The big thrill of visiting somewhere else is indulging in the local cuisine. The hard part is finding out what's out there, especially in a smaller town. Yes, the hotel staff are a valuable resource (as are clients if you're on business), but why keep all of that good information to myself? Now that my dining out is done, here's a breakdown of the eats of the Hinesville and Savannah areas.
Beijing House Oriental Restaurant and Sushi Bar
744 E. Oglethorpe Hwy. (US-84)
Hinesville, GA 31313
From the outside, it doesn't look like much: a little hole-in-the-wall attached to a run-down motel. I didn't try any of the sushi, but the Chinese food isn't too shabby. I opened up with some steamed dumplings followed by chicken with snow peas as an entree. Everything was pretty tasty, though the chicken was swimming in sauce. The portions were very generous, so I'm thinking the idea is to go with a group and share (which, in my opinion, is the best way to eat Chinese.) At $15 for what was a very large meal, it ended up being a decent value as well. If you drop the appetizer and drink water instead of a soda, you can get out of there packed to the gills for under $10. I'd rate it a 3.75 out of 5 for the good value and good food. Not great, but good.
Baldino's Giant Jersey Subs
456 W General Screven Way (GA-119)
Hinesville, GA 31313
Sometimes there's nothing quite like a big sub loaded with artery-clogging goodies. That, folks, is what I had for lunch today. Like any red-blooded American man, I was looking very closely at the Italian Battalion and American Army sandwiches (hey, they're next to a huge army base). Double meat, double cheese, and enough calories to feed a third-world nation. I, however, opted for the cheesesteak and it was everything I hoped it could be. Like any good cheesesteak, it was loaded with grilled onions, peppers and mushrooms, though this one had a twist and is served with lettuce and tomato (neither of which would be a great loss if left off). Truly, this was the Sandwich of Champions. I give them 4.5 out of 5 for a very tasty sandwich at a decent price (footlong of steak for under $10). I feel sorry for the Subway next door.
Captain Joe's Seafood
317 S Coastal Hwy. (US-17)
Midway, GA 31320
No trip to a coastal city can possibly be complete without hitting up a local seafood place. I opted for Captain Joe's after seeing a billboard for it and having heard someone discussing it earlier today. It was a bit of a drive from the hotel (about 10 miles or 15 minutes), but it seems that Hinesville proper is somewhat lacking in restaurants. (The BBQ place I went to last time I was here has since moved on, leaving a Southern town with *gasp* no BBQ!) From the outside, you'd half expect to be accosted by guys wearing eyepatches and screaming "yarrr" in their best piratey voice. The building looked like it had been plucked off of the set of Pirates of the Caribbean and dropped in the middle of a grove of moss-covered trees. I was expecting great things.
Sadly, most of my expectations were not met. I'm generally not a big fan of salad bars in restaurants, the exceptions being Vegas-style buffets and Sweet Tomatoes. This one had a lot of items on the bar, but it wasn't very impressive. I realize I'm a food snob and know that lettuce doesn't end at iceberg, but I do expect restaurateurs to know this as well. It didn't look all that good either, so I had to kind of pick through it. The blue cheese dressing tasted kind of like watered down ranch: it was rather flavorless. I didn't try the soups, but I wasn't feeling like pressing my luck either.
I ordered a plate of fried scallops with some veggies on the side to try balancing out the 3/4 of the plate holding fried objects. The scallops were a bit on the small side, and they were pretty overwhelmed by the breading as a result. Every now and again, I got that signature sweet flavor that makes a scallop, well, a scallop. The veggies were also too Southern for their own good. For those of you that don't know, Southerners (bless their hearts) think a veggie isn't cooked until it's limp, it's spirit (and structure) forever broken like a horse's. To compensate for the lack of texture, they drown them in butter, and I mean with visible pools of the stuff at the bottom of the dish. Maybe I would've been better off with the fries.
The hush puppies, however, were spot-on. Crispy on the outside, slightly chewey on the inside and perfectly seasoned. I think the scallops would have been as impressive had they been a bit bigger so their flavor could shine through. As they were, they mostly tasted like tender balls of grease. Not my first pick. I'm going to go with a 2.5 out of 5 on this one. The good hush puppies prop this one up and I could taste that the scallops have hidden potential.
105 W General Screven Way (GA-119)
Hinesville, GA 31313
There's a rule of thumb that if you get food at a bar, it's probably going to be good. That said, I thought it'd be a good idea to check out a place advertising itself as a bar AND pool hall. The first thing that struck me is that for a bar, it was amazingly smoke-free. That's either from the small crowd there on a Wednesday night or an awesome ventilation system. Whichever it is, I got to enjoy a mushroom swiss burger without hacking up my lungs. It took a little while for the food to arrive, but it was worth the wait. The meat was juicy and flavorful and the portion size quite generous. The fries were pretty good too, the right amount of crispy and soft. I didn't hit up the pool tables (playing solo is no fun), but I'd certainly come here for a burger or sandwich again. I'm giving them 4.5 out of 5 for the good value, great food, and good atmosphere. I was a little disappointed that the burger was undressed: meat, cheese, mushrooms and a bun were the only items in this entree. While it stood well on its own, I like having those topping options open.
811 Elma G Miles Pkwy (GA-196)
Hinesville, GA 31313
Based on some online reviews, I decided to give this place a whirl. It's more-or-less a Chili's knock-off with karaoke on the side. (I chose to sit opposite the karaoke bit.) Having skipped lunch, I was ambitious enough to tackle an appetizer of Southwestern Eggrolls. A Chili's knock-off they might be, but those eggrolls were a definite step up from what you'll find at that national chain. The entree, however, did leave a little something to be desired. My hunger demanded steak. With potatoes. It seems, though, that my concept of medium rare doesn't jive with the cook; the middle was just about raw and the whole thing bled all over the plate. The concept of "loaded" mashed potatoes seems sound enough (How can you go wrong with cheese, bacon and sour cream?), but serving the potatoes at less than piping hot isn't good execution. I don't want to scald my mouth or have to wait for the dish to cool down before I can eat, but it wasn't exactly up to temperature.
I found out only after the fact that this is a small franchised chain, so that may explain how local flair got buried under the overdone decorating. I'm doling out a 3.25 out of 5 for the good service, great appetizer, yet not entirely satisfying main course. The karaoke also felt very out-of-place for a restaurant and pretty much just annoyed me the whole time, even though I was at the opposite end of the building.
812 Elma G Miles Pkwy (GA-196)
Hinesville, GA 31313
When cruising for lunch down the main drag, I was hopeful to find somewhere that dared to take cuisine off the beaten path. Naturally, a place called Caribbean Soul jumped right out at me and demanded a stop for lunch. It's a tiny little place with maybe 8 tables seating no more than 40 and a simple menu with what I would guess are the basics of Jamaican cuisine. (Not having Jamaican food before, I couldn't say.) I decided on a plate of hot wings and jerk chicken with veggies and pigeon peas and rice on the side.
Now let me warn you, this place has two kinds of hot, and I'm not talking hot-hot and spicy-hot. I'm talking spicy-hot and "lips burning 30 minutes later" hot. The wings I got were the later since I stupidly thought I could take it. I could only chow down on 2 of the 6 wings before I had to wave the white flag and move on to the rest of the meal. The veggies were a little too Southern-cooked (see Captain Joe's review above), but the peas and rice were great. I also really enjoyed my first experience with jerk chicken, a complex mix of sweet and savory I'm definitely up for hitting again. The waitress suggested getting their house fruit punch, a wise decision for anyone interested. It tastes like real fruit and even comes with cut-up chunks at the top of the glass for your snacking pleasure.
Even though the wings were hot, they were very good and really big: the drumettes could have easily been mistaken for full-on drumsticks. The serving sizes were generous, though about on-par with a $12 plate in budget surroundings. I'm handing out a 4.5 out of 5 for the good value, tasty food, and very friendly service.
Boar's Head Grill and Tavern
1 Lincoln St.
Savannah, GA 31401
Being the last day of the week and all, it was time to wander on down to the city and revisit a place I'd been before. Housed in an old cotton warehouse, the atmosphere is wonderful with original hardwood floors, wooden beams, brick walls and windows overlooking the river. The last time, I was wowed with a dish of shrimp creole over cheese grits. This time was no letdown either. I started off with a strong crab bisque with great texture and flavor. I followed it up with the day's special, sauteed flounder over angel hair. Both dishes were excellent and explain why this restaurant always does brisk business. If you come to Savannah or any of the surrounding burbs, it is well worth the trip to this little grill to dine on great food by the riverbank. This is going to be my only 5 out of 5 rating of any of the reviews I've done to date for the flawless dishes, great service, and wonderful surroundings.