No, this is not what I’m planning for lunch today. Because that would be silly. You don’t indulge in this much rich & yummy frosted baked goodness for your mid-day meal. These gems from Sweet Treats Bakery, in Tupelo, Miss., strictly are breakfast items. (Note No. 1: Actually, lunch today is a leftover half of the Mediterranean Veggie Flatbread Sandwich from City Hardware in downtown Florence, Ala., home of the only balcony dining on Court Street. Note No. 2: I wouldn’t actually eat ALL of this for breakfast. Some crumbs would remain. And Note No. 3: Both of these places are locally owned and locally managed eateries that serve fresh & flavorful food accompanied by friendly smiles and welcoming attitudes. Highly recommended — and that’s a completely unsolicited and un-paid-for recommendation.)
Who doesn’t love a quirky hometown pizza place, especially if you value creative menus, local flavors and non-corporate atmospheres? Husband JP and I have several favorites scattered around, although we still mourn the loss of Tomato Tomato in Murfreesboro, Tenn., where we first encountered the trend of naming pizzas for streets and thus enjoyed eating our way through the downtown ‘Boro. Luckily, Younger Daughter introduced us to another Tennessee pizza place that quickly moved toward the top of our list: The Tomato Head, in downtown Knoxville. Of course you’ve got yummy pizza (and appetizers and burittos and salads and sandwiches and …) and good local beer in a funky and hip (without that annoying “-ster” addition) setting. Those things are required. But The Tomato Head goes further — it’s created its own Tomato Head culture. The owner and staff support local art, music and poetry. They recycle. They use as many responsibly grown local and/or organic ingredients as possible. They make their own dressings, desserts and breads. They opened their own bakery, The Flour Head, which supplies a local school with fresh and nutritious baked goods for lunch. This is local pizza at its best.
Tupelo Honey Cafe, a restaurant native of Asheville, N.C., is taking its first step in world domination with its first non-Asheville location opening this weekend in pedestrian-friendly Market Square in Knoxville, Tenn. But in this case, world domination is a good thing: Tupelo Honey Cafe focuses on organic, local, hormone-free and good-for-you made-just-for-you fresh food. Check out especially the pecan pie, goat-cheese grits, tomato soup, pimento cheese and black-bean cakes. Grand opening is 11 a.m. Monday. You probably should go now to get in line.
I never have been to France and have no knowledge of French-ness whatsoever, but a recent visit to the French Market Créperie in downtown Knoxville, Tenn., seemed like a European-Parisian-non-American sort of experience — albeit slightly tarnished by discovering the guy behind the counter was from our non-French town of Tupelo, Miss. But, still. The menu features crepes, salads and baguette and croissant sandwiches, but the star attractions are the crepes. So yummy! So fun! My buckwheat crepes with goat cheese and walnuts were unbelievably delicious. (I’d never had a buckwheat crepe, but you get a substantial and slightly sweet and nutty flavor which holds up well to most fillings.) My cappuccino was prepared perfectly, and we all practically licked our plates to get every last crepe crumb. The decor was rockin’ a French vibe, too, with all sorts of fleur-de-lis, Eiffel Tower and bicycle references. Again, I have no idea what a real French cafe in the real France is like, but the French Market’s adorable bistro chairs and sidewalk tables combined with French honey, petit fours and macaroons for sale will make you start throwing “s’il vous plait”s around and talking about Victor Hugo just for the heck of it. Actually, all I know about Victor Hugo comes from seeing “Les Misérables” on stage about a dozen times — which is to say that I know nothing about Victor Hugo and France equally. But I do know good food and good times — and you can find both at Knoxville’s French Market. Dites-leur que Catherine de “Café avec Cathy” que vous avez envoyé. (Thank you, Google Translate!)
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.
Friends, food and fun — who would turn down an evening like that? You know I’m first in line. But when
partner-in-crime event organizer Sherry wanted to go see something called “Sister Myotis’ End Times Hootenanny” at Theatreworks in Memphis yet couldn’t describe exactly what would be on stage, I was a little concerned. “You just have to see for yourself,” she kept saying. “You have to have the total experience.” And she was correct. As she always is. Sister Myotis is … well … she’s … well … think drag-queen versions of TV’s GCB church ladies with … uh … more colorful wardrobes. That’s about the best I can do. You really have to go see for yourself. (Sister is taking a well-deserved rest now but keep checking for her return.) However, I can describe the food we had that evening at Boscos Squared, a restaurant and brew-pub in midtown Memphis‘ Overton Square entertainment and historic district: Delicious. Boscos is a popular gathering spot for its spacious yet cozy interior, lovely outdoor dining space and not-too-extensive menu of handcrafted beers and bar-food favorites. We had a yummy hummus duo to start, and some of the dishes we ordered at our table included an intriguing black-bean and goat-cheese tamale and the classic cedar-plank salmon and roasted-garlic mashed potatoes. Our server patiently helped us choose the proper beer and even took our picture on multiple cameras because none of us believe anything really happens unless we take a picture of it. After dinner, we enjoyed a stroll in the gorgeous early-spring evening — which was only enhanced with a stop at bakery and frozen yogurtery YoLo, where we sadly learned that gelato is MORE fattening than ice cream, not less as we had always thought. Oh, well. That probably wouldn’t bother Sister Myotis, so we didn’t let it bother us.
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.
Where to eat in Starkville, Miss., home of , 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.”