Aiken SC – Great Visit!!

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We just spent a few days with Beth & George at their sort-of new home in Aiken, SC. Aiken is a small equestrian-centric town deeply soaked in history, particularly as it relates to horses, polo, and fox hunts. George was a wonderful tour guide, growing up in this area left him well prepared to show us the immediate “must-see” sights.  We’ll definitely be back to see more … Beth is one of Sheila’s very best friends and the fact they live in such a sweet community is just a huge bonus!

It’s a cool place that was started in the late 19th century. Aiken pretty quickly gained a rep as a winter-time retreat spot for people with big bucks. Wealthy northerners began visiting during the harsh winters and the Aiken area became the “Winter Colony”,  a place to let loose, away from the NY society columnists!  The Winter Colonists brought their horses to Aiken to extend their equestrian activities throughout the year. Riding, racing, fox hunting and polo were among the top favorites. You can feel that total attitude throughout the place when visiting.

The first night we went to The Wilcox Inn, an historic old hotel in the heart of Aiken. Really pretty place reminiscent of all the old Inns you see in so many classic movies on TMC. They had a VERY good jazz band called “4 Cats in the Doghouse” playing (and they were good, too, and not just because it was in SC). Spent the evening having grown-up beverages and fantastic light fare (blue cheese on graham crackers with a cherry & clove jam, just ridiculous good) and talking with best friends in a classic southern inn … Darn near perfect …

The Wilcox Inn
3 of the 4 Cats
Sheila – in her element

The next day we spent touring the area and poking around some nice shops in the downtown district. Apparently there was a major antiques event under way … Downtown was packed with “well-heeled” dealers paying some “well-heeled” prices for this stuff!  Sheila and I prefer the local Georgia auction where chaos and mayhem can result in some great finds (not to mention sausage biscuits at 9:00 pm), all this high falutin’ fancy antique talk was out of my league. Well, in fairness, since meeting Sheila, pretty much everything is out of my league … (She seemed pretty comfortable with the rich people, though) ( and again making me wonder what she sees in a bass player from NJ with a dumb dog?)

As a jolt back to my Jersey roots reality, the morning we left, Beth and George took us to the Track Kitchen for breakfast. This is a … ah … umm … hmm … shack-type building in the middle of the primary polo fields area. With dirt rounds surrounding it … in deference to the horses the entire area has dirt roads … this place is as no-frills as the plain exterior. Inside, it’s obvious that no-frills is the theme they’ve chosen, with hand-printed cardboard signs tacked up above the countertop. Which is really just a wall with a 2×6 nailed onto the studs.

This place was originally established to feed the trainers, jockeys, stablemen, groomers … it was set up as a place to hang with the people you work with, swap stories, just a good old get together spot. It was never intended to be fancy … and it’s not. They serve mostly breakfast foods and are open from 7:00 am until they run out of stuff to cook. The exterior sign kind of indicates that, mostly thru innuendo:

The Track Kitchen has pictures all over the walls … I’m fairly certain not one of them was straight, or if it was straight, it was by accident.  I remember, when we were kids, my father used to screw all of the pictures (can’t really call it artwork when it’s a picture clipped out of Mad Magazine, can you?) directly to the wall with 4 screws, one on each side, so the herd of kids wouldn’t keep knocking them sideways. The Track Kitchen could learn a thing or two from the OM (an abbreviation for “old man”) (we all called him OM, except for Barb, my sister, who was his favorite) (hey, don’t think we were disrespectful, HE call every single one of us “Charlie”, including my sister) about how to put up a picture and “make sure the damn thing stays there”!  And they would need some big old screws, too, just to be sure the picture didn’t move.

And it would have been great if the pictures were secured, because then you’d never see the grimy outline where the picture used to be. But since the OM did not decorate, the pics move and it’s pretty obvious that the place hasn’t been painted in a very long time. Strangely enough, the Track Kitchen was featured in a kinda hoity-toity magazine called “Saveur” (see pic, below) where it’s was called “supremely casual” and a “beloved domain”: if it was in Jersey it would be called “out-of-business” …

George & Beth
Sheila & me

Although you can’t see them, the folks sitting directly behind us are the owners of the 2013 Belmont Stakes winner. This joint might be seriously no-frills, but the thing I liked about it the most is that they didn’t give two hoots who you were … you get waited on in the order you come in, you wait like everyone else, no special treatment because you happen to be a zillion-aire …

But, to be fair, the food was good (can you really mess up eggs, bacon, home fries and toast, though?), and in keeping with local hoity-toity traditions, much too expensive. I mean, $9 for 2 eggs, toast, hash browns, bacon and coffee? In Jersey, that’s $7, tops, and the diner has been cleaned sometime in recent memory. I also liked that you walk into the kitchen area and get your own beverage. You can have “tea water”, “decaf” or “real coffee” …

Coffee Station – “real coffee” is out of view
A pic of the framed pics and menu board

 In spite of what must read as a highly negative review, I was thrilled with this place! The food was good, service was slow but everything is cooked one order at a time, so you (and Mr Belmont Stakes winner) just wait your turn until it’s ready. And be careful how you order … Sheila said the first time she visited Beth they went to the Track Kitchen and Sheila ordered her bacon extra crispy! She was immediately told “well, now, I don’t know ’bout all o’ that”, the cautionary tale delivered with hands on hips and an accusatory raised eyebrow … Sheila learned her lesson, eat what’s served, which in our case was absolutely 100% perfect bacon!

Big love to Beth and George for their wonderful hospitality during our trip, we are really looking forward to a return visit during polo season!

1 comments on “Aiken SC – Great Visit!!”

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