As the years fly by, hosting our friend Bill’s annual visit to Charlotte gets more and more challenging to plan. We’ve hit most of the top touristy spots and I have a self-imposed rule of not repeating things.
It’s a chance to do things we wouldn’t normally seek out so I start collecting ideas months before his flight lifts off the ground in Boston. I’m happy to report this was the most fun “Bill” trip yet! It began when I cryptically told Bill to bring clothes that he didn’t mind getting dirty and, that he must arrive before the end of October.
Bill’s flight arrived on time and we hit the ground running…well, driving. As fans of the Netflix show House of Cards starring Kevin Spacey, we were beholdin’ to take Bill to see the spectacle that is the “Peachoid” in Gaffney, South Carolina. There’s a whole episode revolving around this peachy-keen water tower. (Season 1 – Episode 3)
What makes the structure so amusing is that yes, from some angles it looks like a peach, especially when you can see the leaf. But from other vantage points along I-85 it looks like a giant butt with a painful hemorrhoid mooning motorists.
The Peachoid is just a bonus drive-by on the way to our real destination: the BMW Zentrum visitor’s center at the BMW factory in Greer, SC. The factory tour was suspended until the summer of 2014 due to production of new models but that didn’t deter us.
The museum shows the history of BMWs from motorcycles to airplane engines to today’s vehicles capable of flying down the road. My favorite exhibit includes three Isettas. My parents had one of these quirky little cars when I was a toddler in New York City.
Isetta “bubblecars” were built by several different manufacturers. What distinguished the Isetta was a single door on the front of the car. The steering wheel, of course, is mounted on that door. In the BMW exhibit, one of the Isettas is hooked up to a small camper. I think my family’s car was the same as the red model.
I was a bit disappointed that the virtual factory tour was shuttered during our visit. That left us with not much to see. If you’re not a gear head, with no plant tour, real or virtual, you’re better off stopping only if you happen to be driving by during regular business hours. It was an interesting 20-minute stop but not compelling enough to make a destination.
We debated whether to go another 20 miles south down I-85 to Greenville for dinner. But, remembered it was a big NASCAR race weekend and didn’t want to hassle with traffic. We opted to head back to Charlotte.
Easily a hundred times we have driven by a shabby looking restaurant on South Boulevard called the Beef ‘N Bottle without a thought of stopping. South Boulevard runs the gamut from the hip area of SouthEnd where Claire Danes has lived when shooting the Showtime show Homeland to ugly strip malls, mini-storage facilities and ethnic markets where we can find ingredients for just about any recipe. The Beef ‘N Bottle sits in the mini-storage area across the street from a self-car wash.
Recently, though, a few good reviews for this 70s-era steakhouse throwback piqued our interest. We were shocked a couple of months ago when we tried to go there for our anniversary and the place was booked solid on a weeknight. Just for kicks, we called from the road and were shocked to easily snag a table. On a Friday night, no less!
The first thing that struck us as we stepped inside was that the joint sure lives up to its 70s steakhouse rep. It was almost an “Eh, I don’t know…” moment as we saw the dark shiny wood paneling, high wood booths and tables covered with white tablecloths shoved up practically on top of each other.
On the tables, replacing the usual breadbasket was a complementary cheese ball surrounded with crackers. I’m cheese-impaired. Bill and Mike claimed the cheese ball was so tasty they had to stop themselves to keep from killing their appetite.
The wine list looked good so we ordered a red. It was nicely handled and served at a good temperature. The Caesar salads that didn’t taste very Caesar-y. Mike thought it was missing the essential flavor combo of cheesy vinegar. The escargot was fine but not memorable.
Bill was extremely happy with his Fettucine (sic) Alfredo with lobster. I got scallops scampi: an odd preparation for scallops, but they were perfectly cooked and tasty.
It wasn’t Mike’s night though. He wanted the prime rib well done. Yeah I know, but even more ridiculous is that the waiter said it only came medium. The waiter couldn’t grasp the idea that Mike wanted the chef to simply cook a slab of prime rib a bit more. Throw it on a hot pan for a minute, for crying out loud. Personally, anything more than medium is ruining the beef. But, Jeez Louise! Give the customer what he wants. Instead, the lump of cow arrived cooked medium and the waiter never bothered to ask if everything was okay.
The best thing about the dinner was the wine. It was so good, we got a second bottle. I wish I knew what it was but by then my phone had died and I wasn’t taking notes. For dessert we shared slices of the key lime pie and deep-dish apple pie. Both were good but not great. There’s a reason why these 70s-era steakhouses faded with the new millennium. Sometimes change is good. As much as I prefer to support locally owned businesses, I have to say that the next time I have some extra cash and a hankering for a steak, I’ll splurge and pay a little more at Morton’s or Del Frisco’s.