Friday, April 4, 2014

Psycho on the Road: Nachos, Grits, and Greens (Big Sur, CA)

My grandfather passed away on Tuesday morning; he was 95 years old.  While this can hardly be described as tragic, there is a lot of sadness and emotion around the loss of life, even for a man who had more than abundant time on this earth.  Not only was his life full in terms of its longevity, but his also accomplishments, and the love he felt for his wife and family.  After a few years of steady decline, it happened seemingly quickly Tuesday morning.  I was sitting at my aunt’s kitchen table in Los Angeles when I heard the news, just minutes away from heading up the Pacific Coast Highway to the mysterious and isolated Big Sur. 

That coastal drive was probably the best possible medicine given the morning’s events.  My travel partner graciously drove the whole way up, as I sat in the passenger’s seat, cross-legged, listening to music, and drinking in the scenery.  By the time we were approaching Big Sur, we experienced something unusual for the central California climate: a bona fide rainstorm.  As the rain ebbed and flowed, the impact on the majestic coast was dramatic.  The color of the water varied, as did the surf, vacillating with the rainfall.  Up ahead, at times, the crevices within the green mountainside sometimes pronounced themselves, and at other times, they were faint and fuzzy gray.  I wonder if my grandfather ever came here; he was a well-traveled man, but my grandmother’s awe and amazement over my current travel plans lead me to believe the they never had this intimate experience with the California coast. 
By the time we arrived at the Fernwood Motel, it was nearly dark, and we were itching for a cocktail.  We imbibed in our room, until hunger set in, and stumbled across the parking lot to the bar and grill where we indulged in a comforting heap of nachos, chips dressed in chili powder, then piled high with pulled pork, pintos, and mound of guacamole.  This was not exactly a delicacy, but a mess of comforting finger food seemed to be the perfect antidote for my emotional day, and the chilly, damp weather.  The light in the bar was very dim, and has significantly impacted the quality of the photo, but I felt the need to include it anyway.  For the record, that is actually a half order.  They were called “nachos as big as your head,” but I’m pretty sure even the half order is far bigger than my head.
I woke up early the next morning, eager to find a coffee shop and have a quiet moment to write.  I set out at about 7, and learned an interesting fact about Big Sur:  you cannot get so much as a cup of tea prior to 8 am.  But in my efforts, I found the Big Sur Roadhouse, which turned out to be the perfect breakfast spot.  I returned to the motel, scooped up my friend, and we went back down the road where we happily ate matching breakfasts, called “The Roadhouse Breakfast.”  Upon its arrival, we were warmly greeted by oversized bowls of creamy grits, with a pile of slow-cooked chard nestled in the middle, 2 free-form, house made sausage patties, and a poached egg.  It was absolutely delightful.  The greens were tender, dotted with red bell pepper, but the overall flavor was mild and nourishing.  In fact, I think that’s the best way to describe the whole dining experience: mild and nourishing, but not boring in the least.  The sausage was loosely packed together, seasoned with fennel, and the egg was perfectly poached.  We also had a lovely server who was became quite invested both our travel plans, and our experience at her table, leaving our coffees off the tab.  I’m not sure if my grandfather would have enjoyed that breakfast.  The last thing I saw him eat was a corned beef sandwich; however, it was the perfect cozy meal for me in the wake of the previous days events. 

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