Guy, Alton and Friends Who Let Friends Order Too Much Food

Have you ever been to Marietta, Ga.? I’d sort of skirted around it a few times — and, of course, being a Southern well-versed in my Confederate history, when I hear “Marietta” I also hear the sounds of Sherman’s invasion (they’re still peeved about that, you know) and the Great Locomotive Chase. But now I’m adding this town to my list of food destinations, starting with the Marietta Diner, which is only a “diner” in the sense that people go there to eat. It’s a large, noisy, family-friendly, food-abundant destination. We went with friends during a recent wedding weekend in nearby Kennesaw. Don had been there before and suggested we try it, although he couldn’t really describe the place. “It’s big,” he said, helplessly. “There’s a lot of food.” I wish I’d listened to him before I ordered pan-fried feta cheese in lemon butter for the table as an appetizer, although it was so good that I’m not sorry at all. Then came soup. And salad. And squares of spinach pie. (I can’t spell “spanakopita.”) And bread. And THEN came the entrees you ordered oh-so-long-ago when you first thought you were hungry. (All this, I might add, while in sight of tempting cakes, cookies and other desserts staring at you from the bakery section. Ouch.) I got kabobs because USUALLY that translates into a smaller and more manageable dish. But …. no. All you need to know is that the Marietta Diner is one of Guy Fieri’s top “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.” I believe that about sums it up. Also, Alton Brown and his family reportedly live in Marietta. Although I didn’t spot him at the diner, I have the feeling that in public he sort of blends in and you would only notice him in passing and think “Who’s that geeky looking guy who forgot to shave?” Stay tuned for another Marietta post about the biggest, most gigantic and most huge liquor/wine/beer store I have ever seen in my life. And that’s saying something.

Chillin’ at the Ajax

Anytime husband John Pitts and I are 1) together and 2) close to Oxford, Miss. and 3) it’s anywhere close to eating time, we celebrate by heading to the downtown square for some of the best food in the state … or anywhere.  And the thing is, you can’t take a wrong step once you’re there. Oxford has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places to eat. Take our newest favorite — Ajax Diner. This is real down-home cooking paired with a good beer selection, as if your Southern grandma cooked Sunday dinner at the local bar and invited the whole town. Best bets here are macaroni and cheese, sweet potato casserole and burgers. I decided to ignore the “List of Approved Foods for Patients with Malfunctioning Gall Bladders” my doctor gave me, and I went for the fried oyster salad (although in deference to The List, I didn’t eat all the cheese).  But a better list is “Things We’re Going To Try the Next Time We Go To Ajax:”  Black-bean chili with local ground beef, homemade pimiento cheese in a grilled quesadilla and the blackeyed-pea and catfish cakes. And maybe fellow Ajax fan Eli Manning will be there.

Beer and Peanuts

Where to eat in Starkville, Miss., home of Mississippi State University, bulldogs and cowbells? For the best college-town experience — and some great beer and burgers — head to Mugshots Grill and Bar, in a restored brick house on a downtown historic-district corner. Husband JP and I headed here recently after a basketball game, based on several recommendations that all mentioned the good food and the iffy service. We agree on both counts. Love the decor and atmosphere — exposed brick, gorgeous woodwork, fireplaces and authentically worn floors. And then there’s the menu. You’ve got all the usual suspects, but with a twist. The fried cheese wedges are made of actual real cheese lightly breaded in maybe panko crumbs so you get more of a cheese flavor than a greasy taste. Sandwiches are on fresh-tasting sourdough buns and come with crunchy and potato-y beer-battered fries. (Why is this the first time I’ve ever eaten beer-battered fries?) Burgers come in all your favorite variations: blue cheese,  sauteed mushrooms, barbecue sauce, hickory-smoked bacon … and peanut butter. Yes, peanut butter. Stop laughing. I now will never eat a good real-meat grilled hamburger again without spreading on some rich and creamy peanut butter and maybe some sweet berry-filled jam.  Also, plenty of decent draft choices. Was all this worth waiting more than an hour for and listening to two — TWO! — stories of kitchen woes from our waitress to explain our missing food. Since the end result was beer-battered french fries and a peanut-buttered hamburger, the answer is “yes.”

Five Senses — Yum! (Sung to the Music from the Red Robin Ad)

Oh my goodness! Husband and I recently had a wonderful meal at Five Senses restaurant in Murfreesboro, Tennessee quick overnight trip, and after a late and satisfying lunch on the way at Miss Annie’s Rustic Park Restaurant and Beer Garden in St. Joseph, Tennessee, it was later in the evening before we started thinking about eating again. (Oh, who am I kidding? When we’re on the road, I always think about eating.) The ‘Boro has some great choices, and since we still mourn the loss of downtown pizza place “Tomato, Tomato,” we picked its upscale sibling Five Senses. Or, rather, JP picked it and I agreed. It was either Five Senses or Red Robin, and while I always enjoy working my way down a tower of fried onion rings,  we made the correct decision here. We went with small plates instead of entrees and so started with three appetizers: fried oysters, Readyville Mill grits and a crabcake, all flavorful and with lovely sauces and little salads.  Then Husband JP had a wedge salad, which he was delighted to see came in deconstructed form so he could play with his food, and I had a salad with fresh local lettuce. And then, dessert. Oh my oh my.  Usually creme brulee is my go-to, but JP talked me out of it with a suggestion to try something new. Thank you, dear sweetie, because this trio of sorbets — pomegranate, mango and pink grapefruit on crispy lace cookies “glued” to the plate with homemade whipped cream — was absolutely divine. Every bite was cool, creamy, tart or sweet. And, honestly, to tell the truth, as much as I adore creme brulee and would eat it every day except that it’s like 10,000 calories per bite, the best part is the contrast of the crunchy sugar top with the smooth richness underneath. When that’s gone, it’s still good but bordering possibly on sameness. However, every bite of this sorbet — every single bite  — was an adventure. As it always is when I go out with my husband.

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.

The Three Stages of Pizza, Part No. 1

Stage No. 1 -- Fresh dough from Earth Fare topped with pizza sauce, fresh basil and a variety of farmers'-market-fresh peppers sauteed in olive oil.

Stage No. 2 -- Sprinkle with grated fresh mozzarella.

Continued in post above …

Barbecue

If your Fourth of July plans call for some barbecue this weekend, I hope it’s as good as this plate of finger-lickin’ goodness I got at Bar-B-Q by Jim in Tupelo, Mississippi, this week.  Now, I am not a barbecue fanatic. I never get up in the morning and say, “I’ve got to have some barbecue today.” But when good barbecue falls in your lap — and anybody who eats with me knows I mean that literally — you cannot refuse. Bar-B-Q by Jim is moist and succulent with a faint woodsy flavor. It’s perfect on its own, but a dribble of the molasses-based sauce makes it even better. The cole slaw is crunchy and crisp and not drowned in mayonnaise, the potato salad is firm and savory and not drowned in mayonnaise and those rolls — light and rich and buttery all at the same time. Thank you, Jim Beane, for making barbecue that even non-barbecue folks like me can love. Go to http://bbqbyjim.com/ for details.

Restaurants

You know I’m easily impressed, but I’m not the only one who’s a fan of Ichiban, an Asian restaurant that’s recently opened in Sheffield, Alabama. Now most of y’all probably have an Ichiban in your town. “Ichiban” is a Japanese word that means “the best” and many Asian restaurants use that as a name. Or that’s what I’ve read, anyway. Our Ichiban is becoming a popular spot for locals looking for something new. I love getting my food in these red lacquered bento boxes — sort of exotic, especially for someone like me who mainly eats out of Cheetos bags. Everything tastes fresh, the sushi bar is excellent and the service is friendly. And of course there’s green-tea ice cream in fried wonton shells. Better than Cheetos any day. Ichiban in Sheffield is open at 11 a.m. every day except Saturday, when it opens at noon. It’s at 1207 S. Jackson Hwy., phone number 25.389.9888.

Food

After she graduated college this past December, Younger Daughter moved back home to work part-time and figure out the next step – which is going to be wonderfully awesome, whatever it happens to be. In the meantime, I get the benefits of living with someone who is the healthiest eater I know. And she cooks! When I’m empty-nesting, my usual lunch is 1) breakfast, 2) coffee with friends, 3) steam-table civic-club meeting buffets or 4) Cheeto crumbs eaten standing in the middle of the kitchen. I like Younger Daughter’s way much better. Here’s a typical lunch she’ll sort of insist on fixing for us: Organic cream of tomato soup and stir-fried veggies with sourdough cheese and herb toast. She plans and preps and I clean up — a great deal for both of us.