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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
It was my Dear Husband who’s taught me that beer is much more than frat parties and ballgames. Beer has flavor! And variety! And depth and complexity! Who knew??? One of our favorite beer-eries is Flying Saucer Draught Emporium, a franchised chain of beer pubs in Tennessee, Texas and the Carolinas, where the extensive menu is a fascinating textbook in beer-ology. We’d been to the one in downtown Memphis several times, so when we were in Nashville recently we checked out the Flying Saucer in downtown’s The Gulch, where the renovated Union Station has sparked an urban renewal of restaurants and condos. The night we were there, temperatures were sub-freezing and we had trouble decoding the parking layout — we are simple country folk and are used to being able to park right in front of wherever we want to go — so we were quite happy to get inside and enjoy. The place was lively and just-right crowded — enough for a party atmosphere but not so much that you can’t move your elbows — and we were not the oldest people there, which is always good. We tried out a couple new brews while my husband drew on his vast knowledge of 1980s pop culture for the ongoing trivia game and I tried to figure out which of the commemorative plates decorating the walls were actually Antiques Roadshow-worthy hidden treasures. If you ever find yourself close to a Flying Saucer, go inside. You’ll be glad you did. http://www.beerknurd.com/
One thing my husband and I are good at is going out and drinking beer. Now, I’m not talking about frat-party beer from our college days, which I believe my husband knows more about than I do. What I mean instead is the education about and appreciation of good beer. I was beer-ignorant until I learned from my husband that good beer should be considered exactly like good wine, with richness of flavors and variety of styles just as any other fine food. And that works for me, because really after half a bottle or glass, I’m done — I like beer’s fresh first-half taste best. I can handle about two or three first halves in an evening, which my husband doesn’t mind because, as he says, that leaves more for him. We especially like discovering those wonderfully small handcrafted local beers that are best enjoyed with great company in cool and cozy brewpubs. Sadly, we mainly have to do our beer tasting when we travel since Alabama is one of only three states in the country that limits alcohol by volume for beer to 6% and the only state that limits beer containers to no more than 16 ounces. Alabama also enforces antiquated restrictions that effectively stifle local microbreweries and limits brewpubs. This means that in my state you can’t buy most of the specialty/gourmet beer available almost everywhere else. Georgia and North and South Carolina all went through the same thing and successfully changed their laws to allow the sale of specialty beers. Free the Hops, a non-profit group, is trying to do that in Alabama. Learn more at http://www.freethehops.org/.
And speaking of beer, one of my favorite places in Birmingham to grab a sandwich and bottle of beer is gone. Tria Market in Homewood was a small upscale grocery here you could get a sandwich from the deli or a meat-and-three (or four) from the hot-food counter, add a bottle from the beer cooler and sit down at tables in the middle of the store and enjoy a great people-watching meal. A few weeks ago it closed for “remodeling” and the Web site says it will reopen in May. However, a Tria manager I held hostage and demanded an answer from talked to said it would reopen in three months or so as a Middle Eastern-style restaurant with a few basic groceries for sale along the lines of a European market. A former chef from Bottega (one of food-celebrity Frank Stitt’s restaurants) will head up the kitchen and the space will be designed by the same person who did Ocean, another of Birmingham’s premier and stylish eateries. Can’t wait!