By Shannon Drayer
If you haven't had a chance to catch "Road Eats" on the Sunday magazine show, you are missing out. Producer/engineer Kevin Cremin, in his 31st year traveling with the Mariners, takes on the tough task of finding great spots to eat in the cities we are in. Some places are new, while others like those we visited this week are tried and true road favorites.
For the narrative, the podcast of "Road Eats" can be found here. A quick run down of our stops in St. Petersburg and Texas is below.
El Cap in St. Pete is hands down my favorite burger joint on the road. If we get in to town before it closes it is an absolute automatic that is where we are heading. El Cap is a small sports bar which former MLB umpire Augie Donatelli bought in 1963. With the exception of more televisions, by the looks of things it is hard to believe much has changed since then.
At El Caps you can get chicken fingers, Italian subs or even a grilled tilapia sandwich, but why anyone would order anything other than one of their spectacular burgers is beyond me. Made to order to the done-ness of your choice with the toppings you desire, they are served on a small plate with a fork and knife, which sometimes becomes necessary because these babies get messy. What makes them so good? They remind me of a burger I would make at home. You get exactly what you want -- good sized and cooked perfectly, all for about $4, so priced well enough to get two, which I am not ashamed to say I did when we arrived Thursday night. I wasn't sure I could get back so I was taking no chances.
From burgers to barbecue in Texas. I am not sure I have ever said this out loud for fear that I might get taken off the crew, but truth be told I am not a barbecue fan. I don't go out of my way to avoid it but I am hardly heartbroken when post-game radio duties don't allow me to go with Cremin and group to the post-game barbecue joints in Kansas City.
In Texas, however, barbecue for lunch was the plan Friday and not having anything better to do I decided to go along. I was pleasantly surprised with Lockhart's Barbecue. I loved the unintentional charm of the place. It reminded me more of a gas station than a restaurant -- a gas station with a giant smoker and huge chunks of charred meats on a butcher block behind the counter.
Cremin did the ordering. Half a pound of brisket (you want that healthy or delicious, we were asked) four giant beef ribs, half a pound of smoked turkey and a sausage, all of which were wrapped up in white butcher paper along with four slices of white break. The package weighed in at just under three pounds.
We ordered a couple sides and pops in bottles and headed to a table. Three things were missing -- sauce, forks and plates. They don't believe in plates, it turns out, and tolerate forks and sauce if you must. While I stayed away from the ribs and sausage, the brisket was indeed unhealthy and tasty, and the turkey was perfectly smoked and surprisingly juicy. While I am hardly an expert on barbecue, Cremin is and he calls Lockhart's the best in Texas. I would certainly go back.
The final stop was at Babe's for fried chicken. You want to get the entire group of broadcasters together, send a group text with just the word "Chicken" and the time and they will converge in the hotel lobby and follow you wherever you are going. This trip was fun because we had a first timer in Aaron Goldsmith, who held his own for about 15 minutes and then faltered at the finish. He will learn.
Babe's has passed Stroud's in KC in the best fried chicken category as far as the broadcasters are concerned. Flavorful and juicy (I would love to know what their brining process is), they serve the perfect piece of pan-fried chicken. Throw in the traditional sides of mashed potatoes, gravy, beans, corn and biscuits and it is as good a Sunday dinner on a Friday as you will get anywhere. The one downside to Babe's is they have an array of what looks like wonderful home-baked pies for dessert, but we have yet to try one. In the words of Mike Blowers, "If you order the pie, you aren't eating enough chicken." Probably true. If you are in Dallas, Babe's is a must.
Again, for more on these spots check out the podcast.