Asheville, North Carolina — city of beer and bicycles

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This is why husband John Pitts and I love Asheville, North Carolina — or, as we call it, Honeymoon Town. We spent a week there this summer (I’ll post more about that this weekend & give you some super recommendations for where to stay and what to eat & drink) and already are planning a return trip (which probably is news to JP). I mean, really, aren’t you intrigued by any place that advocates bicycling AND drinking beer? And, knowing Asheville, this probably can be accomplished all at the same time. Now, to be honest, JP and I participated in only one of these activities. But we LOOKED at bicycles. So I think that counts.

To Beer or Not to Beer — That is the Question

You know how frustrating it is when you’re in an unfamiliar town and all you want is a six-pack of good beer but you can’t find it? Here in the South, at least, alcohol laws vary from town to town. You never know if beer (and wine, for that matter) will be in a grocery store or a convenience store or maybe a full-service liquor store, if such a thing is allowed. And then if you do track some down,  alcohol-content and container-size rules may be so restrictive that Blue Moon — which, luckily, is my go-t0 choice in a beer crisis — is considered cutting-edge. This was the situation recently when my husband and I were in Kennesaw, Ga., for a wedding. I was running bridesmaids’ errands for the wedding party on the summer’s first majorly hot weekend (requested items were hairpins, Sprite and sunscreen) and thought I’d get some beer for my oh-so-patient husband, who was back at the hotel trying to Stay Out of the Way. Target? Nope. Publix? Nope. And even though he has developed the distressing habit of bringing home Modelo, I knew that even he wouldn’t be satisfied with the convenience store selection. Then the clouds parted and the sun shone and I saw the words “Total Wine — Spirits, Beer, Wines” on a storefront in a strip mall, and I wheeled the car in. With low expectations, I must admit. I walked in the doors and thought, “Yeah, well, this place should have something.” And then I walked further into the store, took a look around and literally stood still in jaw-dropping amazement. This place is the biggest liquor store I ever had seen in my life. Ever. Aisles and rows and shelves and racks of nothing but alcohol. I had no idea such places even existed. Simply walking through the beer department — a BEER DEPARTMENT — was an education. The whole rest of that weekend, I dragged folks there to prove my claim that this was the biggest liquor store maybe in the whole world. And they all did as I had done — walk in first with a smile and an “Okay, this is a big liquor store. So what?” and then, once the full richness of Total Wine was revealed, they got sort of giddy and started grabbing the shopping carts. Prices seemed reasonable and the staff was knowledgeable and helpful. Total Wine is a chain with stores scattered across the U.S. I’m not saying that if you’re within a day’s drive of Kennesaw, Ga.,  you should go check it out — because what kind of crazy-nuts people would drive hours just for the biggest selection of beer they’d ever seen? All I’m saying is: Just give me your list.

Slugburger Festival in Corinth, Mississippi

This past Friday night, my husband and I took a romantic stroll through the carnival that’s part of the eagerly anticipated annual Slugburger Festival set up for the weekend just a couple of blocks from our house, in Corinth, Mississippi. We smooched on top of the ferris wheel and he won me a stuffed animal in the football toss and we walked arm-in-arm-in-cotton-candy and … aw, okay, you know that is all a big fat lie. I can’t fool you. Forget the romantic stuff. We did go to the festival, but naturally we bypassed the family fun and potentially romantic area and headed straight for the beer garden, where we loaded on Bud Light and rocked out to some great blues. But the carnival looked fun, in a scream-your-head-off-and-feel-your-stomach-do-flip-flops sort of way. And I know some of you are just now rejoining me after getting stuck at the words “Slugburger Festival” and wondering what, exactly, we and the good folks here in Corinth are doing and, more importantly, what we’re eating. I hope you read the link and learned that slugburgers are in fact an innovative and popular Corinth food item that people travel hundreds of miles for. And no slugs are harmed in the making of this sandwich, so it’s okay. But you’ve got to eat them hot and fast and please do not ask for catsup. That marks you as a non-slugburger connoisseur — or a Yankee. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, the festival continues tonight with country music, more carnival rides and all the beer and fried food your gall bladder will allow you to have you can eat.

Good Dog

I love good hot dogs, but I hardly ever eat them because, well, I think we can all agree that good hot dogs are a rare breed. So when a restaurant proclaims that it serves a Good Dog right in its name, that’s a challenge I’ve got to check out. Happily, I can report that Good Dog, in the hip and happening area of Northshore in Chattanooga, Tennessee, does indeed serve a good dog. A fantastically wonderful hot dog, in fact.  And I went for the veggie dog, too — and would rank it right up there with some of the best I’ve ever had. Probably because it’s cooked on the same grill right next to the beef dogs, but oh well. It’s the effort that counts. The menu boasts several versions of classic hot dogs (Chicago, New York Street Cart, Cleveland Ballpark) or you can order a plain dog and add whatever toppings you want. Ordering at Good Dog moves fast — there’s almost always a line — so know what you want before it’s your turn or you risk the wrath of everybody behind you. Due to the owner’s Dutch heritage, Heineken is the beer of choice here. And definitely go for the handmade frites, which are served hot and salty in a paper cone you then slip into circles that have been cut in your table. Good Dog is a condiment lover’s dream, as you can see from the photo, which shows only half of the condiment-gallery shelves. Also: When you order the frites, actually say the word “frites” instead of “fries” so you’ll seem like a regular. You’re welcome.

Of Food, Clocks and Men

Here are some things I’ve written lately — a couple of food stories and my weekly newspaper column — that you might like to read. And this does not mean I’m too lazy to put up a blog post this morning. No, it does not mean that at all. Nope. Definitely not.

Did you know that food can help you deal with the stress of this weekend’s time change? It’s true. Studies show that the first few days after springing forward (and you have to do that this Sunday morning, remember) can be stressful as folks adjust to the changing routine. But using mealtimes as a way to combat the effects of eating breakfast in the dark and supper at 10 p.m. can help! (This story includes some fun and easy breakfast ideas.)

And don’t forget that St. Patrick’s Day is Thursday. Even here in northwest Alabama, where leprechauns are pretty rare and Guiness is considered an exotic brew, there’s a deep Irish connection we can honor with food.

I’m almost 54 years old. I still do not always understand men. And by “men,” of course, I mean my husband. But when the “men” are a precious 3-year-old who’s cute and sweet and has a smile that makes me melt and say things such as “Sure, sweetie, I’ll read ‘Cat in the Hat’ again for the fifth time,” I understand completely.

Wings

What is it about hot summer days that make us want to up the ante even more with spicy hot wings? Purely in the pursuit of journalistic investigation, Husband and I researched this question recently at Wing Shack in Florence, Alabama, where there only are three things on the menu: Wings, fries and chicken tenders. You have to respect a place that quite literally puts all its wings … uh … eggs in one basket. The star attractions are substantial and meaty, and you can order them with one of a dozen different sauces or create your own custom blend. (Honey mustard/garlic? Atomic/teriyaki?) Or you can choose from four dry rubs or again mix-and-match. And, listen, even though these fries look like generic crinkle-cut, they’re fried perfectly — light and crispy on the outside and nicely potatoey on the inside. The beer selection is basic at best, but really when you’re eating wings you mainly want something drinkable and fire-quenching, so it’s okay. Every time we have wings, Husband always remembers the evening years ago when we were on a date and he ordered some for both of us and I said, “Oh, you’re going to have to eat them all because I really don’t like wings” and then I proceeded to work my way through most of the plate. In my defense, I really thought I didn’t like wings. Now we each get our own. Check out Wing Shack on Facebook.

Shopping for Gifts

Aw, such cute cuddly Valentine’s Day stuffed animals, right? Anybody would love to get one of these, right? Okay, look closer … closer … closer. Can you see what else is included in these gift packages? Yup, you’re seeing right. I mean, nothing says “I love you” like a six-pack of Bud, correct???!!! All over Mississippi today, women are questioning their choice of husband/boyfriend/significant other, I’m sure. A co-worker of my husband snapped this pic in a convenience store near Philadelphia, Mississippi, on Valentine’s Eve — I guess he figured he needed visual evidence since who would believe him, really? The store owner said that he’d made up the first one at a customer’s sort-of-joking request. He put the finished product out on the counter and immediately somebody bought it … and then somebody else saw it and wanted one … and then word spread and the owner’s daughter had to come in and make up these six-pack gift bags for two solid days — and they’re still selling out. So next year, when Valentine’s Day rolls around and a six-pack for Valentine’s Day  is the It Gift all across the country, remember that you saw it here first.