Virginia is for lovers.
“There is no sincerer love than the love of food.”–Bernard Shaw
Greetings from Norfolk, Virginia home to the world’s largest naval base. Landing in the Norfolk airport always makes me think of a life-size game of battleship with all the ships parked in the dock. It is quiet the sight.
I’m here for work…another work trip you might be thinking but fortunately this time I had the weekend in between to rest a little—read, eat my way through Norfolk—before starting work again on Monday. When you’re away on work-travel over a weekend the weekend seems to have more time than back home because you don’t have to trouble yourself with laundry, cleaning, running errands, etc. So, on Saturday morning I found my way to a coffee shop and enjoyed a latte while I did some reading and writing until I was ready for lunch. A few years ago, I had eaten at Handsome Biscuit—a local biscuit joint—and remembered it being delicious so I hopped into a Lyft (similar to Uber) and went to Handsome Biscuit.
I walked into the small shack painted the orange of a traffic cone. I stared at the chalkboard menu where everything revolved around a biscuit: biscuit with PB&J, biscuit with a fried egg, biscuit with fried chicken. “How can I help you?” asked the young guy behind the counter. He wore a trucker hat over his red hair. His beard was orange and Merlot colored.
“What should I order?”
“You’re not from here,” he told me.
“No, I’m not,” I replied.
“Where are you from?” he asked.
“California,” I smiled.
“I’m sorry,” he laughed at his cleverness, “just kidding. Welcome to the south. We eat fried chicken and biscuits.”
He gave me a quick rundown of the menu and suggested the Stevie, a sweet potato biscuit sandwich with fried chicken, homemade pickles, whole grain mustard, and wildflower honey. I added a side of apple coleslaw and a homemade apple and ginger soda. I wrote in my journal on the wobbly table until my food arrived at which point I put away my journal. Most of my journals have food and drink stains on them but this was a serious two-handed operation. I rolled my sleeves up and grabbed a pile of napkins. I took a bite of the coleslaw, it was excellent: creamy, tangy, and crunchy. Next, I had a bite of the fried chicken. There was probably twice as much fried chicken than biscuit which is a beautiful thing. And how to they get the chicken so crunchy? I love to cook but I’ve never made fried chicken. I don’t think I ever will, either. It’s one of those things I eat so rarely that I’ll leave it to the experts. It was delicious. Hot, tender chicken with a strong coat of fried crust. The honey, pickles, and mustard were just the right accompaniments to the fried chicken. Seriously it was perfect.
After I had finished my meal I got up to wash my hands…you’ve got to love a place with a red toilet. As I walked back to my seat to drink my soda and contemplate my meal, the young guy looked at me and said, “Congratulations! You cleared your plate.”
I get these types of comments often and it just cracks me up. The other night my boss and I went to an Italian place for dinner, after our first and second courses—that were excellent I will add—we both ordered a different cake for dessert, she wanted the almond cake, I chose the lemon-mascarpone. The host, who had told us his favorite dessert, walked by and said, “wow, you ordered one each!?” I don’t know why it’s surprising to people that I love food so much and indulge in it. As the epigraph says, food is the sincerest of loves.
Speaking of love, you might be wondering where “Virginia is for lovers” comes from and as it turns out it’s nothing more than a very successful ad campaign developed in the 1960s that has stuck. And since there’s good fried chicken here, I take that as Virginia is for food lovers. Well my friends, I hope I’ve left you with a craving for fried chicken and if that is the case I highly recommend the fried chicken at La Balena in Carmel. People are often surprised when I say that my favorite fried chicken is from an Italian restaurant in Carmel but there’s fried chicken in every culture. Don’t quote me on that, I don’t know about every culture but The South most certainly doesn’t have the monopoly on fried chicken although they do a really good job at it.