Last Sunday I went to The Masters in Augusta, GA after finding out about an available ticket a couple days before from my friend Derek. I flew down to Charlotte, NC on Saturday to drive down to Columbia, SC where we would be staying. On Sunday, we spent 13 hours at Augusta and had an incredible day, highlighted by prime seats for the final playoff hole where Bubba Watson wrapped up the Chip.
The importance of the photo above, aside from making my friends envious, is that it is the only photo of me at Augusta National since no cameras are allowed. Tough to write a food blog without photos, so instead of verbally walking you through everything I ate on the trip, I will instead focus on the two best things I ate.
First up: the pimento cheese sandwich.
Now, it’s important to share that I went into the Masters completely unprepared since it was such a last minute situation. I hadn’t taken the time to research the course, the concessions, etc. I just knew what I’d learned from watching the tournament religiously on TV for 10 years and particularly intently the two days leading up to Sunday.
I didn’t know about how beloved The Masters’ reasonably priced food and beverages are until receiving a slew of texts Saturday morning from friends that had been before. The egg salad sandwich was well reviewed, but the overwhelming message was that I was going to love the pimento cheese sandwiches, the signature sandwich of The Masters. Since I like pimento cheese spread, I was intrigued to say the least.
After a chicken biscuit to start the day, I purchased my first pimento cheese sandwich somewhere in the 10s. It was like they’d been holding this tournament for 80 years hoping that a Ryan would show up and truly appreciate their sandwich.
The sandwich is simple; soft fluffy white bread filled with a mixture of shredded processed cheese, chopped pimento, lots of mayo, and some additional spices. It took about three bites for me to fall in love. And at $1.50 apiece, the price was certainly right.
I ended up having four of them (possibly five) along with a turkey and cheese sandwich and a bunch of $3 beers. Between the hospitality, the minimal hit on the wallet from the concessions, the cloud-free weather, good pals, and the dramatic final day, I can say that Sunday was one of the most enjoyable days of my life. Wholly recommend making the trip at some point if you can swing it.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from The Masters is the second food item I want to discuss. Easily the most notorious food of the south in general, chitterlings.
When I arrived on Saturday I had some time to kill so I took the scenic route from Charlotte, NC to Columbia, SC, intentionally taking back roads to try and find some authentic roadside pit BBQ. Unfortunately, despite Siri’s help (she led me to a garden center she said was a BBQ joint) I found no roadside food in the first hour and a half. I only saw churches (I would guess over 100) and gas stations (that apparently double as fast food restaurants). In an abandoned, Children of the Corn-looking town I saw some potential in this place:
The buffet looked dodgy to say the least, and the BBQ looked more like mushy shredded beef than anything that had ever seen real wood smoke. So, I had to invent a new go-to move to avoid awkwardly walking out of a hospitable southern restaurant. And that would be, “I bet you make a great sweet tea, can I get one to go?”
After two sweet teas and with my bladder threatening to throw a locker room champagne celebration in my shorts, I saw this roadside sign. Looked VERY promising when paired with the rundown building.
I went inside and talked to the nice old lady behind the counter who seemed confused that I was interested in ordering chitterlings (I pronounced it “chitlings” which might have been incorrect). She kept trying to extract “chicken wings” from what I was saying but eventually brought her daughter out who verified I did indeed want chitterlings. So I took my seat at the empty lunch counter and waited.
Chitterlings are hog intestines, cleaned as thoroughly as possible (you hope) then boiled in a broth with spices for however long it takes to get them tender. According to the guy in the back who was dredging chicken in batter when I asked, he boils his chitterlings for 12 hours.
Chitterlings (called “chitlins” by the other woman at the restaurant) have a bad reputation because of what they are, but also because there is no amount of prep that can hide what you are eating. They have a pretty distinct aroma. Here’s a quick artistic break from the topic.
Anyway, as I sat there waiting for my chitlins, I was pretty nervous. I’d had a nice conversation with these women, they were about to serve me some authentic food in an empty restaurant, and I didn’t want to have one bite and sprint out the front. When my bowl came out, I wasn’t feeling any more confident.
My first line of defense was a healthy shake of hot sauce and salt & pepper. My second line of defense was pausing to take a picture and collect myself. But, from there, I just had to dive in.
The first bite was entirely surprising. There wasn’t even a hint of the unpleasant aroma in the taste and as long as you didn’t have your nose over the bowl (not a pun) you wouldn’t have any idea they were an organ. Kind of hard to believe, but it was true. In addition, they weren’t chewy at all, very tender, and the broth they were cooked in gave the meat a lot of good flavor.
In the end, I polished off my chitlins and laughed with my hosts about how good they were but that the smell takes a little getting used to. Quick refill of the sweet tea to ensure that I would be behaving like a meth addict when I arrived at my hotel looking for the lobby bathroom, and I was on my way.
One weekend, two items off my bucket list. Next week will focus on my attempt at Ponce that happened a few weeks ago. I also got a deli-style meat slicer via mail today which will either lead to a few posts or the end of posts due to loss of fingers. One of the two.