Friday, June 24, 2011

Mac's Drive In: A Testament to Clemson Love

My father excited by the Mac's Drive In homecoming float
Clemson is not just a small town that hosts a wonderful college. Clemson is a feeling, a relationship, a lifestyle. Many will encounter the Clemson experience, but few will be able to fully indulge in the experience. Even some of the college students do not embrace all aspects of Clemson life, instead choosing to complain about the small town atmosphere. Few see beauty in the packed parking lots on a Clemson football game day. Few can talk about the sports teams as if the whole team is a member of the family. Few can find solace and peace on Bowman field with a frisbee in their hand.

Some students become so enamored with Clemson that they never leave. They are no longer a student, but they grow and fit another role in the unique balance of town and college that exists in Clemson. Harold McKeown, or "Mac," was one such student who graduated as an engineer, who could not give up his love of Clemson. Instead, he opened Mac's Drive In. When he opened his doors in 1956, he did not know that he was living Clemson history. When Mac passed away in December 2009, townies and out-of-state alumni mourned together. (To understand the essence of Mac's read the article from Anderson Independent done several years ago.)

To learn more about this wonderful place, watch this video

Driving past the brick shack, with an American flag at half-mast, my father recounted walking to Mac's on the weekends and how the milkshakes are still the best in town. Almost every alumni has a story of sitting at the worn stools and looking at all the hodgepodge of Clemson memorabilia. Time lines collided as faded photos of athletes and coaches long gone gather next to glossy new photos of names such as Dabo and Spiller.

The menu has been prepared by the same skilled hands for years. Many of the ladies are past the age of retirement, but a love of the place, the costumers, and the memory of a man keeps them flipping burger after burger, a smile as each burger hits and sizzles on the flat top. Burgers are served on tiny plain paper plates and fries in the classic red-checkered paper containers. No fancy plates are found at Mac's. Instead, simple American food will be served in an honest manner: cooked on an old flat top with the buns steamed to perfection. Nothing fancy added: no relish or sauteed mushrooms. The fanciest Mac's gets is their grilled cheese burger, a unique marriage of a grilled cheese sandwich and burger patty. Milkshakes come in two flavors: vanilla and chocolate. Home-made sweet tea is served by the gallons. The menu has not changed in years, and the grease now holds the letters onto the old-timey marquee menu board.

When I went into Mac's, I was greeted loudly by Jimmy Howard, the son of the great coach Frank Howard. Jimmy is a regular, and before he gets out of his old Chevy truck, with more rust than paint, the ladies have already started on his order and his to-go order for his son, Lil' Frank. I had just driven into town from our new home, and I was waiting for my husband to meet me at Mac's. Seeing Jimmy sitting on a faded orange stool, leaning on the well-used counter top, made me realize that while I wasn't lucky enough to stay in the area, I was lucky enough to live the Clemson experience to its fullest. I had done the transition from student to townie. Once townie status is achieved, it can never be taken away. I won't even open a restaurant like Mac or stay in the area forever, but with Mac's at Clemson attracting all forms of Clemson lovers, I know that I can always come home again and have a burger.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Pasta and Palm

Trae took me on a date a while back in May when I was up to my neck in boxes and feeling guilty that the 50 dollars I had spent on the Central Rec. Center membership that was not getting used. I did start off working out and swimming the first two weeks of the membership, but then my workouts became building boxes and hauling stuff into those boxes.

The date was to Paesono's Italian Grill in Seneca. I had been there twice before, but Trae never had. Driving to Seneca to eat always makes me think of Mum's Italia Ristorante, which was located where Copper River Grill now resides. Mum's was the default and delicious choice for roomies' night out. My two roommates and I from junior year use to get dressed up and drive to Seneca in Mel's trusty brown Volvo just to eat at Mum's. Mum's was classy but not overly pricey like the nicer restaurants in Clemson. The decor was unique and large Venetian-looking glass vases decorated the beams in the entrance and bar area.  Other Italian influenced decorations graced the main dining area.

Each meal was delicious and flavored with laughs. My favorite dish was a chicken pasta with toasted pine nuts and goat cheese. The pasta had a light olive oil sauce that mixed with the melting goat cheese. Each bite consisted of strings melted cheese that stuck to your lips and fork. The pine nuts added a nice crunch to the gooey dish.

We also always split dessert.

Now my old roomies are living in different states, Mum's has closed, and  it is my husband and I dressing up to eat Italian in Seneca. Paesono's is tucked away from the main drag of Seneca, which makes it hard to find but also more appealing. By being away from the main drag, diners can imagine they have driven to bigger cities like Greenville for dinner.  

The food is delicious. The garlic knots drip with garlic making kissing even your husband impossible. Calamari was crunchy with a light marina dipping sauce. Trae had a huge sampler platter while I had pasta primavera. The pasta was full of vegetables and the sauce wasn't too heavy. It was perfect for someone who was tired of packing, and gave me flash backs of wonderful Italian meals with roommates and friends over the years. (I felt sort of like Ego from Ratatouille, sucked back into better times that did not content tears brought on by  packing trauma.)
Ego's flashback from Ratatouille

The meal left us happy and relaxed, as well as a little sleepy with full pasta bellies. On the way back, we decided we needed dessert and stopped at the Palm Gas Station. While a gas station does not seem like a good balance for a fabulously cooked Italian meal, the Palm Gas Station slushies are high-classed.  These slushies are so good that bullies would not waste them for slushie facials.

The wall of slushies at Palm are a marvel to behold. At least ten flavors line the wall, but I only need two: Mocha and French Vanilla coffee. I fill my cup up mainly with Mocha flavor and then add a tiny bit of French Vanilla to the top (almost like adding a whip cream topper). The best part is that the extra-large slushie, which consists of 32 ozs of frozen heaven, is only two dollars. 

On the ride home while half asleep, I got to sip on my dessert knowing that packing would get done and that my husband would be there to help me. Or at least give me foot rubs when I needed them and that very soon I would be on the couch getting a foot rub while I finished my dessert. At that moment, while passing the old home of Mum's, things had come full circle.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

State of Mind

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” — Dr. Seuss

I am happy with those glorious years. I resided in Clemson for ten years, ever since I came there in 2001 as a scared and excited freshman, who hugged her parents goodbye and tried not to cry as they left. Now I am a married woman who tried not to cry as she left. 

The reason for my lack of blogging is that our moving timeline went nuts. We were suppose to move in July, but now, I am living in the new apartment in a new state while Trae is living in the old apartment (now a haven of packed boxes) with the cats. The community college we are working for in the fall called me and asked me if I wanted to tutor and teach for the summer. We also found an apartment we loved and it couldn't be held till the end of July. Therefore, five days after finding out I had a summer job, the car was packed with a blow up mattress, some basic kitchen essentials (the coffee pot), a Clemson fold out chair, and a tailgate table.  In the meantime, when I am in SC on the weekends, I go into packing overdrive.

Since the pots and pans are packed, we do eat out a lot, and are still working on the bucket list. In my free time, I will blog about the bucket list from the comfort of my fold out chair.

I never thought that my one-year wedding anniversary gift would be living with my husband in the same state for the first time in two months.  Yet, overall, I have enjoyed exploring and getting to know our new home. The people are wonderfully friendly, and I have already had many wonderful experiences of random acts of kindness. (A campus policeman saw I had a flat tire and kept checking the parking lot till I got there just so he could help, because he knew that from looking at the car I was a girl and an out-of-stater. He told me that he likes to think someone would help his daughter in the same situation.)

Also, our new kitchen is amazing. (I have already made cupcakes. I might not have a bed, but by golly I have baking supplies!) 

P.S. I will be adding pictures to my posts, but if it wasn't downloaded onto the computer already I can't get them off the camera. The picture-remover thingy is packed...oops.

Tony's Pizza

I come from a long line of Clemson graduates. When my cousin went to Clemson, the television show Saved by the Bell taught me through their college dream sequences that college was all about eating pizza and thinking of creative ways to get out of class. My first visit to her dorm room was disappointing because to my shock, not a single pizza box could be found in the room. I even asked where all the pizza boxes where and did she just throw them away since we were coming to visit.

Even though my cousin didn't have pizza boxes in her room, I know that my rooms at Clemson saw their fair share of pizza boxes. Saved by the Bell had one thing kids love their pizza, and Clemson knows that. Clemson has a plethora of pizza places to choose from. The chain pizza joints thrive at Clemson, such as Pizza Hut and Papa Johns; however most students and townies alike get their pizza from the local joints.  Todaro's and Peppino's are downtown Clemson, and stay up late to accommodate student schedules. Tony's Pizza is located in an older shopping center that is a hodgepodge of things: Gold's Gym, bagel shop with very random hours, and a thrift store.

Tony's Pizza, when it opened, seemed to doomed from the start. Nothing survived in that shopping center. Even when Win Dixie was open, the shops or restaurants in the strip only managed to stay open for a few months. Yet, Tony's has endured. After months of driving by it to church or on the way home, Trae and I decided to order a Tony's pizza. No special occasion prompted us to try Tony's,  The pizzas are not beautiful and at first glance, we were not sure what we had just ordered. In all honest, they have a slight school cafeteria pizza look to them. We were surprised at the quality of taste due to the cheap price.

The pizza is wonderful in its simplicity. The crust is not extremely thick, but does not qualify as a thin crust either.  The sauce is not overly sweet and no distinct cheeses stand out in the cheese blend. The sausage isn't huge hunks, but tiny crumbles that are spread evenly over the pizza. Yet, the basic ingredients come together to make a very satisfying pizza for under ten dollars. Does the pizza have the spice of Peppino's? No. Does the pizza have the greasy-goodness of Todaro's? Nope. But it is a simple, delicious, non mass-produced product that makes for a wonderful Monday night dinner while watching Top Gear with the husband.