Wednesday, March 9, 2011

MITCHELL'S HARDWARE


Mitchell's Hardware Store, 215 Craven Street in historic downtown New Bern, is an authentic turn-of-the-century hardware store, as integral to the town's history as Tryon Palace.

From its beginning at the turn of the century, Mitchell's had a reputation for being the place to go for hard-to-find items.  The same is true today.  My hubby has gone to Mitchell's more than once for items not available elsewhere in New Bern (e.g., mineral oil, balls of butcher's string and a plumbing fitting for his boat).
This is a true old-time country store.

A person could literally spend hours here, uncovering hidden gems in the huge inventory of hardware items, cast iron cookware, traditional pottery, enamel ware, bird-watching accessories, spices, seeds and more.  And if you just can't go through all that, there are friendly employees to help.  If you have out-of-town guests, give them a tour of our beautiful downtown, and show them Mitchell's. We bring all our out-of-town guests here for a delightful visit.  Most of them find something they want to purchase.

Seeds are available via packets, but also by the ounce or pound.


Two years ago, my hubby was referred by a local to Mitchell's for stringbean seeds that were supposedly superior for their tenderness and flavor.  The problem:  we only needed about 6 seeds for the earthbox.  No problem.  These seeds produced the heartiest vines, and the absolute best stringbeans we've ever eaten.  Greg, the present owner, told me why.  "All of our seeds are North Carolina seeds.  That means they'll grow in North Carolina."  Greg is constantly answering questions posed by customers, such as this gentleman who was interested in purchasing veggie packs but wanted to know more about the plant.


Greg knows everything you need to know about the plants that are sold at Mitchell's.  The plants are all grown in New Bern to increase your likelihood of success.  As soon as I saw the luscious lettuce plants, I knew I needed to buy some.  Mitchell's has spinach, spicy mix, arugula, red and green leaf lettuces and mesclun in round pots for $5.99 each.  


Greg cautioned me that I need to continually pick the leaves so that more will be produced.  If you stop picking, Greg said, the plant will stop producing.  I appreciated the reminder, though I was already aware of this since  I grow lettuce every year.  There's no need to transplant what's in the pot.  In fact, it's best to just leave the lettuce right in its original container.  So, on the way home, we stopped at Wal-Mart and bought some clear plastic saucers.  The lettuce and arugula look beautiful on our patio coffee table.
Mitchell's will be getting tomato plants, peppers and herbs soon.  You can bet we'll be back to get some.  


Mitchell's store hours, in case you're wondering are:
  Monday - Friday, 6:30 AM - 5:30 PM
  Saturday, 6:30 AM - 5:00 PM

Monday, March 7, 2011

BREAKFAST AT PORT CITY JAVA

Port City Java, a trendy coffee shop on Middle Street across from First Citizens Bank parking lot, is part of a national chain.  Open 7 days a week, their offerings include breakfast and lunch sandwiches, pastries, coffees, teas, cold drinks, smoothies and salads.
Place your order at the counter where you'll see the menu on a wall blackboard.
Pastries are arrayed in a glass case.
Service is friendly, but don't take too long because there probably will be a line forming behind you.  This place is popular.  People seem to filter in and out constantly.
Once you've placed you order, you can sit at one of the tables.  There were only a few available when we got there at about 9AM today.  Since most people object to being photographed by a stranger, I didn't snap a picture of the dining area.  It's cozy, but tables are understandably small.  This is a coffee shop, after all, not a full-fledged restaurant, so small tables are part of the territory.

Also typical of coffee houses is a "living room" area with comfortable upholstered furniture where someone can enjoy a cup of joe with a newspaper or laptop.  A gentleman was using his laptop in the "living room" area, so I carefully shot a photo of part of the area, leaving him out.
Since breakfast offerings are limited, Guy and I ordered the same: Sausage, egg and cheese sandwich on a toasted basil tomato bun and a cup of decaf.  The black coffees are given to you at the register in paper cups.  If you want milk, half and half, creamer or sugar, take your cup to the beverage counter.
When our sandwiches were ready, they were called out.  There are no numbers given, so you really have to pay attention.  No frills here, just a sandwich on a plate.
The toasted basil tomato buns were delicious, the sausage was fresh tasting, not greasy, nicely cooked, and the cheese was temptingly melted over the egg.  The coffees were typical of coffee shop java which is stronger than average.  Port City's decaf is not like Starbucks though, which is so strong I can't drink it.  I found my decaf enjoyable, but Guy could not finish his, stating it was just too strong.  The breakfast sandwiches were $3.30 each, and the coffees were $1.70 each.  

If I were young, or not carb conscious, I would love this place.  The casual atmosphere and good dollar value are definite draws.  But I'm old and watching my carbs like crazy.  Though the bun was delicious and I wanted to eat it, I discarded most of it, thanks to good willpower.   I like my breakfast served at a bigger table, on a plate with fork and knife.  And I like my coffee in a ceramic mug.  That being said, I have no doubt that Port City Java will be in business for a long time to come.  

Thursday, March 3, 2011

BREAKFAST AT THE BAKER'S SQUARE

The Baker's Square, 227 Middle Street, New Bern, (252) 637-0304, has been serving family-style food for over 20 years.  As the sign says, it's a restaurant and a bakery.  Fresh homemade breads, cookies, cinnamon and pecan rolls and pies are a big draw here.  Located in New Bern's historic downtown area, the restaurant is open Monday through Wednesday 7AM - 230PM, and Thursday through Saturday 7AM - 8PM.     




The inside of the restaurant is very casual, with a homey appeal.  


There was no line when we entered at 9:30 AM today (Thursday).  On Saturday mornings you had best get there early if you want to get seated.  This place is hugely popular, especially at breakfast time.  Now that I've visited, I see why.  Prices are good, and then there's that fresh-baked bread.  


Guy ordered The Suburban (Toast, hashbrowns, 2 eggs, sausage).  But -- get this -- $6.95 even includes coffee. There's plenty on the menu to choose from, including omelets.


But everything was either two eggs or three eggs.  I asked the server if I could order just one egg.  I mean, is there anyone left in the world except me who eats only one egg at breakfast?  He said that would be no problem.  Then I timidly asked if I could possibly have the egg poached.  No problem.  I was excited.  There aren't very many places in New Bern that will poach your eggs.  Christoph's at the Hilton, IHOP, and now The Baker's Square.  So my order was 1 poached egg, 1 slice of wheat toast.  


My excitement was short lived.  Though my egg was good, even though it was sitting in a pool of water, it had the company of egg #2, which I didn't order.  The server assured me that I wouldn't be paying for it, but we all know that every customer pays for waste.  Two huge pieces of toast arrived, of which I could only eat about 1/4 of one piece.  Really, who could eat two extra-large slices of 1" thick bread?  Do people really eat like this, or do they just want it to look like they are giving you a lot for your money?   


Hubby Guy has already been here once and wasn't crazy about the place.  Last time he ordered bacon.  This time he ordered sausage and was really annoyed when it came very dry and overcooked.  He says they are serving what is left from yesterday.


I was disappointed that no one came to our table to ask if everything was okay -- they were busy seating new walk-ins.  If someone had come, we would have asked for fresh sausage. 

Nothing is greasy in this place, though, and that's a plus.  The hashbrowns are not true hashbrowns.  They are really good.  Outside is tender-crisp, and inside is light and fluffy, which makes me guess that the potatoes were pre-cooked and then deep fried at point of order.   Not a bit greasy either.  Eggs were also cooked nicely and the bread is absolutely delicious.


If only that sausage hadn't been overcooked.  I tasted it.  It had a nice flavor, it was just so dry.  I don't blame Guy for not eating it.


The acoustics here could use some fixing.  Conversations three tables away floated over our table.  Guy said the last time he was here the place was full, and some crying children were upsetting his meal.  (Neither of us has anything against kids, but it's like being on a plane and listening to a child scream for two hours.  It does start to get to you.)  We were finished eating, and still no one came to our table.  We waited a bit, then finally went up to the register to see if we could pay.  Maybe that's the system, though no one informed us. 


Anyway, the counter person asked if everything was okay, and my hubby told him the sausage was terrible.  He asked if he could give him a cookie to take home.  My hubby declined and paid the bill.  I'm wondering when we are going to stop paying for food we can't eat.  The entire bill was only $10.95 plus tip, so there's not much to complain about I guess.  Before we gave our credit card, again we were asked, "Wouldn't you like to take some cookies home, or some cinnamon rolls?"


Would I go back?  Well, that depends.  If Christoph's and IHOP are closed and I really don't feel like cooking, the answer would be yes.