Raleigh, North Carolina
For the past two weeks I've been hard at work in "the Triangle" area of North Carolina. What am I doing down here? I'm making money; something we'd all agree can be very difficult back home in Portland. Why, even the price of homemade crank has sunk to new lows. As long as I'm down here, though, I may as well discuss some of the culinary perks that come along with living in the land where many people actually believe (get ready for this) that Jesse Helms is a hero and a great man. I've gotten to sample a nice variety of decent, down-home Southern comfort food.
My favorite spot is the K&S Cafeteria in Raleigh. It's not the actual food that I enjoy, though; it's the format. It's like a big ol' high school cafeteria for lumpy grownups and their chubby little ankle-biters. Only instead of hamburgers and spaghetti, you choose from a spread of over 100 items, most of which are unavailable north of the Mason-Dixon Line (except at the few southern-themed restaurants like the Delta Café in Southeast Portland).
For my first meal, I passed on the congealed salad, which is your standard Jello mold with canned pineapple and peaches, and began with the more elaborate seven-layer salad. If I can recall, the layers were as follows: bacon, American cheese, iceberg lettuce, gloppy cream dressing, tomatoes, cucumbers, and sunflower seeds. From there it was onto the liver and onions. I swear, for a mere $2.80, I was served the entire liver of a two ton cow. As tender and savory as it was, I could only finish about 1/8 of it. The liver came with two sides; I chose the salty-porcine collard greens and an exceptional macaroni and cheese. Add a plate of hush puppies, an unlimited quantity of sweet tea (I'm now addicted to the stuff), and an enormous slice of buttered coconut pie, and for twelve dollars, I had enough food to feed half of Lithuania.
On my next visit, I had the fried chicken with black-eyed peas and corn bread. The chicken was gargantuan; it must have been pumped so full of hormones that it only vaguely resembled its free-range ancestors. While this may have spooked me out back home, I guess I got caught up in the whole "southern thing" and just sucked the bones dry. I know there's better chicken out here, but even this cafeteria stuff is done up better than anything back home.
On any given Sunday afternoon, the cafeteria is filled with an equal number of African American and white/Anglo families dressed in their finest church clothes. They may not attend the same services, but they eat the same meals. And the little Southern children are just so cute and well behaved; it's a shame they're going to die young from all the grease and gristle.
We Portlanders may be blessed with superior produce, the availability of organic and free-range foods, and plenty of healthier ethnic dining options, but our asses are still more bulbous than the ones down in Raleigh. It's probably in our best interest that we don't have Southern-style cafeterias in the Northwest. First thing I'm gonna do when I get home, though, is find myself a glass of sweet tea from the Delta Café. I can't get along without the stuff.