Still carrying a little holiday weight

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It would appear that my blog posts are now unintentionally bi-annual. I hadn’t realised the last one was all the way back in June, when we were celebrating our first anniversary of trading, so I suppose that makes us around 18 months old, like a toddler. I’d like to think, in a metaphor that probably isn’t worth running with, we are beyond the street food equivalent of still needing help to walk, naps in the afternoon (although this is something we can get on board with) and only able to shout single words rather than string sentences together.

Without wanting to give a blow-by-blow account of the last eight months, it feels like we’ve continued on an upward curve. Dalston Yard was an amazing three week stretch, one we are hoping to pick up with Street Feast in the not too distant future.

It did, once again, teach us that whilst you are concentrating intently on the problems you believe will trip you up, the real issues are silently on all fours behind you, whilst their mate pushes you in the chest. We coped with going up against established street food giants and making enough to serve more covers than we’d ever experienced,  but what we hadn’t really considered was how difficult it is to source and keep reliable staff. Across the run in Dalston, we went through seven staff members, some weren’t available for every date, but it was, possibly naively, surprising that this was our biggest issue week to week. It did make us realise that in an industry which can be highly inconsistent for the people running businesses, often the type of staff you can employ reflects that inconsistency.

Anyway jumping forward to the winter. Our run up to Christmas brought a different set of challenges, but easily our most sustained period of money-making since we launched. We secured both a spot at Broadway’s Schoolyard Market on Saturdays and a pitch five days a week at Winter Feast in Shepherds Bush. Now the dream of most street food traders, is to be so successful in the run up to Christmas, you can spend as much of the colder months in the new year in hibernation, rather than be outside freezing your tits off, hoping to sell food to people who aren’t actually there. We managed to do this, find reliable staff and, for the first time ever, trade at two different spots on the same day.

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Winter Feast in all its glory

It wasn’t completely plain sailing, mainly due to me not being able to get my head round needing two of everything to actually give the customers what we have on the menu, but that was easily ironed out by the 5th or 6th week of the run up to Christmas…..

Which leads us to January, when we were able to take the whole month off and spend all our well earned cash on eating our way across Florida, Georgia and South Carolina. Our first holiday since getting back to the UK more than 2 years ago.

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Followers of our Instagram page may think that all we did was order amazing food, take pictures of it, then put on half a stone eating it. Which is actually fairly accurate. For once someone’s social media output was a true reflection of their life. We did refrain from posting most of the sight seeing walks to help settle our stomachs, naps to finish off the digestion and countless trips to pharmacies to buy my dad some U.S. painkillers (which I can only deduce no longer exist, such was the extent and fruitlessness of our search) Incidentally if you are in Miami, Savannah or Charleston any time, in need of a Wallgreens/CVS/Rite Aid, we have an encyclopaedic knowledge of where to go.

It was fantastic to get away and spend time together not over a hot griddle for the first time since about October, and apart from the 11 hour drive back to Miami from South Carolina on the final day which nearly resulted in a missed flight home, outstandingly relaxing.

I’ll tell the story in pictorial form (actually there’s more words than I expected, but they’re really good words)

Miami

We stayed about a 10 minute walk from Miami Beach. It wasn’t necessarily warm enough for a day of sun bathing, but given that there was a 26° swing from when I left London, and Laura got out of Washington before the North Eastern seaboard became a scene from The Day After Tomorrow  – we were pretty happy with our surroundings.

Wynwood

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After a couple of days of unwinding, we spent an afternoon in weather that only tropical climates can produce. Where it torrentially rains but you sweat at the same time. Except it was winter, so there was no sweat. However, we spent it in Wynwood Art District, which was easily the most intriguing place we visited on the whole trip. It’s a formerly rundown neighbourhood in Miami, which has been reinvigorated by artists moving in and making almost every wall the most interesting things to look at in Miami. It’s full of such skillful and insanely detailed graffiti that we didn’t care about being soaked through whilst running around the streets taking photos. Well technically, I drove, Laura hopped out of the car and took the photos, but my arm got wet when my window was open.

The Everglades

The next day was a sunny one in the Everglades, we looked at wildlife and got unnervingly close to alligators, who didn’t seem to care too much about humans being in their vicinity. Maybe we weren’t looking tasty enough because we’d only been eating American food for a couple of days and still relatively slim.

Breakfast @ Josh’s Deli, Surfside, Miami

Where we discovered it’s possible to have a main and dessert for breakfast.

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Corned Beef Benediction – House made corned beef (deli kind, not tin with stupid key kind), potato, onion, pepper, bagel, poached egg, hollandaise

 

French toast – essentially Jewish bread and butter pudding with whipped cinnamon butter. For breakfast. Diabetes and heart disease never tasted so good.

St Augustine

America’s oldest city – although you wouldn’t know it from how it’s been ‘preserved’ – A very rare occurrence in that it dates back to European settlers in 1565, which is very old in USA terms. P1000567

The thing is, the castle above is the only building that looks like it’s nearly 500 years old. The rest of the town kind of feels as though Disney designed a town colonised by the Spanish in the 1500s. It’s all a little fake. A beautiful setting but so far from a true reflection of what it would have looked like in the 16th century.

Surprise, surprise, we did manage to find somewhere fantastic to eat though. The Ice Plant Bar was a bit of a walk from the main strip of the town, but easily worth a walk from our hotel. It distills its own spirits, so as a result is as dedicated to crafting cocktails as a hen party are to drinking them. They even have an ice menu to tell you what’s going in your drink.

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New York strip steak, confit shallots and (the star of the show) whipped yams. A more accurate description would be yam brûlée, but amazing all the same.

 

Frogmore stew – a bit like a gumbo. Full of shrimp, grouper fish, grilled potatoes and an absolutely huge andouille sausage.

 Savannah

The next day we reached Savannah. Which is just a very pretty city. I am not sure what more I can add to this apart from telling you to look at the pictures below.


We were in the south, so it seemed a little rude not to try out BBQ, given that most of Sticky Beaks dishes are inspired by the long, slow cook involved in the cuisine. After much googling and discovering that most places appeared to offer ‘the best barbecue in Savannah’, we plumped for the one which was within walking distance.

And it didn’t disappoint. The Sandfly Streamliner was exactly what you wanted from a traditional bbq spot. Traditional old-fashioned dining car, classic diner features with a short and simple menu, massive portions. Check. Check. Check. We stuffed our faces with pulled pork, brisket, something called Texas toast, smokey, deep flavoured beans so good they would make Mr Heinz cry, collard greens and Laura managed to keep up her quest to eat mac and cheese at least once a day.

Charleston

It was then the turn of Charleston, South Carolina, to host the Sticky Beaks. We’d been reading that it was like a more halcyon version of Savannah. Downtown was a little less impressive than we’d hoped, but our AirBnB was as picturesque as St Augustine was fake. Looking out over Charleston Harbour, with sawgrass running down the boardwalk to the water, where we could see pelicans and shrimp boats slowly passing by. It was about as idyllic as it’s possible to be. It was difficult not to be envious of our host Susan’s life in this picturesque corner of the best city in North America, but she was incredibly accommodating, helpful and the epitome of famed ‘southern hospitalitly’. That and she gave us free beer.

Poogan’s Porch was the venue for our first evening’s dinner. We had insider knowledge that it wasn’t just delicious food, but to celebrate it’s 40th anniversary, in January all dishes were reverted back to 1976 prices.

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The menu is as South Carolina as it’s possible to get. Fried chicken, grits, biscuits, amazingly fresh sea food, ‘country fried’ everything and gravy. All sorts of gravy. We discovered that grits (kind of like a cornmeal porridge) taste the exact opposite to how unappetising they sound. It may have been the cheese, cream and butter, who knows? And biscuits are allowed to steal the name of what is traditionally dunked in tea, as long as they remain the softest, most pillowy scone you’ve ever tasted.

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This is a po-boy – traditionally oysters or shrimps, battered, deep fried, served in a hoagie with salad and a remoulade. I didn’t feel there was enough deep fried stuff on my plate, so went for some okra as well.

It’s difficult to say which meal we enjoyed the most on our trip, because apart from an incredibly ill-advised trip to Taco Bell, most were amazing. The Obstinate Daugther in Sullivan’s Island, was one of those meals.

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She crab salad – with chillies, spring onion, micro herbs and topped with caviar.

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Ricotta Gnocchi with a short rib ragu. I had a clam pizza which was delicious, but Laura definitely won dinner that night and so I don’t feel like posting my dish

The evening was only slightly soured when I discovered that the name of the restaurant referred to a defeat of the British navy when we tried to capture Sullivan’s Island. I had the last laugh, because I was wearing a red coat and left a £5 note with the Queen’s head underlined as a tip. I think they got my point.

Now throughout this seemingly gourmet trip around the southern states of the USA, we haven’t really focused on the extent of Laura’s dedication/addiction to mac and cheese. She could have written a blog based solely on her adventures in that field, which would have gone on a lot longer than this. We also haven’t mentioned the sheer volume of peanut butter products I consumed, drooled over and bought a new suitcase to bring home. If there’s one thing I love more than anything about our American cousins its their dedication to inserting this food of the very highest gods, into every avenue of its food world.

God Bless America and its (presumably) incredibly claggy roof of the mouth.