Sunday, February 11, 2007

The Northbrook Tornado

It started with a discussion about cheeseburgers. Where was the best cheeseburger in Lincoln county? The conversation was between Marty, myself and our friend Richie as we drove towards the Shake Shop in Cherryville (my personal favorite - the perfect ratio of hand-packed meat to slaw to cheese to tomato to lettuce to bun).

The cheeseburger debate led to a similar debate on Carolina dogs (a hot dog with chili, slaw, mustard, and onions) and before long Richie was offering his suggestions and tips on where to find the best of everything from BBQ to cheesesteaks(by the way, this conversation happened some time ago, when Marty and I were still relatively new to full-time life in North Carolina). It was during this discussion that Richie mentioned the Northbrook Tornado.

As soon as I heard his description, I wanted to try it. It sounded so decadent, so indulgent, so improbably delicious - a unique and wonderful small town delicacy tucked away at an ordinary country kitchen in Western Lincoln county.

You think we would have turned the car around and headed straight from Cherryville towards Mitchem's Kitchen, home to the Northbrook Tornado. But we didn't. As I said earlier, the cheeseburger at Shake Shop is my favorite.

Despite my intense interest, we didn't head to Mitchem's kitchen the next weekend. Or the next. In fact, it would take 7 months until we finally made the trip. The impetus was a visit from our friend Rick, a loyal If That Ain't Country reader and always up for what Marty has simply come to term, a "blog-worth experience." Plus, we had been out late the night before at Zippers and the Northbrook Tornado seemed like the perfect lunch.

Mitchem's Kitchen is located in Vale, NC. It's 12 miles west on Route 27 - a straight shot from downtown Lincolnton. The drive out is fairly typical for this part of the world: long sawths of farmland peppered with homes ranging from ramshackle trailers and small ranch-style homes to the occasional and painfully out of place brick behomoth complete with 4 white columns.

We walked into Mitchem's on Saturday at 1:45pm. I was expecting the lunch rush to be over but every table was filled and two women were sitting on a wooden bench waiting for this first opening. Although I knew what I was ordering, I flipped through the menu to pass the time. It was a typical North Carolina grill menu: hamburgers, hot dogs, BBQ, simple sandwiches (bologna, ham & cheese), and just about fried everything - from dill pickles to oysters to corn on the cob (a first for me).

The interior was also pretty typical. Linoleum floors, flourescent lighting, and large wooden tables. A couple of red wagons were mounted from the ceiling and an inflatable corn dog wearing sunglasses hung above one table. A shelf overflowing with trophies (perhaps from the Mithcem's children) lined one wall.

The clientele looked to be mostly simple, country folks (I spotted at least one pair of overalls) and although the 3 of us were dressed pretty casually (jeans and tees), we seemed out of place and definitely attracted attention.

We were finally seated. When the waitress brought our drinks she also brought us a small order of hushpuppies and some homemade tartar sauce to dip them in. It could have been that I was starving, but they were delicious. Hot and crispy on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside. Perfect.

I ordered my Northbrook Tornado.

"Would you like that on a bun or on a plate?" I ordered it on a bun but was thrilled to know that a Northbrook Tornado was also safe for those periods when I am low-carbing it.

"And what would you like on it dear?"

You mean I could get something on it? I asked the waitress what people normally put on it. That seemed to confuse her and instead she told me the ingredients. I settled for the addition of slaw, which is a failsafe accompaniment in this part of the world. Marty ordered his Tornado all the way (again - for the uninitiated, all the way or Carolina style is chili, slaw, mustard and onions). We also ordered some fries and onion rings.

I thought the fries were unimpressive. They were frozen crinkle cuts that could have been hotter and crispier in my opinon. The onion rings on the other hand were delicious. Hand-cut, oversize slices of onion dipped in a crispy, cornmeal enhanced batter. They are some of the best onion rings I have ever had.

And as for the Northbrook Tornado? It was everything I hoped for, everything I expected and well worth the wait. But then again, how can you go wrong with a large, all-beef hot dog, wrapped in bacon, deep fried and then covered with melted cheese (and in my case, slaw)?

And if that ain't country, I'll kiss your...


Anonymous said...

The Northbrook Tornado... My cousin fondly calls it a heart attack on a bun. The Half and Half is fabu too.