Monday, April 11, 2016

April 11, 2016--From the Road: Rhonda's Biscuits

In Rocky Mount, NC, where we overnighted on our drive north, the weather forecast for the next driving day--to get us to Reston, VA, called for pockets of heavy rain and winds gusting to 35 miles per hour.

We needed to cover 250 miles and the thought of driving for hours along traffic-clogged I-95 in such a storm, with crosswinds buffeting tractor trailers from lane to lane, sounded scary. To the point where we thought that maybe we should stay put for the day and hope for better driving weather.

But the longer on-route forecast wasn't much better. In fact, Saturday night-Sunday all day sounded even stormier and more dangerous. Perhaps enough so that roads along the way might be blocked by fallen trees or precautiously closed to all but emergency traffic.

None of this sounded attractive.

Rona said, feeling more intrepid than I, "Why don't we get going and see how we do. We can always bail out and find a place to hole up."

"I'm game for that," I said, "In truth driving in this kind of weather is not my favorite thing but I'm eager to make progress and hit the City no later than Sunday afternoon when traffic at the Holland Tunnel and in the City itself is manageable. After three months in more laid-back South Florida, arriving near the City on a busy work day is a bit much for me."

"Why don't we look for a road north that parallels I-95? I'm sure there is one that might be less trafficked."

"Sounds like a plan. In fact, there is such a road. Route 301 that was the principal north-south route before I-95 was built. We did some driving along it yesterday for a blue-highway change of pace and it was fine."

As so we packed up, turned on the GPS and headed out.

"I'm not that hungry," Rona said, "Why not drive for awhile and see what we find. Off the interstates we always seem to stumble on interesting places."

"No Dunkin for me today," I said, "And no Cracker Barrel."

"They're OK in a pinch, I suppose. But I think we can do better."

And we did, two hours later, at Logan's Diner in Emporia, Virginia.

It didn't have the traditional look of a road-food place. A bit glitzy for us. Too newly renovated looking, but by then we were hungry enough to, if necessary, settle for coffee and a couple of eggs and toast at Cracker Barrel.

But the first hint that Logan's might turn out to be special was the fact that at 10:30--late for our favorite kinds of morning places--every seat in all the booths were full of what appeared to be local folks and there were just two stools left at the end long counter, which we quickly took possession of.

"I'll bet they have good country ham," Rona whispered. "We are after all just above the state line in southern Virginia."

"And biscuits," I said, "I'd be happy with just a couple and a cup of coffee."

"I think we can do better than that," she said, nodding toward the very elderly man next to whom we were now sitting. He was meticulously working on what appeared to be two perfectly fried catfish.

"I'll have coffee," Rona said to the cheery waitress, Ellie her name tag read, who had approached us with a steaming pot even before we could get fully settled. "And I think we're ready to order. It's raw out there and we are starving."

"You've come to the right place, dear" she said, smiling broadly. "Take your time. We've got nothing but time here. You look as if you've been battling the rain and wind all morning."

"True," Rona said, "More that two hours, "It's been . . ."

"This here coffee'll fix you right up," she said. "And," sliding two menus across the counter, said, "If you take a look you'll see you've come to the right place." She reached over to refill our neighbor's cup. "I'm sure Mr. Harris here will vouch for Rhonda's cooking." She winked and nodded toward to the sturdy woman working the grill.

The coffee was just what we needed and by the time the waitress returned to take our order, Rona said, "We'll both have a couple of soft scrambled eggs. My husband will have a side of country ham, which I'm sure he'll be willing to share."

"It is quite generous," Ellie said, nodding again in Rhonda's direction.

"And if you have 'em, I'd like some grits with butter and my husband will have a couple of biscuits. They look wonderful." Rona looked over toward a table packed with four townspeople, all with eggs and biscuits.

"Grits we can do," she said now leaning toward us and in a conspiratorial whisper adding,"but I don't know about them biscuits." Then, almost inaudibly, said, "I mean two."

"I realize it's late for breakfast," I said, "Do you have whole grain toast? I'm fine with that."

"Honey, that's not the problem." I looked at her quizzically. She was almost head to head with me and shrugged, again in Rhonda's direction, who was carefully lowering a couple of breaded catfish into the deep-fat frier.

"I don't want . . . ," I stammered.

"Here's what I'm thinkin'," she said so softy that only Rona and I could hear. "You both have her eggs, you have the ham, you honey have the grits, and then each of you have a biscuit. One," she said for emphasis.

Not really understanding but even hungrier by them as the smell of Rhonda's cooking permeated Logan's, I said, "I'm good with anything. Even one of Mr. Harris' catfish." He heard me and nodded, carefully wiping his fingers with a perfectly folded napkin.

To be concluded tomorrow . . .

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