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Road trip report, Philly to Orlando (lonnnnng)

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Just got back from a road trip from Philly to Orlando with my 13yo son. I found a lot of great dining advice here in preparing for our trip, so in the spirt of paying back, thought I'd list a few of our experiences.

NOTE: not sure of the posting etiquette of a post spanning multiple regions. Should I cross-post in each applicable region, or split up my post by region and post each separately?

PHILADELPHIA, PA
Serpico: Fabulous, every dish was wonderful. Was expecting big, bold and flashy, instead got subtle and refined. Enjoyed every dish: Sliced Pig Head, Hamachi Tartare, Oxtail Soup, Deep Fried Duck Leg, Caper Brined Trout, and for dessert, Rocky Road.

Sonny's Famous Cheese Steaks: our first ever cheesesteaks, but these, with wiz and onions, were very good.

Franklin Fountain: the period costumes of the employees should have been a clue. The ice cream was store-bought in quality and the egg creams (both NY and Philly) were so tasteless that we threw them away half-finished. Total waste of time and money.

WASHINGTON, DC:
Hank's Oyster Bar (Capitol Hill): raw oysters, Fried Oyster dinner, fish tacos, soft shell crab with poblano and hush puppies. Enjoyed everything. Best hush puppies of the trip. But LOUD, so loud we didn't stay for dessert (which I don't think has ever happened before)

Shake Shack: burgers were just okay, no comparison with In-and-Out. Shakes were very good (which I guess is why it's not called Burger Shack)

The Partisan: Met my cousin and her family for dinner. The food and service combined for an outstanding dinner. Had: 120 Day Dry Aged Carpaccio, Radishes+Sugar Snaps, Squid Ink Bucatini, Baked Cilantro Paccheri, Rotissi-Fried Chicken, Bone-in Ribeye, and several desserts I can't recall. All the food was great. The ribeye was possibly the best I've ever had. Best fried chicken of the trip. (In case anyone cares, took a 2001 SQN Midnight Oil which was drinking wonderfully)

RALEIGH, NC
Beasley's Chicken and Honey: Happening hipster place. Chicken was good, but the breading was a little thick and I thought too much honey made it too sweet (my son loved it though). The chicken potpie (which is a kind of thick chicken soup with a thin cornbread topping) was very good. My side salad had way too much dressing, making it almost inedible. Perhaps due to my bourbon ignorance, the fancy bacon bourbon drink I had tasted to me like just a plain bourbon on the rocks.

CHARLESTON, SC
Jeni's Original Ice Cream: eager to try this as we don't have Jeni's in the Bay Area. Tried a few recipes from her first book and not impressed, but wanted to try it from the source. Verdict: very good. The coffee is possibly the best coffee ice cream I've had (and that includes Humphrey Slocum, Bi-rite, Three Twins, etc). Need to give her recipes another try.

Husk: biggest disappointment of the trip. Had the lettuce-wrapped pork ears (great flavors, but the texture of the densely fried ears was too great a contrast to the soft lettuce leaves), shishito peppers (good flavors, but thought the limp peppers would have been better crisped), fire-roasted oysters (very good, best dish of the night), slow smoked ribs (the meat was good, but thought the flavor of the sauce clashed with the char), quail (did not like the sauce at all, found it had a bitter, off-flavor that did not work with the quail. Also thought the cauliflower was a poor pairing). The service of the restaurant was good, the setting nice, everything was prepared properly (I think). Perhaps my tastes just don't line up with the chef here.

Hominy Grill: great brunch: She Crab Soup, Biscuit & Gravy, Shrimp & Grits, Charleston Nasty Biscuit. Wished every town had a place like this.

SAVANNAH, GA
replaced our original rez at a.lure with B. Matthews Eatery, hoping to find another Hominy Grill. It wasn't. The food wasn't bad, but I think they tried to go upscale and their reach exceeded their grasp. Had the charcuterie, Bacon-wrapped Rabbit Roulade, and Bacon-wrapped Quail (had I known beforehand that the truffle in the description was actually truffle oil I would have ordered something else).

Leopold's Ice Cream - good, but not worth the 30m wait. As was aptly put by another on this board, if you've already had great ice cream, it won't rock your world

BBQ (in order of visits, not on same day. Unless otherwise noted, just talking about the bbq sandwich):
Skylight Inn (NC): transcendent, life-changing BBQ. Did not know anything like this existed.

Allen & Sons (NC): not bad, but nothing special. Not sure what happened here, were we still in a post-Skylight Inn daze?

Scott's (SC): very very good. Possibly the best vinegar-pepper sauce we had, but preferred the meat at Skylight Inn. Huge portions, loved the assemble-your-own-sandwich process.

Sweatman's (SC): had the buffet. Not impressed by the ribs or chicken. The light BBQ was good with the mustard sauce. The dark BBQ was very very good.

Fiery Ron's (SC, recommended to us by the bartender at The Original): not bad for a mainstream commercial place. Meat was moist and flavorful, but lacking in smoke. Provided 5 types of sauces (yellow mustard, vinegar-pepper, mild, regular and hot tomato-based).

ORLANDO, FL
Once we entered Theme Park Land in Orlando, I gave up any effort at finding good food and surrendered to the reality of expediency over quality. But, for anyone traveling a similar trail, I'll post some observations:

Bubba Gump (City Walk): loud, garish, big portions of fried food. Sad that this is what the many tourists here take home as their impression of American food. My son had the some sort of fried food combo, I had the gumbo which wasn't horrible.

Leaky Cauldron (Diagon Alley): had breakfast and dinner here. The food quality is irrelevant, as the experience of eating in the world of Harry Potter trumps every other consideration. Universal nailed this folks and if you or your kids have any interest in Harry Potter, you are morally obligated to go to Diagon Alley. That said, the food here is not too pricey and better than expected in quality. Most important, it's FUN.

Florean Fortescue's Ice-Cream Parlour (Diagon Alley): Butter Beer Ice Cream. Nuff said.

Boatwright's Dinig Hall (Port Orleans Riverside): huge portions, food decent but overpriced. Cajun-seasoned Crawfish Bites, Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Andouille-crusted Catfish, Crawfish Ètouffée

Bongos Cuban Cafe Express (Downtown Disney): if you arrive at Downtown Disney at 8p without reservations at the height of the summer crush like we did, you might want to spare yourself the agony of forcing your way through the crowds (remember it's 90 degrees and 90% humidity out) only to be turned away at restaurant after restaurant, and go straight to this take-out window attached to the Bongos Cuban Cafe. We just ordered cubano sandwiches, a smoothie and an iced cubano coffee, and while we are no experts, found the sandwiches to be delicious. Plus it's a great spot. Downtown Disney was jumping the night we were there with street performers and musicians all around us. A nice way to spend a hot summer night.

I'm happy to follow up if anyone has any questions.

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  1. Serpico is such a fantastic place. You described it well. And that hamachi tartare is so delicate and such a lovely dish in its simplicity. Yumm... Being from PA originally, cheesesteaks w/ whiz are just so wrong to me. It's a Philly thing but throughout the rest of PA we're partial to provolone. Just my 2 cents. ;)

    I've been in NC for many years now and I love getting down to Charleston to eat. I'm glad you had the shrimp & grits at HG. Good stuff, plain & simple.

    I'm in love with the buttermilk pie at Husk.

    Too bad you didn't get to The Ravenous Pig in Orlando. There aren't many quality places to dine in that town and especially not places that focus on fresh and local fare. The RP is all that and more.

    A great report! Sounds like you had some quality food on your very long road trip. Good for you!

    1. Makes me want to get off my behind and try the transcendent, life-changing BBQ :-). +1 on your Husk impression, I wish a few more folks had spoken up before I went a 3-4 months ago.