Day 8 – It’s All About The Eating…

Calhoun, GA – Mobile, AL

421 miles

Today was by far the best eating day on the trip. I woke up in my KOA Campsite (which we’ve established as the Mandarin Oriental of camping facilities) desperately craving ice coffee. I’ve been sleeping pretty well as the 100+ heat I’ve been experiencing during the day has been giving way to lower temperatures at night. But because I was now at a lower altitude than North Carolina, the Georgia day was heating up fast.

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I turned to my trusted Coffee Finder app on my iPhone which promptly sent me into an abandoned wheat field somewhere in between Buttfuck & Nowhere (I’m not exaggerating. It was literally a wheat field). All I wanted was some Starbucks love so I figured my best shot was to head closer to the main freeway where one usually finds all the major culinary franchises.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied a dilapidated sign for Owen’s Biscuits beside a bordered up house.

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I’ll be honest – I drove past it. I went a solid ½ mile before I jammed on the brakes and pulled off to the side. This is what the trip is about.

Exploring. Finding. Surprises.

I find that I really have to work hard to correct my innate nature to want to rush from one point to another. I’m always thinking, “you don’t have time for that”, when in reality time is exactly what I have. It’s a tiny bit hard to adjust to a trip without a defined schedule and to slow down whenever you feel like it.

I spun around and discovered that coming from the other direction I could see 8 or 9 cars backed up behind Owen’s Biscuits queuing behind a hidden takeout window. Gold!! I wandered in and quickly realized I had found the local equivalent of Russ & Daughters in Georgia, and these biscuits were like Southern bagels. I asked the woman behind the counter what sort of biscuit a neophyte like me should order. There was a sizable selection of egg, ham, honey and butter biscuits. I settled on a plain butter biscuit as well as some sort of ham concoction which resembled the Georgia version of a David Chang pork bun. It was literally a 2-inch cube of slow roasted ham between a buttered pillow of biscuit. As you imagine this delicious gut bomb, remember that all I really wanted was an ice coffee.

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But I was richly rewarded for turning around because these biscuits were truly out of this world. The outside of the biscuit maintained a pie crust flakiness while still holding some of the heat from the oven while the inside was pillow soft and slightly salty, perfect to play against a small drizzle of honey. Just fantastic.

But the real point of the day was to make it to Montevallo, AL to go to YaYa’s BBQ joint. And by joint, I mean a food truck that has gained a fair bit of local (and now national) renown.

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I found YaYa’s though an article in New York Magazine profiling 50 Unique “State Dinners” where they identified one unique eatery in each state in America. What especially drew me to YaYa’s was their southern fried pies which as far as I could tell sounded like a deep fried apple turnover. YaYa’s has a Facebook Page and I posted that I was driving my motorcycle down from New York City and was really excited to try some of their pies.

Well, here I am pulling into YaYa’s a few days later. The owner, Tracy Hale, saw me pull up on my bike (with NY plates) and immediately said, “Are you Christof?!”. When I said I was, a wide grin broke out on his face. “I thought you were full of shit when you said you were coming down here on a motorcycle!” I reassured him that it was a common misconception, especially among my close friends. But I really was here, and I really wanted to eat some BBQ and pie.

He immediately introduced me to his wife Dale who worked the inside of YaYa’s while Tracy worked the BBQ grill outside. She excitedly shook my hand and quickly started bringing me plates full of southern love. Not only did they treat me like an honored guest, but they refused to take my money and provided me with a tremendous feast. They could not have been kinder hosts.

The smorgasbord started with a Q-Dog which was an all beef frankfurter smothered with BBQ pulled pork and Special Yaya Sauce. This was accompanied by French fries, cole slaw and slow baked beans. Several large glasses of sweet tea with lemon washed it down before I was presented with a Peach fried pie and a side of vanilla ice cream.

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It was sincerely delicious and the BBQ & hot dog combo (while seemingly over the top) actually paired up fantastically. YaYa’s has only been around for 2 years now, but its clear Tracy and Dale are doing something very special and original. We ended by taking lots of photos and they promised to put me on their wall. Such kind people.

I really wasn’t prepared for how excited and warmly they treated me. I mean, I was the one driving down to see them. But I guess after eating some of their food, I could taste their passion and their soul in their cuisine. This awesome little place is their dream, and I guess I underestimated how much it means when someone else gets so excited about your dream that they would drive down from New York to experience it. Meeting Tracy and Dale has been the highlight of my trip so far.

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I sat with Tracy for bit discussing my trip and which routes I should take. Everyone loves asking questions about the trip.

“Wow, that’s a big bike.”
Yes. I eat a lot of BBQ and take All-You-Can-Eat as a personal challenge, hence the bike.

“Do you get uncomfortable riding for such long distances?”
Sometimes. I switch positions a lot by actually sitting up high on the passenger seat to avoid building pressure spots. I also stop every two hours or so to drink some water.

“Aren’t you hot in your riding suit?”
Yes, I am. I tried riding without it for a little while but found myself getting too sunburnt. I’ve gone down on a motorcycle before and my leathers saved my life so I think it’s worth the discomfort.

“Do you get lonely?”
Hard to say because I haven’t been gone that long yet. But I wake up each morning feeling very, very fortunate to be able to do this trip so I don’t have any regrets. But cell phone service is a wonderful thing and I can usually talk to my wife in the evening which is great.

Tracy and I talked for a bit longer but soon I had to hit the road. I waddled back to my bike and started on the long slog to Mobile, AL through temperatures reaching 106 while I’m dressed in full leathers and rocking a full belly of BBQ. Yeah. It sucked.

Tracy gave me some great directions that kept me on local roads for another 100 miles before hooking up with I-65 to shoot straight south. The good news is that the speed limit was 70, but almost everyone was doing 90. By sucking in my stomach to be more aerodynamic, I rolled into Mobile around 7:30pm.

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Now clearly, a better man would have looked down at his BBQ gut and considered this a day well fed and gone to bed. But this was my first time in Mobile and I wanted some way to commune with the heartbeat of the city. And apparently the home of that heart was at Wintzell’s Oyster House on Dauphin Street – the original location where oysters are offered “fried, stewed or nude”. I knew I had hit paydirt when upon walking in, I saw photos of braver men than I that had set the oyster eating records at Winztell’s. Any restaurant that hosts their own eating contest automatically gets 4-stars in my book, just for embracing that Viking dietary ethos that more is always better.

I started with a dozen Gulf oysters on the half shell that were shucked fresh in front of me and placed on an unadorned tin tray. Now, I’m a huge oyster eater (as you’ll see later in this blog) and I’m used to getting 2-3 duds out of each dozen oysters that I typically order. I was amazed to find that every single oyster I ate was creamy, fresh and very clean tasting. They were so mild that I found myself dousing a little homemade green hot sauce on a few just to give them more zing. But also on the menu were roasted oysters which I had never had. Once shucked, the oysters are left in their shells and placed on the grill to cook in their own juices. The chef then sprinkles some spices and parmageian cheese on top and then places them on your tray still bubbling. Again so delicious along with an Abita amber beer to wash it down. The earthiness of the spices played well with the natural brine of the oysters which through cooking had a nice toothsome firmness.

Great meal. Outstanding day. I made some new friends, discovered some new foods and travelled 421 miles in the Gulf heat. Time for bed at the Holiday Inn.

WHAT I LEARNED / DISCOVERED TODAY: Never underestimate the impact that you can have on others. The world is a good place. Also, roasted oysters rock!

Comments

  1. Katharina says:

    Hello from Europe

    OK I do not get the passion for the bike. However, I do get the food thing. It can almost compete with skiing in the Austrian alps. We call it “germknoedeljagen”. Your descriptions make my mouth water. I wonder if your bike will be able to carry you at the end of the trip or if you are carrying your bike at the end of every day to ensure that does not happen.

    Gruss und Kuss
    Katharina

  2. I haven’t even finished reading this entry yet, but I love that HIS name is Tracey and HER name is Dale. Dale Hale, no less!

    This place sounds amazing!

    • Oh! And as for not underestimating the effect you can have on other people. It makes me think of a Hemingway quote (s’cuse me while I paraphrase) that goes something like “You never know how much real estate you take up in someone else’s mind.”

      Seems kind of applicable here.

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