponderance of seafood on the menu. Yes, they do have barbecue: minced or sliced pork, which is done with vinegar-pepper sauce, the way I like it, and sliced beef barbecue, which is also not too bad, at least not cloyingly sweet. I ordered a plate of the minced pork with coleslaw, potato salad, and corn bread. How's that for a great sounding Southern spread? My mouth was watering.
Well. Ever had potato salad so soupy you needed a spoon to eat it? I drank it out of the bowl. (Yes, there were a few lumps of potato, but clearly the stuff had been sitting around so long the vegetables had given off all their juices and watered down the mayonnaise to the consistency of soup.) Same with the cole slaw, whose main ingredient besides cabbage was sugar. (I poured it over the pork to moisten the meat a bit and it wasn't too bad.) The meal was served with a golden-brown hockey-puck thing sitting on top of it. That turned out to be Captain Bob's version of Elvis Presley's death-wish corn bread. What they do is take a slice of perfectly presentable corn bread, and then they dip it in batter and deep fry it. Is this some regional specialty the rest of the country has never heard of? If so, I understand completely the South's desire to keep it a secret.
We figure we'll give the place one more chance for the seafood. At least we know what to stay away from next time: the potato salad, the coleslaw, and the "corn bread." Steve had an order of onion rings and they were good, light and beer-battered. And the pork wasn't bad. But mine's better.
So far I'm amazed at the lack of imagination--or local pride, really--we've seen in restaurant food here. We're not looking for gourmet and certainly don't expect it from roadhouse food. But freshness doesn't seem too much to ask for. We'll keep looking. (And I have to admit that the three sit-down restaurants in downtown Edenton are not bad at all.)
Today's recipe is a very simple but delicious treat, made with the same marinade I use for shrimp kebabs, but with a little brown sugar added. I like pork tenderloin, but I don't often grill it because it cooks so fast. After firing up the Weber and waiting for the coals to heat, the 20-minute cooking time seems anticlimactic. But it's good to eat, and perfectly suited to the faster gas grill.
6 large garlic cloves
1/3 cup packed fresh thyme sprigs
1/4 cup packed tender fresh rosemary sprigs
1 cup fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 cups olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup brown sugar, light or dark, whatever you have on hand
Pepper to taste
1 package pork tenderloins, 2 1/2-3 lbs.
Remove tenderloins from shrink-wrap, run under faucet to remove moisture, and pat dry with paper towels. Place meat in large ziplock bag and add marinade to cover. Refrigerate at least 2 hours or overnight, turning meat occasionally.
Remove meat from marinade and pat dry. Discard marinade. Allow meat to air-dry at room temperature while you prepare grill for the indirect roasting method.
When grill is ready, place meat directly over coals (or burners) and sear for 5 minutes to develop surface carmelization. Turn and repeat to brown other side. (The sugar will brown quickly, so mind well the size of the flame on a gas grill.)
Move meat to opposite side of the grill, cover, and continue roasting with indirect heat another 10 minutes. Remove meat to a cutting board, allow to rest about 10 minutes. Slice into inch-thick pieces and serve.