The Traveling Mermaid: Alethea Kontis

Hello, the Lagoon! Princess Alethea Mermaid here.

For our next round of essays, we discussed covering two possible topics: travel and comfort food. I think the Mermaids ultimately settled on travel…but the combination of the two subjects struck a chord. (I mean, I am a writer, after all…)

When we travel back to those places that we loved, or the places we call home, there’s usually a food item or two on the list that is NOT TO BE MISSED when one takes a trip there.

In my lifetime, I’ve had a home in various states along the length of the East Coast. Vermont (where I was born), South Carolina (where I attended school), Middle Tennessee (where I became a published author), Northern Virginia (where the Waterworld Mermaids were formed), and the Space Coast of Florida (where I live now). And when I go back to visit each of those places, there are certain foods I try not to miss, if at all possible.

Vermont is the big one. Yes, my blood runneth Maple Syrup (the darker the better) and Ben & Jerry’s. A trip to Vermont is not complete without at least one maple creemee (what you folks down south call “soft serve”). These can be found at most gas stations, sugar shacks (where they farm & make maple syrup), and tourist stops.

As I drive through Stowe on my way to see family, there has to be at least one stop at Cold Hollow Cider Mill for hot apple cider, and apple cider donuts. I cannot drink apple juice—it makes my stomach hurt in all kinds of horrible ways. But warm, unpasteurized apple cider with lots of pulp is like sipping a cup of home.

There are more specific places: The Burger Barn, Poorhouse Pies, the Beanies truck…and, once upon a time, Nectar’s and Zachary’s Pizza…but maple and apple cider are definitely tops on the list.

South Carolina: I grew up in Northeast Columbia, not far from Fort Jackson. There’s a local burger chain there called Rush’s. They have amazing burgers, amazing fries, and amazing chocolate shakes. The best in the US, according to me.

The other not-to-be-missed place is The Egg Roll Station (or Egg Roll Chen) in West Columbia. I once drove through town, bought a bag full of pork egg rolls, and took them down to Charleston to present to my family for Christmas. Pretty sure I was the favorite child that year.

Middle Tennessee (Nashville): I could go on and on about hot chicken, or the biscuits at the Loveless Cafe, but my absolute favorite thing is the Black Bean Salad and Boja corn muffins from Calypso Cafe. Sigh…I miss those every day. Second favorite: Taste of China in Murfreesboro. No MSG and the best takeout I’ve ever had. I miss that place every day. Third favorite: Tokyo Japanese restaurant in Smyrna. Be sure to have the Smyrna roll!

Northern Virginia: Nashville had a wonderful diversity of cuisine, but NoVA took the cake. Indian, Thai, Greek…and they all delivered to your house. All the kabob places—ANY kabob places—rocked. They all had gyros along with kabobs…and they serve them in the giant flat naan bread, which is really how gyros should be served. My favorite restaurant is right ext to One More Page Books in Arlington called Chasin’ Tails. Get a pound of the shrimp boil tossed in a mixture of all the sauces they offer, put on a bib and some gloves and go to town (yes, I have even done this while wearing a princess gown). That place always makes me miss my Cajun relatives like nobody’s business.

Florida: Don’t ask. I’m still working on it. Titusville has a few decent restaurants, but nothing to write home about. Publix is probably in the top three restaurants in town. Wanna know the best thing here? My mom lives down the street. Nothing says Mom’s cooking like MOM’S ACTUAL COOKING!

What are some of your hometown favorites?

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