Tag Archive: review

So You’re Considering a GoPro

GoPro Hero 3 Black

GoPro Hero 3 Black

This morning I got a message from a friend considering a GoPro camera as a Christmas present. Since I’ve gotten that question several times, I decided to put together a blog post with what I’ve been telling folks who might be thinking about getting one, either for themselves or as a present.

I’ll state up front that I love my GoPro, but sometimes it’s a love-hate relationship. Even though I (and lots of other people) come up with different ways to use the camera, it’s a niche product, and you have to know its limitations. TL;DR version, I wouldn’t recommend it as your sole camera, but if you’re an active, creative photographer, you’ll find yourself using it in all sorts of ways you never imagined when you first got it. (more…)

Bocca Pure Italian


Bocca Pure Italian

I must have driven by it a thousand times – an old Pizza Hut with the distinctive architecture now converted into another restaurant.  However, this time it caught my eye.  Laura and I were on our way back from a paddling trip.  Later we would be back up this way for a play at Furman, and we needed a place for dinner.  The sign read “Lobster Stuff Shells” and my mind started pondering the meaning of “Lobster Stuff” and what that might entail.  From those musings we decided to give Bocca Pure Italian a try.  A grammatical error caught my attention and got our business.


I really couldn’t find much substantial background online. The information on the restaurant’s website and Facebook page is rather sparse. Bocca has been here a number of years, but I don’t remember exactly when. Oddly enough, I don’t remember any of our friends or Furman colleagues mentioning the place as a dining destination. We had absolutely no point of reference.


The folks at Bocca have done a fantastic job given the restrictions of old Pizza Hut architecture. The exterior has been redone in gold tones, and those same rich tones with wood accents grace the interior. The wall spaces between the unusually angled windows have been outfitted with shelving for the restaurant’s extensive wine collection. The dining area is relatively small, and the counter is in the same location as the old Pizza Hut cashier counter.


However, the counter was radically different from PH days. I didn’t get a chance for a photo, but a split in the counter allowed access to a room with a larger collection of wine and what was apparently a small wine bar. I did spot a couple of patrons there during the course of the meal. The proprietors have added additional cooking and storage space to the original building. Apparently there is a studio kitchen which can be used for cooking demonstrations.


As for clientele, it was definitely an older crowd, with ages averaging in the 60s. I guess the best description could be “relaxed affluence.” This was obviously not the spot for high schoolers and Furman kids to casually drop by for a pizza. Even so, as we dined, two young prom couples arrived.

When we arrived we were asked if we had reservations, which we didn’t. Apparently we got the last non-reservation table. We watched several others get turned away over the course of our meal. The place was packed the entire time.


Traditional Italian dishes dominate the menu. There are several antipasti selections, including Bruschetta, Ensalada Capresse, and some more unusual dishes such as Scallops au Gratin, Italian Rope Sausage, and Mussels Piccata. All of these are reasonably priced from $6-$9.

There are quite a few specialties with seafood, chicken, veal, beef and Italian sausage. These include Rigatoni, Shrimp Carbonara, Cheese Tortolini, etc. These run from $16 – $24.

In addition to these specialties there were several classic veal and chicken dishes priced at $18.50, and several specialty pizzas for $14.50.

One innovative menu item is the “Personalized Pasta” selections. You pick the type of past, the type of sauce to go on it, and the meat (if any.) Prices vary according to selection.

And if that weren’t enough, there are the daily chef specials, of which the Lobster “Stuffed” (corrected on the display board inside) Shells and a Surf and Turf.

As mentioned, there was an extensive wine selection. Prices overall were more expensive than a casual dinner out, but are in line with a nice Italian meal.


The menu was almost overwhelming. We were on a time limit with the the theater date, so we made choices quicker than we might. We both selected dishes from the veal and chicken selections. Laura ordered Chicken alla Piccata and I ordered Chicken alla Capresse.

Since we ordered chicken dishes, we ordered glasses of Pinot Grigio to go along with the meals. These came out first, and were quite good. However, I should have ordered something else. The lighter Pinot didn’t hold up well to my heavier dish. More on that later.

Salads arrived first. These were simple beds of Romana with a slice of tomato, some onion, and dressed with vinagrette. They were quite good.


It took a bit of time, but our dishes arrived. Laura’s dish had a light lemon piccata sauce with capers, garlic chunks, green beans, and angel hair pasta. She let me have a bite, and it was fantastic – light and flavorful.


My dish was heavier, but no less delicious. My chicken was covered with sundried tomatoes, fresh tomatoes, spinach, and mozzarella. It was accompanied with linguini covered with a light marinara sauce. Mine also had the ever-present chunks of garlic. Again, my Pinot Grigio was a bit light for the dish and I would have been better off with something red.


In places such as Olive Garden they grill up a bunch of chicken breasts and toss on whatever sauce is needed to create the dish. Not here. Even though we both had two thin (but large) slices of chicken breasts, each was prepared specifically for the dish.

The flavors were marvelous, and both of us cleaned our plates. Unfortunately, we had saved neither time nor space for dessert.


There were just a few problems, but none that greatly upset the course of the meal. First off, two waitresses arrived for duty about a quarter after six. Apparently one of these was assigned to us. Also, as “non-reservationists” we seemed to fall in the cracks. Other tables were told about specials and brought bread, but not us. I might have tried the “Lobster Stuff” otherwise.

We never really knew who was supposed to be serving our table, and none of the serving staff seemed very friendly. It was if we were intruders. My feeling was that from the point we were seated we were customers just like any other patron in the place. Laura made mention that we were “taking up one of their tables”, to which I replied, “Well, they seated us, and they had the choice NOT to do that,” so I didn’t worry about it.

In fairness, the place was busy with a couple of larger groups. There were several servers for the small place, but it seemed to lack…friendly efficiency, I guess. We got our food in time, and we eventually got our bread, but timing was always beyond the point where we were starting to wonder. I would hope that isn’t the case on a less busy night or when the staff shows up when it should.


The quality of the food was excellent. The dishes seemed to have an innovative flair, but with a basis in traditional Italian cuisine. It made me want to come back and try one of their specialties. Service was so-so, but I’m hoping that’s not par for the course. Bocca Italian is a bit pricy, but not out of line for a nice evening out with food quality this good.

This was quite a surprise, and it’s nice to know that food of this quality is so close to Furman. I’m sure we will be back.

Lone Star Barbecue, Mercantile, and Ghost Town

Lone Star, South Carolina

Lone Star, South Carolina

We have a tradition of looking for a good barbecue place after our paddling trips. This was no different. Our target for this outing was Lone Star Barbecue and Mercantile. However, this was a two-fer – lots of good food and a chance to explore one of South Carolina’s ghost towns.

Lone Star, the Ghost Town

It started with a bit of miscommunication. The rest of the guys had never been to the town of Lone Star, and thought that the barbecue place was in the town proper. So, once we loaded up the boats, they set off, with me following, toward the town. What they found was the ghost town that I knew. All that is left of Lone Star is the old freight depot, moved from its original location, the large brick Masonic building, and two dilapidated stores. Across the tracks was a small convenience store that may or may not have been open. No barbecue anywhere in sight.

Lone Star Freight Depot
Lone Star





…or “Sean who??”

I believe that James Bond is a Time Lord. That’s the only way to describe his regenerative abilities and ability to change appearance over the past 50 years of movies. In this latest movie, under interrogation Bond himself states that his hobby is “resurrection.”

Be that as it may, in this 23 Bond movie, Skyfall, the sixth incarnation of The Doctor James Bond in the form of Daniel Craig really comes into his own. Forget Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – this is a movie for long-time Bond fans. There are lots of nods to Bond tradition, including the reappearance of Q, Moneypenny, and a gadget-laden classic Aston Martin.

However, just as Doctor Who is at times more about the companions rather than the Doctor himself, this Bond movie is more about Judi Dench’s incarnation of M, and the complex relationship between her and Bond. Dench has almost as much on-screen time as Craig.  Javier Bardam makes a great villain.  Director Sam Mendes has stated that he modeled Bardam’s Silva character on The Joker from The Dark Knight.  While Silva’s gambit is every bit as complex as The Joker’s, Bardam is not quite as maniacal as the late Heath Ledger.

Yes, there are the inexplicable chase scenes, gorgeous femme fatales, and unusual ways to finish off one’s opponents.  This is a tradition-laden Bond film, but it works.  You would have to go all the way back to Pierce Brosnan’s Goldeneye to find a Bond movie that I enjoyed this thoroughly.  I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again on the big screen.

Oktoberfest at Haus Heidelberg


Haus Heidelberg Sign

Of all the ethnic holidays, I think I like Oktoberfest the best. It brings with it hints of cooler weather, fall colors, and one of my favorite cuisines – German food. However, fellow kayaker and chef Darren M. recently pointed out that authentic Oktoberfest has a very specific date range – two weeks running from late September through the first week of October. Any restaurants or festivals advertising Oktoberfest this late in the year (such as Walhalla this weekend, but I guess a fake Norse town can have a fake Bavarian celebration any time it wants) is doing so purely for advertising promotion. I guess it’s not that different from seeing Halloween ads all October, or promoting Christmas just as soon as the after school sales end. That being said, when my friend Keith Dover proposed heading up to Haus Heidelberg in Hendersonville to take advantage of their Oktoberfest specials, I jumped at the chance, cultural authenticity be damned.

I have long complained about the dearth of German restaurants in the area, especially with BMW and all the other German industry in town. But, I guess that number is increasing. Joining Haus Edelweiss and Schwaben Haus are Hans und Franz and The Bavarian Pretzel Factory. Even Strossner’s Bakery is now on the list of places offering German food. German restaurants seem to be more prevalent on up in the mountains, I guess hearkening back to the Alpine nature of Bavaria. Both The Black Forest in Ardin and Haus Heidelberg have been long-time staples of German food in our region. However, I don’t get up that way often enough to take advantage of them. This was the first time I’d been to Haus Heidelberg in ages.

The drive up early Wednesday evening was spectacular. The October sky was brilliantly lit with the setting sun, and the leaves are just shy of being at peak. Keith and I drove on up through Flat Rock, enjoying the ride. (more…)

Habiba Mediterranean Restaurant


Habiba Mediterrenean

After our Georgia trek on Sunday, Glynda and I decided to get a bite of dinner. I had seen that a new place had opened on Haywood Road that looked interesting, so we drove by. Unfortunately, it was closed on Sundays. So, Monday on my way home late from work, I stopped by Habiba Mediterranean Restaurant for dinner. I was glad I did.


Habiba opened late June in a building previously occupied by a wings place. I think some other restaurant had tried to make a go of it here, too. The architecture is a bit unusual, but the interior has been redone with Middle Eastern touches. Fabrics hang from the ceiling, and dark tones dominate.

Habiba Interior

The place is rather large. There were several more dining rooms that I couldn’t see from my seat. The outdoor patio is set up as a hookah bar.

When I first arrived there were two diners out on the patio, but no one else inside. Another couple came in later, and part-way through my meal my good friends Karen, Herman, Kyle, and Meghan came in for dinner. A couple of other groups arrive while we were there.

Dining Friends


As the name suggests, there is lots of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern fare. However, there are some surprises on the menu, too. Mixed in with the tabouli, kabobs, and falafal one can find a Mediterranean quesadilla and tandori. There is a section of salads and appetizers, ranging from about $5 to $8, and a section of “entrees” – lighter dishes such as wraps and sandwiches, for around $8 – $10. The dinner menu features kabobs and the aforementioned tandori for around $10 – $15, depending on the choice of meat. There is also a selection of desserts, and a list of flavors and prices available for the hookahs.

Habiba Menu

Prices look quite reasonable for the items on the menu. For $35 per person one can get a five course meal with items selected from each section of the menu. That was tempting, but I didn’t think I could handle it this evening.


I started with pita and hummus. Overall the hummus was good, but there was a touch of bitterness that I couldn’t quite reconcile. It looked like there was lots of paprika, or harissa, or something like that. It wasn’t bad, but the flavor was just a bit surprising. I guess I’ve just gotten used to either plain hummus, or one of those flavored things you get at the supermarket.

Hummus and Pita

For my main course I ordered the mixed grill tandori. These were cubes of chicken, beef, and lamb marinated in yogurt and other spices before cooking. These were served with rice pilaf and vegetables. I took one bite, and the flavors were amazing. There was a savory flavor that’s hard to describe, but there was also a bit of heat that would sneak up on you. It was one of the best dishes I’ve had in awhile.

Mixed Tandori

I decided I had room for dessert, so I ordered the rosewater ice cream with pistachios. It was quite tasty.

Rose Water Ice Cream

My friends arrived about the same time as my dessert. I slid down and joined them, then ordered a martini while I sat with them for awhile.


They ordered an appetizer sampler platter, and reported that it was all excellent. Three of them also got the mixed grill tandori, but Kyle got the Jerusalem kabobs. The consensus was everything was excellent.


Service was friendly and efficient. It looked like there was probably more staff on hand than diners needing attention. The owner came out occasionally to check on us.


Habiba made a great first impression. The food was fantastic, and prices are quite reasonable. I definitely want to come back. My biggest concern about a niche place like this – especially one that takes over a troubled location – is that they have the stamina to stick around. I hope they are able to maintain the quality of food and still turn a decent profit. I would like to have many more meals here.

America’s Pub and Grub



I was looking for a new place to try for dinner, so I turned to Urbanspoon to see if there was someplace close to home I had overlooked. Since I’d had a large Italian meal last night, I was more in the mood for sandwiches or something lighter tonight. America’s Pub and Grub popped up, and had generally positive reviews, so I decided to give it a try.

The place had two things going for it. First, the word “pub” has good memories for me. Several years ago when we visited London the best food we found was in the pubs. Also, the reviews seemed to indicate that Cajun cuisine was available. This area is sorely lacking in authentic Cajun options, so I wanted to see what they might have. So, it was off to America’s Pub and Grub.


From what I could read online, the place has only been open for a year or so. This location has been problematic for restaurants. I still remember the incident at Benito’s Italian, which was located right next door. Guadalajara Mexican now occupies that space, but there are also two nightclubs in the area. I didn’t know what to expect.


The outside looks nice and invited. However, a sign on the door advertised a “hookah bar”, and also said that inside smoking was permitted after 9:00 pm. The lingering odor of smoke nearly had me turning around and walking out, but I headed on back in.

The interior has been done with urban black grey tones. It’s a small place, and a bar dominates one corner. Seating was a bit weird. There were a few tiny tables that would hardly accommodate one, much less a couple. The only other tables were in three alcoves that could easily seat six. I took one of the alcoves. These images are from their website… (more…)

Campobello Italian Ristorante


Campobello May 29, 2012 7-23 PM

NOTE: This restaurant has closed.

It’s been awhile since I’ve done a restaurant review here. We’ve either been going to our regular joints or just eating at home. With Laura away for the week I decided to try a couple of new places. Tuesday evening I headed over to Campobello Italian Ristorante on Wade Hampton Boulevard in Taylors.


This location started out as a Kentucky Fried Chicken place, and that architecture is still evident. When the KFC closed down, it reopened several years later as a breakfast place. The bit ceramic rooster from that incarnation is still out front of the restaurante.

I haven’t been able to find much about Campobello itself. The restaurant has been open in this location for several years. It’s not part of a chain, and it advertises “authentic Italian.”


It’s hard to escape the original design of the building. For example, the entrance to the restrooms are technically OUTSIDE of the main dining area, just one step shy from having to completely exit the building to find them. In that entryway the strong smell of garlic hit me, perhaps a bit overpowerlingly.

The dining area itself is small, with a capacity for about 40 diners. Typical Italian restaurant decor transforms the otherwise utilitarian interior. The tables and decor are nice and neat, but it seems a bit dated, and the drop ceiling tiles certainly looks like they could be updated, too.

Campobello May 29, 2012 7-24 PM

Tuesday night obviously isn’t a hopping night for the place. Three other tables were occupied – two with customers, and one with the owner’s family.


The menu includes sections for pasta, veal, beef, lamb, seafood, and chicken, as well as a variety of hot and cold appetizers. There are traditional dishes, such as marsalas, lasagna, homemade ravioli, and fettuccini Alfredo, but there are other specialty dishes as well

Prices range from $12 for some of the pastas to $20+ for some of the seafood and beef dishes.

One surprising thing was that drink prices seemed VERY reasonable. Wine, either by the bottle or by the glass wasn’t as outrageous as some places. Campobello only recently has been carrying beer and wine. Previously they would allow patrons to brown bag their own bottles.


My meal started with bread with olive oil and grated Parmesan cheese, followed by a salad with light Italian dressing. Nothing fancy, but it was good. This was matched with a glass of house chianti.

For my entree I ordered the Pollo Campobello. I figured a dish named for the place must be their specialty. There were three chicken breasts, each topped with a roasted red pepper, and served in a deep red sauce with sliced portabello mushrooms, garlic, and lemon. The mushrooms and peppers imparted a smoky flavor to the dish, which was rounded out nicely with the garlic.

There was a side dish of penne pasta with marinara sauce. I wasn’t impressed as much with the marinara sauce – it tended to clash with the sauce from the entree. I almost wished they had used the pasta as a bed for the main dish. I could have gotten the pasta without the marinara, and will know to do that if I order this again.

Campobello May 29, 2012 7-43 PM

I rounded out the meal with homemade tiramisu for dessert. It was light and very fresh. It was quite good.

Campobello May 29, 2012 8-15 PM


Scatterbrained and harried comes to mind. Even though there were only three paying tables, the waitress seemed constantly flustered. She initially forgot my wine, then almost knocked the glass into my lap. The food items came out at a reasonable rate, and she did check back on me regularly, but it was always under a state of clumsiness, confusion, and apology. I would hate to see this poor woman have to work a full house.


The food was good, but the service was spotty. While the prices were probably consistent with dishes of this type and quality, they seemed a bit out of place in restaurant that still looks like an old KFC. Other than that, I enjoyed the meal. I would recommend coming back, but I’ll check out the menu ahead of time. I liked my dish, but would like to try others.

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Same As It Ever Was


Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was,
Same as it ever was!

—David Byrne, Once in a Lifetime

I finally finished reading Walter Edgar’s tome, South Carolina: A History. Seems like I’ve been reading it for several months now. Edgar has undertaken a monumental task, covering nearly all aspects of South Carolina’s 340+ year history. I won’t say it’s a quick read, but he’s managed to do it without making it seem too dense. I’ve gained new perspectives on my native state and some of the characters that made it what it is.

Speaking of characters, Edgar goes into depth about some of the political turmoil that seems to hit the state in cycles. As I looked at the cyclical nature of politics it struck me how I kept seeing the same thing over and over and over. Different groups may gain power for awhile, but in the end that all end up looking pretty much like one another.

Thank goodness we’re not arguing about slavery, secession, Jim Crow laws or such idiocy, but the antics of some of these politicians doesn’t seem to have changed much from today’s . That seems to be born out by the tone of the political attack ads in the current presidential horse show — vilifying people supposedly in the same party, taking a nuanced difference between candidates and blowing it completely out of proportion as being evil incarnate.

So this evening, Friday the 13th, at least five of those GOP presidential candidates will be a couple hundred yards from my office enjoying BBQ in our high school cafeteria. I’ve gotten calls from C-Span and other local media about network availability and set-up. I’ve watched as our maintenance folks have worked like mad to spruce the place up and make it look great for its day in the spotlight. The CNN satellite truck rolled up while I was there earlier this morning, and I’m sure more will arrive as the event approaches.

Who knows? Perhaps this might even make it as a footnote into Edgar’s next history of South Carolina. However, I don’t think I’ll be a part of it. I think I’ll head home as soon as I can and enjoy the madness on C-Span from the comfort of our living room with martini firmly in hand.

Table 301


…or, “I watch way too much food television…”

Laura and I had delayed our anniversary dinner. Our actual anniversary is right after Christmas, and this year we were traveling. So, this year we decided to go out for a nice meal at a more convenient time. We had been to The Lazy Goat several times recently, so we wanted to try something different. It had been awhile since we had gone to Soby’s, so that was our target.

Carl Sobocenski’s Soby’s was the original restaurant in the Table 301 group, which includes The Lazy Goat, Devereaux’s, and The Nose Dive. Table 301 is the “chef’s table” at these establishments, the table with the best view, etc. When we got to the restaurant we found that we were to be seated at…you got it…Table 301 in Soby’s.

Table 301 at Soby’s is on the upper level with a great view of the kitchen. For better or worse, you can watch everything that happens. We watched as our soup was dished up, and as our entree’s were plated.


…and here’s where food TV comes in…

Apparently I’ve watched too many episodes of Gordon Ramsey’s “Kitchen Nightmares.” I kept waiting for something disastrous to happen. It was kind of like those guys that go to NASCAR expecting to see a crash. Unfortunately (or fortunately as far as our dining experience was concerned) the kitchen ran with precision. The only near calamity was when the table behind us knocked a water glass over the edge into the cooking area.

It was fun to watch the plates coming out, and we got to where we could predict which entree was which by the color of plate and side items. Laura and I had both ordered pork tenderloin, and had laughed about getting the same thing. It turns out that we were not alone. Several sets of duplicate entrees came out.


Over the holidays we also watched far too many episodes of Chopped. I couldn’t help looking at the dishes as they came out from the perspective of one of the judges. For the dessert I kept thinking things like, “The bread puddling was wonderfully realized, especially with the chestnut vanilla ice cream. However, the sugar cookie and cranberries seem a bit out of place.”

Even so, everything tasted great, and we ate far too much. Unfortunately, we were both rather ill overnight. I don’t know if it was that we had too much rich food, or if something was, in fact, a bit amiss. It was a nice dinner and the table was great. I just may take it a bit easier next time.

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