Election Day, Hilton Head Style; Vote, Then Get TJ’s Take and Bake and Watch the Returns

Race cars around the Sea Pines Circle

Sea Pines NasCar Circle, Sponsored by TJ’s Take & Bake, Summer 2012

Of course, voting day is not the only day to enjoy my favorite take-out food, but it’s as good a reason as any other to NOT HAVE TO THINK about what to prepare for dinner.  Another good reason to not want to think about cooking dinner, would be jury duty.  There are plenty more good, solid reasons for not wanting to think about cooking dinner, but I will digress rapidly if I start down that road.  And speaking of roads, this is the best time of year to get back outdoors on the road, if you’re an islander and have been hiding out for a few months, after having suffered whiplash at the Sea Pines NasCar Circle during the summer, along with getting the finger gesture (because apparently, whiplash isn’t punishment enough for attempting to merge in or out).

Pie

Pie Prepared for You to Bake

Yes, getting the finger and then whiplash, are early signs for islanders to shutter ourselves in for a few months, till the commotion dies down, going out on strategically planned days that don’t conflict with check-in/check-out.  And for those of us really in the know, we take the back roads to the 1st TJ’s Take and Bake south end, beginning its 10th year, in the Island’s Crossing Plaza around the corner from Starbucks.  Locally known as the best-kept secret around for incredible, fresh-tasting pizza, where you can get in, get out, dodging the traffic, sneaky-like.  And during the season, if you’re a well-trained, covert islander, you’ll call in the order from Reilley’s Triangle while watching the Yankees take another inning on the chin at the outside bar, then zip across the street, grab your pizza and head home, still avoiding the Sea Pines Racetrack; like a stealth-bomber, nobody saw you coming, and you made it home with a pizza and maybe a buzz, and no one’s the wiser (and being a well-trained, covert islander, I will not elaborate on the back roads to avoid NasCar Circle here – ONLINE – for just anyone to see).

Chalkboard Menu

TJ’s North End Restaurant, Menu Board

If this is the first time you’ve heard of TJ’s, you may be reminded of early Seinfeld episodes, in which Kramer has the big lightbulb idea, that people want to pay to bake their own pizza.  Okay, but that’s where the similarities begin and end.  TJ’s menu reads like a delightful, gourmet pizza menu.  The difference is that they do everything, except bake the pizza for you.  You call in the order, pick it up, take it home with ‘Baking Pizza for Dummies’ directions stuck to the plastic, and you’re eating a delicious, hot pizza in about the same amount of time it would take a delivery person to bring you a not-so-hot pizza, already baked, maybe more or less than you would have liked.  And TJ’s is more than a novelty, the pizza is really superb, because a.) they use fresh ingredients, 2.) there are no chemicals in the dough (I know chemicals, right?  The other guys put chemicals in the dough?), and c.) 100% extra virgin olive oil.

dog with girls

Sam Will Have the Chef’s Special, Thank You.

And now, there are two ways to enjoy TJ’s Take and Bake.  The 2nd being the new, north end full-service restaurant, located in the JBanks Building at 35 Main Street, where they have a lunch menu that includes pizza slices, salads, and awesome butternut squash soup.  This novel idea has been so unique and successful, that the owner, Jay Conrad, along with the original owner, Tom Jans (TJ’s), also have a consulting division for start-up take-and-bakes in places like Texas, Iowa, and Minnesota (Poppi was Kramer’s New York consultant on Seinfeld, right?  In case you were wondering, I even quote Seinfeld one-liners for everyday events, like when my dog Sam, doesn’t  deposit his business during our morning walk, I run in the door, yelling – with the Soup Nazi accent – “NO POOP FOR YOU!”… I know, there’s probably a 12-step program for this).

Back to TJ’s; so now, you can lay low during the summer months like the rest of us, waiting patiently for the fall months, grateful that the economy is humming along nicely (depending on who you voted for; one side says the economy’s in the tank, the other side says it’s climbing back with substance.  All I know, is that this island gets more bloated with each passing year, and if this is a down economy, we may all have to move, if things start looking up around here).  Because, where would we be without our summer season, right?  You got it; NOT living on Hilton Head with our small tourist-dependent businesses.

The point is (yes, there is a point to this), you can enjoy TJ’s Take & Bake any time of the year, with or without traffic, no matter who’s sponsoring the Sea Pines Circle Race. And if you check their website, you can print out coupons, and Like them on Facebook.  So, go do that now… Like and get coupons for great pizza! Click here for directions, or call, to place your order – South End, 843-842-8253; North End, 843-681-2900

Dine at Flora’s Italian Cafe and Treat our Troops!

Hilton Head map.

Hilton Head map.

As many of you may have noticed, Hilton Head Island has evolved into the Little Italy of the southeast coast, when it comes to fine Roman fare.  And this actually makes some sense, geographically speaking; you see Italy, as we all know, is the shape of a Gucci boot, and Hilton Head Island is the shape of a beat-up Nike Air Max sneaker.  And, Italians are known for wearing snazzy boots, just like Hilton Head Islanders are often seen running and playing around in

Snazzy Islander Sneakerwear

Snazzy Islander Sneakerwear

Nike sneakers.  Both of these descriptive devices happen to be clothes for feet.  Obviously, Italians and Islanders place a premium on how we dress and protect our respective tootsies.

Snazzy, Italian boot- I mean, Map of Italy.

Snazzy, Italian, Map of Italy.

 

 

 

The literary parallels and metaphors are endless.

Many of my Vacation Company blogs about restaurants are raving reviews about dining establishments specializing in Italy’s exquisite recipes accentuated by the freshest ingredients and locally grown vegetables and herbs.  Flora’s Italian Cafe at South Island Plaza is no exception, and has easily become one of our most favorite restaurants on the island. Staffed with courteous (and very patient) servers, bartenders, and chefs, Flora’s is managed and run by the family. And The Family consists of Flora, her husband Branco, and son Branco, Jr.

When we eat there, I usually order the same thing (which is stupid I know, because everything on the menu is truly mouthwatering delicious), but the Capellini Dora is a dish I crave so much at times, I just can’t get my brain to be rational about choosing some other savory menu item. The ingredients of Capellini Dora are simple – crabmeat, shrimp, diced tomatoes, garlic, white wine, olive oil – but how they are prepared and tossed and arranged on a dish for me to plunge my head into, is truly cerebral. Every mouthful pops with flavor and the freshness is palpable; ie, you know the tomatoes were fat on the vine, sun-bathing that very morning.  Fortunately, my husband tries other dishes, such as Grouper Meuniere, Gamberi di Casa, and Fettini di Vitello Saltimbocca, and we share appetizers like Melanzane Rolantine (eggplant rolled with cheese baked in tomato sauce, topped with mozzarella) so I know that every creation is as tantalizing as my Pasta Dora.

Vino at Flora's!

Vino at Flora’s!

As some of you may know, my partner, Johnny D., is also Italian and he is lucky enough to eat at Flora’s every Thursday for lunch because Flora and Branco host the Italian-American Club of Hilton Head’s (IACHH) weekly lunch meeting.  You know things have got to be good at this place if a whole club of over a hundred tansplanted, professional Italians will go there week after week, crowding out Flora’s Cafe, while solving major international conflicts between Italy and Hilton Head like, should people be allowed to drink a little wine on the beach? Which as everyone knows is good for your health, but on American soil, can sometimes be confused with glugging down any kind of fermented vegetation that started in a blender and is best consumed through a straw.  You see how easy it would be to confuse the two thirst-quenching methods, right?  However, the Italian-American Club is also a major contributor to local charities, scholarships, and non-profit organizations, donating lots of money and good will towards the community, through fundraisers like the Annual Italian Heritage Festival held every September. Which brings me to my next tangent…

Jeannette Cram l-r on Martha Stewart's Show.

Jeannette Cram l-r on Martha Stewart’s Show.

Next Tuesday, June 26, 2012, Flora’s is donating $5/plate towards Treat the Troops, a local organization gone national, founded by Jeannette Cram in 1990 during the Gulf War.  Jeannette and volunteers, known as Crumbs (get it? Crumbs, like cookie crumbs), bake homemade cookies and ship them to our young heroes overseas who are protecting our right to drink wine on the beach, among other rights and freedoms over which we are very protective, and sometimes take for granted. This organization needs money for shipping costs and baking ingredients, and is greatly appreciated by our soldiers who probably miss Mom’s cookies, while breathing in mouthfuls of desert sand on our behalf. Jeannette is grateful to Flora’s Italian Cafe, she said when I called to ask her about the cookie organization, because “people forget that our troops miss the flavors from home.”  This is an excellent opportunity to both a.) try out Flora’s Italian Cafe, and 2.) demonstrate your patriotism by contributing to a wonderfully inspired, local non-profit organization. AND…. another cool thing (they just keep coming don’tCookies &Crumbs they?  I’m almost out of breath here…), at 6:30 pm, there will be a book-signing event by Jeannette who also wrote, Soldiers, Cookies, & the Crumbs. 

Chefs, Branco and Flora Raiac

Chefs, Branco and Flora Raiac

Okay, so back to Flora’s who, by the way, greets you in person and seats you with a genuine smile, while her son, Branco Jr. works the tables along with several other excellent wait staff. The kitchen is run by Branco the First, and each dish is his and Flora’s chefdoeuvre, hand-prepared to order, with herbs and vegetables grown fresh in their own garden. Flora herself makes all the desserts from scratch, and has been featured in the local press for award-winning pastry  and each one is more delectable than the last. I can’t say enough about this marvelous bistro when it comes to the authentic quality of the food.

Originally from Romania, Branco Raiac studied Italian cuisine at the Culinary Institute of Romania before moving to New Jersey with his family. In New Jersey, they owned and operated a popular restaurant called, Villa Romagna for ten more years and then they migrated south to Hilton Head, like the rest of us Yanks tired of long winters and screeching traffic.  And if all of the above doesn’t sell you on dinner at Flora’s, how about being voted Winner of the 2012 Island Packet Reader’s Choice Award for Best International Restaurant?  Trust me, you won’t be disappointed. Tell her Carmen and Johnny D sent you, and maybe she’ll laugh really hard and say, “Who?”

Flora’s Italian Cafe located at South Island Plaza, 841 William Hilton Parkway, Hilton Head Island, SC  29928, is open Monday through Saturday 5 – 10 pm

Call: 843-842-8200 for reservations