Saturday, September 21, 2013

North Wilkesboro, NC, Talia Espresso


How many times have you been told, “If you want a good, really good, cup of coffee go to North Wilkesboro, North Carolina? Not often, I’ll bet. Well, I’m telling you now!


North Wilkesboro is the home of Talia Espresso. Has been for the past eight years. Click here to see their website. But you’ll have to visit to be sure that I’m not exaggerating here. They serve really good coffee. Best I’ve ever had, in fact. Even including the remarkable brews served in Japan’s coffee shops during the early 1960s.

front sign

jim and kathy

Jim and Kathy Kozak have created a remarkable institution here. They’re both originally from Detroit, Michigan. Long-time North Wilkesboro residents now. By choice, not by accident of birth.

ClickToListenClick this button to hear them explain why they chose North Wilkesboro, North Carolina, to site their bistro. The sound is terrible. All my fault. But Jim and Kathy spend all day, every day except Sunday, working in their shop. So, if you want to interview them you’ll have to do it there. (That has to be the Detroit Sound you hear in the background.)

ClickToListenListen to Kathy and Jim again as they explain their philosophy of business development, the ideas that created this remarkable institution on Main Street, North Wilkesboro, North Carolina.


20130910_165523Their effort shows. Here are a couple photos of the dining area. Comfortable, roomy, and inviting. It’s the sort of place where parents can walk by, see their teenage children sitting inside at a table, and be pleased to have them there.


My photos never come out the way they should. But click on each one and you should get the general idea. Talia is a comfortable place. It feels like a living room with room service! Oh, and with WiFi.

Another interesting point is the diversity of clientele. Teenagers, parents with small children, professional adults, and even folks older than me. In their 70s and 80s. All appeared to be comfortable and enjoying their coffee and sandwiches.


Did I mention food? Most of the high-end coffee shops I’ve visited offer sweet rolls and cookies with their coffee. That sort of thing. At eye-popping prices, usually. At Talia Kathy and Jim – mainly Kathy’s cooking, I suspect – have full breakfast and lunch menus. Prices too were surprisingly low.

ClickToListenIf after reading about Talia you’re inspired to rush out and open your own coffee shop, you’d better listen to Jim describe what it takes to succeed. Pay special attention to the number of hours he and Kathy have to work each week to maintain the quality and environment. Success doesn’t just happen.

ClickToListenA final point. Both times I visited Talia two teen-agers were working beside Kathy and Jim behind the counter. Preparing and serving coffee and food. One boy and one girl. Both were the sorts of youngsters you’d be pleased to have your child bring home for a visit. So I asked Jim and Kathy where they found their employees. Give a listen here.

drive thru

So there you have it. The Talia Espresso bistro in North Wilkesboro, North Carolina. Best coffee I’ve ever had, and an inspiration to visit. It’s worth the trip. Though don’t go on Sundays. Jim and Kathy have more important things to do on that day. If you’re in a hurry you could stop at the drive-through out on 421. Jim assures me the coffee there’s the same quality as that served on Main Street. I’ll stick to the Main Street location, though. It’s a great place to visit.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Bandit’s Roost Corps of Engineers Campground NC

01 main gate

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers maintains some of the nicest campgrounds in the country, for my money. And speaking of money, with a Senior Pass you get a 50 percent discount from already reasonable rates. Click on the photo above and you’ll see prices here run from $18 to $25 per night. Divide than by two, if you’re old enough, and have had the good sense to get a Senior Pass!

Now, Bandit’s Roost is in the Other Carolina, a fairly long drive from Columbia. But last week it was hot as the dickens at home, and a trip North sounded like a good idea. I don’t recall the mileage, but it was about three hours of uneventful highway driving. Not much to report about I-77.

02 Aliner on site

Campsites at Bandit’s Roost are convenient. Here you see Site # 27, a pull-through near the water on all sides. It had a 50-amp hookup for those of you with the enormous rigs. The Aliner gets along with 30-amp, but it’s nice to have it available. This site was almost perfectly flat. No BAL Leveler required. And it had a solid stone/dirt surface. We didn’t have rain last week, but I doubt that it would get the least bit muddy. The only disadvantage of this site, and of many sites at Bandit’s Roost, was the lack of shade. The sun was hot, so the Aliner’s air conditioner got a workout. Cool enough at night, though, to keep the windows open.

03 beach across water

This wading/swimming beach area was just across the water from my campsite. Beautifully maintained sand.

05 swimming area

And here’s a similar, if a bit smaller, swimming area just a short walk from my campsite. Click on the photo to take a closer look. You’ll see that it is well maintained. Beautiful sand. No trash. Plenty of safety equipment. No life guard, of course. But you can’t have everything.

04 campground general

This is another view of the campground to give you a better idea of how things are arranged here. Quite different from the South Carolina State Parks I usually visit. Not better or worse, necessarily. Just different. It’s obvious the Corps of Engineers has more money to spend than the South Carolina Parks System. Roads are in better shape, for example. Campsites too. Still …. Oh well, comparisons are bound to mislead. Let’s look around some more.

07 mountain victory trail

Here, just to the right of the Campground entrance, you’ll find the Overmountain Victory Trail. Click here for more detailed information about this interesting feature. Now, this is worth some attention.

08 trail sign

This trail is some undertaking. I’ve visited King’s Mountain State Park in the past, and the adjacent national park at the site of the Battle of King’s Mountain. (Click here to access those posts.) One of the most important battles of the Revolutionary War. The beginning of the Patriot victory. This trail commemorates the “Overmountain Men” who achieved that remarkable victory in October of 1780. They came from Tennessee, Virginia, and the two Carolinas. Here we have the opportunity to follow their progress. A lot more comfortably than the Overmountain Men traveled in 1780!

09 boat ramp

I spent much of my time at Bandit’s Roost working on the second novel in the Ray Raether South Carolina RV Travel Mystery series, so didn’t get out and around much. This Park, though, is a boating enthusiast’s dream. Kerr Lake, or Kerr Reservoir, is ideal for boats of any size, including kayaks. I’d hoped to dip a paddle while here, but it was just too darn hot. The photo above is of the boat ramp at the campground. Everything you need here. Wikipedia has a good article devoted to the Lake, or Reservoir. Click here to read more about it.

10 lake map

Here’s a large map on the wall of the Headquarters Building. I’ve added a yellow arrow to indicate the location of the campground. I hope to return with my kayak when the weather cools down a bit. Though they’re open only through October 30th. Better hurry.


Stay tuned for a trip to a remarkable coffee shop in nearby North Wilkesboro. Talia Espresso is what we all hope for when we enter an up-scale coffee shop. Owners Jim and Kathy Kozak even agreed to sit for a short interview!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Village of India Restaurant, Columbia, SC

front sign
“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” How many times have we heard that? Good advice, especially when you look at mine. Nonetheless, we all do just that. If we didn’t, most book designers would be out of business.
menu picture
We inevitably make assessments based on initial, often superficial, appearances. That’s true for books, for people, and even restaurants. Traveling around South Carolina I often run into restaurants that look modest from the outside, but once inside serve excellent food. Often at reasonable prices. I’ve written about a few of them in these pages. The Pumpkintown General Store and CafĂ© up near Table Rock State Park was a good example.  Best cheeseburger, fries and coleslaw I’ve ever eaten. At any price!
Here’s one more to add to the list: “Village of India.” As noted on the front of the menu, they’re open seven days a week. Master Chef Daljit Singh and Neelam Rani are there every day, taking a rest only on Mondays at lunchtime. Don’t know how they do it, but the result is the best Sub-Continent food I’ve had in years.
Here’s how you find Village of India. Drive north on Two Notch Road from Columbia or from the I-20 or I-77 intersections. After several traffic lights you’ll see a fire station on the left, followed by the State Credit Union. Slow down and turn left at the next traffic light into the Northeast Shopping Center. You can’t miss the sign. Plenty of parking too!
dining room a
Inside, this restaurant is beautifully appointed. Crisp tablecloths and napkins at every place setting. Tables toward the center and booths along both sides of the walls. This is a fancy place. Glad I don’t have to wash and iron all of those tablecloths and napkins!
buffet table
The best is yet to come. If you arrive at lunchtime, before 2:30, you’ll see this buffet table with ten or so main dish selections. Plus salad and sweet offerings. Everything is fresh, nothing “steam tabled,” if that’s a term. Both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes.
Get a plate and try a small – very small – helping of each. Be sure not to overload that first plate because you’ll be back. At least once. You’ll be amazed to discover – at least for now – that all of this costs only $7.95! What a bargain. Once you learn which dishes best suit your palate you’ll want to come for dinner when prices go up a bit. $7.95. I mean!
Master Chef and Owner, Daljit Singh, is a legend here in the Indian community. He trained for over twenty years under the strict discipline of his elder brother before branching out on his own. I’ve yet to meet his brother, but he has to be some teacher.
Mr. Singh is a perfectionist. Try, for example, his chicken tikka masala. This is a popular dish served by every Indian restaurant I’ve ever visited. Here, though, it’s different. Each cube of chicken in the onion-tomato-yogurt sauce has been roasted and seasoned perfectly. impossible with mass production. It must take forever to prepare.
Village of India also offers a catering service. They'll prepare specialized menus for any size group, Chef Singh says. From small family groups to hundreds of people.
I could go on and on about Village of India. Come out and give it a try next time you’re in Columbia. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Monday, September 2, 2013

A Glimpse of the Cayce Historical Museum

03 building
Most of South Carolina’s 47 counties support some sort of museum. Some more generously than others. I’ve visited several, most recently Barnwell County’s.

But only a few towns or cities sponsor their own museums. Cayce, South Carolina is one of those exceptions. With good reason, as I learned during a visit last Friday. They have an important story to tell.
Next chance you get, drive from Columbia across the Congaree River via the Blossom Street Bridge onto Knox Abbott Drive. Turn left onto 12th Street at the Krispy Kreme intersection. You’ll find the Cayce municipal office complex and Museum about a half-mile down on the right. It’s a short drive, in other words. AND, you have a good excuse to stop at Krispy Kreme on the way back for a donut or three.

I’ve been through this intersection dozens – hundreds! – of times since arriving in Columbia in 1986. It’s the shortest route to the Columbia Airport from the University, for one thing. And, of course, there’s the Krispy Kreme factor…. But I’ve never bothered to visit the Museum. Heard about it, but didn’t make the turn onto 12th Street. What a mistake!

A mistake I decided to rectify last Friday while searching for a more respectable way to procrastinate from drafting the third chapter of this second Ray Raether and Samantha RV travel mystery. Truth be told, my expectations were limited.

Well! What a surprise. Walking up the neat brick-lined path from behind the building you see at the top of the page I found this DAR monument.

02 monument inscription
Click on the image above to read the inscription. In case you have difficulty, here’s the text:
“In 1775 the building upon the ground adjacent hereto was used as a store. Upon the fall of Charles Town in 1780 the British seized the store, fortified it, and established here “The Post at the Congarees.” Attacked Feb. 19, 1781 by Gen. Sumter, who on the 21st destroyed the magazine and supplies in sight of Rawdon’s Army across the river, he having come from Camden to relieve the Post. Captured by Lee, May 15, 1781. Reoccupied by Rawdon, July 1, 1781, Reoccupied by Greene, July 4, 1781.”
01 main sign
Now, that’s a lot of fighting! A lot of military effort. “Fort Granby, or “The Post at the Congarees,” must have been important to both the Patriots and to the Royalists. I learned last Friday that it most certainly was.

Granby, according to the Museum’s “History of Cayce” webpage, was laid out in 1735. It soon “… became the most important inland commercial town east of the Mississippi River.” That’s quite a claim. But by the end of my visit I was convinced.

04 ellisoreThe trading post at Granby built in 1765 is what you will see when you visit the Museum. Well, an accurate replication, anyway. Local builder, John Ellisor created a detailed model of the original, which survived for over 200 years, and constructed the present building himself from measurements taken from that model.

This means we can be quite sure the 1765 structure that became the Royalists’ “Post at the Congarees,” and then the Patriots’ “Fort Granby,” looked much like this building. I forgot to ask the square footage, but even today this is an impressive structure. It would have been far more impressive in the mid-eighteenth century.

06 display 2
Inside, the Museum’s displays are arranged in four rooms: two downstairs and two upstairs. After contributing a modest admission fee, you might want to head straight upstairs to the American Indian collection. To begin at the beginning. Or, what we know of the beginning, anyway.

09 Am Ind 1
This display, covering the walls and two rows of glass cases in the center of the room, has to be one of the finest and most comprehensive in the country.

I’m especially interested in early American Indian history in the Southeast [Click here to see 17 posts from a tour I made of three American Indian mound complexes in the Southeast in 2010] Well, I should have visited this Museum before making that tour. Thousands of artifacts, skillfully displayed and explained.

After ten minutes or so I realized I must come back and spend a few days in this room alone. With camera and notepad. It really is remarkable.

08 toy store
Now, take a look at this. The Granby Toy Store! The Town of Granby must have been a going concern if it was able to support a store devoted exclusively to children’s toys in the mid-18th century.

One might expect a store or two that sold foodstuffs. Probably a blacksmith shop. A clothing or general store. Maybe a saloon or two. Or three. But a store specializing in toys for children! That suggests a level of mid-eighteenth century prosperity I, at least, didn’t expect here in the Midlands of South Carolina. Granby had to be an important town.

Also, look carefully at the items displayed here. What did children play with in this era? Mostly, items that to them represented the adult world in which they lived. This exhibit too will require much more time to absorb its lessons.

05 display 1
Each of the displays at this Museum is accompanied by an explanatory note. It would be possible to go through the whole collection on one’s own, without a guide.

But if he is available, I urge you to meet Museum Director, Leo Redmond. Mr. Redmond knows every piece on display and can describe its significance. Talking with Mr. Redmond about the Cayce area is like taking a boat ride on Chesapeake Bay with James Michener. He’s interested in and knowledgeable about it all. From the earliest American Indians to present.

In a weak moment during our conversation last Friday Mr. Redmond agreed to do an audio interview for CarolinaConsidered, once I can learn enough about this important area of our State to ask useful questions. So stay tuned. This will be a treat.

11 that table
So, now I have an excellent reason to procrastinate from the second novel project. The Cayce Historical Museum has much more to offer than I was able to absorb during a single visit. Fortunately, it’s usually open. Closed Mondays, but open 9 to 4, Tuesdays through Fridays, and even on the weekends, 2 to 5. That’s unusual too.

See the photo above? With the red arrow pointing to a table. Next time I’ll tell you where that table came from. Bet you’ll be surprised.