Thursday, February 3, 2011

Come Dine with Me!

I’m one of those really irritating people ..wait – I haven’t finished the sentence yet!.. to eat out with. I never know what to order off the menu and when the food arrives I am disappointed. The reality doesn’t measure up to the vision and expectation in my head. I then want what everyone else has instead. Really annoyingly - I pick off other people's plates- good friends only. America has cured me of that!
Eating out here is a bit like a Ground Hog experience. Most restaurants are part of chains and all serve a variation on a theme – Burgers, pasta, chicken wings… Think of TGI Fridays as high end adventurous menu!! I don’t know why but waiters rarely tell us what the ‘specials’ are. I think there are two reasons for this; 1. They are intimidated by our accents and it stuns them into silence – but this is flawed because usually they come back far too often to ask inane questions and then confess to loving our accents before asking which part of Australia we are from or if we know Bob from Leicester. So reason No 2; They don’t tell us what the specials are because, realising that, wherever we are from, we are not American, they know we wont be fooled by their specials menu. It is the same as their normal menu. Proof positive is when we went to an Italian restaurant in the state capital, Raleigh. We were with Americans and the waiter didn't hear us speak. He told us the special was Spaghetti bolognese. Really? In an Italian?
One of the few times a waitress told us the specials she had such a strong southern drawl I couldn’t understand a word she said and it felt rude to keep on asking. I do love the southern accent. Most people here are imported from up North so it is lovely to hear real locals, even if I haven’t a clue what they are saying! If you order a side salad it comes before your meal! You are given a bewildering choice of dressings – I tried to listen and choose one a few times but soon gave up trying to keep up with the options.
Beverages have free refills. Soda is usually served in buckets and topped up without asking you if you want any more. They once filled up my son’s pail of milk. I didn’t notice until he reproduced it as cottage cheese on the way home! Some places offer ‘bottomless’ options – meaning as much as you like …bottomless fries…bottomless shrimp (not prawns here! Shrimp!) All adds up to the opposite of ‘bottomless’ - big fat asses!
The portion size is just shocking. Everyone walks out with ‘to-go’ trays of all the leftovers they didn’t eat. I know families who eat out every night because it is so cheap to do so and eat the left-overs for breakfast or lunch! Don’t get me wrong – the food, especially the burgers at these places, is very good but if I didn’t want it for dinner, I don’t want it 12 hours later! Urggh!
Eating out here is functional… as in they need food so they eat out. It isn’t social. The queues for tables are out of the door at and the places are empty by 8. In Britain we are used to making a night of eating out. Several times when I have ordered wine they have brought a glass and expressed a shocked ‘You want the bottle?’ when I have pointed out their error! We were the only ones sat at our table at in one place and they asked us to sit at the bar so they could clean up for the night. They were not expecting any more diners! Strange!
The Anchor Inn, Seatown, Dorset, England
There are some independent restaurants and they can be very good (and not so cheap) – but they are hard to find. We love seafood and when we had a ‘holiday home’ in Dorset (as my daughter called our static caravan) we would walk a 7 mile round trip across the cliffs to get beautiful fresh seafood to cook for tea. Alternatively, we would eat at the Anchor Inn in Seatown Which serves great pub grub or the Hive at Burton Bradstock (or Branston Pickle as my niece refers to it …and no – I haven’t seen any of that here either) which serves a great Specials and seafood menu,  visited and reviewed once by AA Gill no less. Both places are fab and overlook the sea. You can imagine how excited we were when we went to Calabash, a small fishing town on the coast in NC which, according to Wiki and its website ‘prides itself as the Seafood Capital of the World because of the town's offering of "Calabash-Style" seafood’. It was an experience not to be forgotten. The idea of seafood on the North Carolina coastline is not what we would expect in Britain from a seafood restaurant. For a start there are no spectacular views of the Atlantic Ocean – eating is functional so they don’t care it you look out onto a car park. As everyone drives, restaurants line the road not the beach! Everything is fried in breadcrumbs, batter or a sort of donut batter (hush puppies). There is nothing green served on the plate – just a mound of deep-fried orange stuff.
Hubby ordered a crab sandwich. I knew exactly what he had done. He had done what I used to do before I came to America. He had a vision of what would be served. In his head he saw the crab sandwiches at The Anchor, Seatown, served on fresh crusty bread with white crab meat, salad garnish including cress and big wedges of lemon. Fresh and delicious!  What arrived in Calabash was a burger bun. When the bun was opened it revealed a whole, deep fried, soft shelled crab – claws and all dangling over the edge of the bun. I think this may have topped our crispy chicken experience in China. When we lifted the lid off that dish we found, placed carefully on top of crispy chicken in soup, the chicken’s head spilt in half to reveal its succulent brain. Hubby’s reaction was the same both times. ‘Oh my f**king good god!’ He said, as he hastily put the lid back on and got pissed instead. And yes! This time we want the whole bottle!


  1. Don'tyou think that you get dissatisfied because you are a good cook yourself and expect to be serv ed proberly better than you could do yourself.I get very pernickity when eating out and very often am dissappointed. I do agree the crab sandwiches at The ANchor are to die for. I don't like rubbish and do not expect to be served this when i go out. You have just put me off cottage cheese, poor boy!!!

  2. There is nothing wrong with the quality (which is usually excellent) and they do the best burgers in the world - it is just the quantity (I'm sure some brits would appreciate) and lack of real choice.

  3. Im shall have to try a burgher, they are not my favourite food, perhaps i can bs converted witha really good one.

  4. the best seafood we have ever had was in Boston (USA not Lincolnshire!) right down at the wharf edge where the boats drop their catches - a rickety old hut called the BArking Crab - crab legs in buckets on the bar - real log fires - sofas and the food was immense - you got to choose your own lobster (Mr Creosote style) from the tank and they served it later. We stayed all afternoon and evening (very good beer too) and then went back the next day - seriously worth a visit if you can go that far - you can then go whale watching and see minky and hump back whales

  5. Ahh! We have been told that we would love Boston by lots of people. Is that because it is like England?! We are going to head north later this summer - maybe up to the great lakes and Niagra. Boston needs to be on our to-do list too.
    The Barking Crab sounds like our kind of place but does it beat the view at The Anchor?

  6. dont know too dark and drunk when we left - mostly boston city sky line i'm afraid but the science museum was brilliant as well - the boat for whale watching was a huge catamaran and totally empty as the red sox had just one the baseball world cup (the one they only invite themselves too!) and everyone was drunk