Off The Beaten Path . . .
For all of those who are always on schedule, never off route, you have my sympathies. Many of the greatest discoveries were mistakes. I made a good discovery last night.
I delivered in Jacksonville, FL. I had passed a truckstop about 12 miles before and went back. The Pilot at Baldwin, FL was packed full. So was the TA next door. Then, on the way out to the highway, I missed the left turn to head back to Jacksonville. I went west again on I-10. Grabbing the Pocket Truck Stop Guide, I found that there was a small Exxon two exits down the line. Soon after, I saw a billboard for a BBQ place on the same exit. I had been craving BBQ for a while.
I found Exit 335 and the little tiny Exxon. After battling my way behind the little convenience store and parking in sand mud, I spotted a Chinese Buffet next door. Well a Chinese craving almost predated the BBQ and it would save me walking about a mile. I bought a paper and went next door.
Now, a Chinese Buffet, one in tiny Macclenny, FL, is not apt to surprise or most especially not impress. Most of you could probably recite the menu at a Chinese Buffet; almost in order. Yes, there was par-boiled Sushi, Sweet and Sour Chicken, Vegetable Fried Rice and Pepper Beef. But along toward the end, past the delicate Spring Rolls, was something labelled Peanut Butter Chicken. I had to try it. It was boneless thigh crisply fried with, duh, peanut butter. The crispy crust of the chicken was infused with peanut butter taste. It was exquisite! I have never in my life seen or tasted anything just like it. It evoked Thai, but also PB&J on wonderbread. It was very interesting . . . and delicious. I had seconds and paid for them later. I just don't eat like that anymore.
I discovered Boiled Peanuts in a similar way. Boiled Peanuts are a southern delicacy. And are quite simply boiled peanuts. You get a peanut with the hint of mashed potatoes and a texture that is like a boiled potato not quite all the way done. They are very good. My man, Tony, used to bring them into the office thanks to his Georgia upbringing.
When I discovered Boiled Peanuts, I lived in Florida. About once a month, or twice in three, I would go down to Miami on business. From Tampa, I would cut across the Everglades and go through Arcadia. On the way, there was always an old Black Man sitting by an old blue pickup truck. There was a hand painted plywood sign leaning out by the road. It just said Boiled Peanuts. After going by several times, I stopped to talk to him. He gave me a sample. Scooping down into black, brackish, briny cauldron on top of a propane burner, like a turkey fryer, he brought out peanuts in the shell. I asked him how to eat them. "Most you Yankees crack open the shell and just eat the nut. We just chew and spit out the shell." I still crack them open. I liked the sample. They were not too salty, but salty just the same; warm and soft and delicious. For a Dollar, he filled an oversized Styrofoam Cup with peanuts and a little brine over the top. I ate Boiled Peanuts all the way across the 'Glades.
Down the same road, I once followed an old truck, every minute or so the bones from a chicken wing would fly out the driver's window and arc around in the wind back to the road. One even hit my windshield. I discovered Chicken Wings years later.
Florida was good for new food. Beyond the usual seafood you might think of. I had Armadillo and Wild Hog for the first time in Florida.
I went to a cook out at my business partners house. There was an amazing feat of Redneck Engineering that pulled into the drive. This guy had taken a 1000 gallon propane tank and turned it into a portable smokehouse on a tandem axle trailer. I'll tell you that later. In the smoker, there was a deer chopped up, several chickens, a wild hog, an armadillo, some gator and 6 turkeys. The turkeys weren't even for the party. The women knew he was coming out and that he would have lots of room. The turkeys went home to six houses for later in the week.
The Armadillo was a bit like gamey chicken. The Wild Hog was very good. I had learned to eat Gator at Skippers Smokehouse in Tampa. Better than the Hog was the story.
There was a legendary Wild Hog male out in the woods by Arcadia, FL [that's how I remembered]. The hunters knew him by his one ear that was almost torn off in a fight. As he lumbered through the woods, that ear would flop around; hanging by a thread. Everyone wanted to take him, but now sooner than they saw him, he would disappear through the thicket.
The guy with the Smoker was out hunting. Most of these guys hunted hog with a high caliber long barrelled handgun. I don't remember his name; I'll call him Earl. Earl had just parked his truck and was getting his stuff together when the hog, THEE HOG, came scrubbing out of the woods. Earl shook the holster off his gun and took a quick shot. The hog was hit, but just got mad. Charging Earl, the hog rammed him and bounced him into his truck. Squealling and loaded for bear, the hog came toward him again. Earl grabbed a shovel that was in the back of his truck. He was almost too close to take another shot; he wanted to miss his truck too. The hog charged; Earl swung. There was a tussle. The hog backed off just enough that Earl took another shot and finished the hog off. Earl was by himself and almost couldn't load the big old hog up. He told us at the cookout that if we tasted tomato in the hog it was because his wife had borrowed his shovel in her garden the day before he swung it at the hog. Anyway, it was Earl's story, but I don't think he bought any pork that week.
While I'm at it. I discovered Mango Con Chile out here on the road. Mango Con Chile is like Chili Con Cueso or Chili Con Carne. Con is 'with.' Chili Con Carne is Chili with Beef; Chili Con Cueso is Chili with Cheese. Mango Con Chili is dried mango coated in chili pepper and sugar. Sweet, Tart and HOT! Man, are they good. I bought some in Birmingham, AL. One of the cashiers asked mine what I was buying. She whispered "They're Mexican" like some Aunts whisper "Cancer" or "Divorce." I smiled and told her "I love mango and I love cayenne, so I must be gonna like these."
Try it you'll like it. Don't plan, just do it.