Yikes! I was wrong that this weekend is fall’s last stand, because winter has taken over already. It’s cold and windy here in northwest Alabama and the perfect Sunday for staying inside, wondering why LSU had to stage a comeback to beat Troy (Troy!) and contemplating the news that our president-elect believes in college-football playoffs. Or, you could start stressing about the upcoming holidays and desperately try to remember the place where you put the Christmas CDs this past January so it’d be easy to find them this year. (The box of outdoor decorations? Wrapped up in the Christmas stockings? And speaking of the stockings, I wonder where…. ) Or, you could bundle up and go to the Scene Lounge at Monaco Pictures at Bridge Street Town Centre in Huntsville. This bar/restaurant adjacent to the movie theater is the spot to go if you believe that nothing new ever happens around here — the warm and sophisticated space is unlike anywhere else. With its plush banquette seating and sleek pedestal tables, Scene evokes the feeling of old-school glamour back when going to the movies was an event. This is where James Bond would stop in for a drink before saving the world. Conversely, it’s also where my daughter and I can take a baby and a stroller in and enjoy some of the best sushi this side of the Pacific. Go figure. The fun part is that you can order anything to go and then take into the theater. Or, claim a table on the patio where you’ve got a front-row view of Bridge Street shoppers. Everything I’ve had here is good, and I especially like the hummus, which comes with roasted vegetables and pita chips. The Scene rightfully has become a Huntsville gathering spot and offers wine tastings and theme parties coordinated with movie premieres along with other special events. Check out the Web site at http://www.sceneatmonaco.com/home.asp
If you’re hungry for pizza and you’re in Mississippi, look for an Old Venice Pizza Co. (There’s also one in Memphis, Tennessee, but we all know that Memphis is really north Mississippi.) My husband and I eat at the one in Tupelo, and it’s on our ever-lengthening list of favorite places. This is pizza with style. Old Venice began in Oxford, Mississippi, about 10 years ago. It combines Southern hospitality with Old World ingredients for an upscale yet friendly experience. One of the best things about Old Venice is its imaginative pizza menu. There are all sorts of specialties: Daddy Crawdaddy, with sweet red peppers and crawfish tails; the Mardi Gras, with andouille sausage; and a couple starring Memphis-style pulled pork. Or create your own from a list of almost 50 ingredients. You can order the lunch special of two slices from the four daily featured pizzas plus a salad. It’s a lot of food, but that’s a good thing, because my husband says Old Venice pizza is the best he’s ever had … cold — an important consideration for pizza lovers who look forward to leftovers! There are also pasta and sandwiches and a nice wine and beer selection (any place that has Blue Moon is a winner for me). Old Venice believes in wine with pizza and offers recommendations for your meal as well as wine tastings and other fun evenings in its sleek and stylish bar. And that’s the other attraction: Old Venice’s ambiance. The interior of the Tupelo restaurant is sleek and calming, with muted grays and purples — perfect for a peaceful mid-day break in the restaurant or a fun night out in the bar. Old Venice’s bars are called Burgundy Rooms. The Tupelo bar includes a high-tech-looking wine-dispenser that lets you sample 1-ounce pours of various wines for a sort of do-it-yourself wine-tasting. Now why did somebody wait so long to come up with that super idea? I love it! Visit the Web site at http://www.oldvenice.com to learn more.
Cinnamon rolls. Sourdough bread. Blueberry muffins. All fresh and homemade and delicious. Sound good? The lucky folks in Tupelo, Miss., can get these every day (except Sunday) at the newly opened Dutch Pastry Shoppe on Gloster Street. And you know it’s all fresh and homemade because you can see the work in the kitchen and smell the yummy results as soon as you open the door. No one — and I mean no one! — is able to resist. Does cream cheese peanut butter pie tempt you? Italian Creme Cake? How about pumpkin bread or mocha fudge cookies?But Dutch Pastry’s charm comes from more than its array of goodies. One of the things I like best here is the convenient variety in sizes. For instance, you can buy bread in full loaves for a big family or mini loaves for a small family or single slices if you want to munch on a sweet treat immediately — which I usually do. There’s also a cooler of frozen casseroles plus a full inventory of readymade slaws, sauces and mustards, including my new favorite peanut butter: Mrs. Miller’s Amish Peanut Butter Spread. It’s smooth and sweet and perfect on a graham cracker. The folks at Dutch Pastry Shoppe are friendly and helpful, too. They’ll answer questions and take special orders. There’s room to sit and enjoy your purchases with some hot coffee or cold milk and even a day-old clearance rack. I think the embroidered wall hanging in the shop says it all. Dutch Pastry is open from 6 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays and 7:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Fridays. Phone 662.620.6323.
It’s really going to happen! The new Demos’ (pronounced “dee-mus”) Restaurant going up in Florence, Ala., should open in mid-December, co-founder and owner Jim Demos said this week. This family-owned restaurant began in Murfreesboro, Tenn., almost 20 years ago and quickly became a Middle Tennessee favorite for its emphasis on fresh homemade food and exceptional customer service. It was the go-to place for my husband and his mom, who lived in Murfreesboro, and I knew I was an accepted member of the family when they invited me to come along. The Demoses are expanding and chose Florence for their first out-of-state location. Amazing! My husband and I cannot believe our luck in having one of our favorite restaurants open up practically in our backyard. Go to the Web site http://www.demosrestaurants.com/ to learn more. Now, I’m craving a Blackened Chicken Stuffed Potato.
Miss Annie’s Rustic Park Restaurant and Beer Garden in St. Joseph, Tenn., finally is reopened! It’s been a long four years since the owners had to close and move their restaurant back from the roadway to make room for U.S. 43 widening. They took advantage of the break, though, and remodeled and redid so that Miss Annie’s has returned better than ever. Definitely worth the wait. The renovated building is spacious and gleaming, while the beer-garden courtyard is clean and welcoming. What is Miss Annie’s, you ask? Well, it’s a restaurant, with sandwiches, steaks, chicken, seafood, BBQ and pasta. It’s a bar, with plenty of beer and appetizers such as hush puppies, stuffed mushrooms and spinach/artichoke dip. It’s a landmark — Miss Annie’s has been welcoming thirsty travelers and locals off and on since 1928. And it’s an unexpected surprise to find such a fun place in what everybody cheerfully admits is close to the middle of nowhere. Miss Annie’s is about 12 miles from Killen, Ala., — 1.5 miles north of the Alabama/Tennessee state line on U.S. 43. This is the sort of place that makes you happy as soon as you walk in. On the recent crisp fall evening my husband and I went, there were families, couples, groups of friends and folks getting off work, all enjoying a place to linger and relax. Now, this isn’t a place to explore new breweries since the beer menu is pretty limited or to worry about your cholesterol level — although the house salad is fresh. Just go and enjoy yourself. Check out the Web site first, at http://www.missanniesbeergarden.com/, and learn the history of the venerable and much-loved Miss Annie’s.
Fire and Ice is a new restaurant in Birmingham, Ala., and some friends and I checked it out a couple nights ago. It’s in Five Points in the building where a Gap was several years ago — and it sure doesn’t look like the place where we used to buy blue jeans. Fire and Ice is a sort of do-it-yourself stir fry/grill restaurant. You don’t cook it yourself, but you create your own bowl of ingredients from a well-stocked buffet and then take it to a huge round grill where cooks sizzle your creation to perfection. That’s the “Fire” part. The “Ice” part is the bar, which is decorated in cool shades of blue to contrast with the red decor of the food part. Here’s how it works: When the waitress seats you, you get a complimentary bowl of chips and salsa and you order drinks while she explains the process and even takes you on a tour. The buffet has a salad bar with the usual items and then a section with ingredients for your entree, although you can mix and match. The entree bar has a wider variety of vegetables such as bok choy and sweet potatoes — some cooked and some not cooked — along with uncooked meats such as scallops, salmon, shrimp, BBQ chicken and tenderloin plus tofu. You can do your salad first and then go back for your entree, which you build in a bowl as high as you wish. Of course, we five experienced moms sort of cringed at the thought of adding raw meat to a pile of vegetables and letting it set for a few minutes, but our waitress assured us it would be OK, and of course it was. The really fun part, though, is figuring our your sauce. There are about 1o or 12 to choose from, with flavors such as Cajun, Asian and Southwestern. I really liked the Roasted Garlic with Honey and then a pineapple-ginger one. You can stick with one or mix some together. So you put your sauce in little cups and take your bowl of ingredients plus your sauce over to the grill, where the cooks deftly arrange your ingredients in a line, do their magic, add your sauce and in a few minutes you’ve got a hot and yummy personalized stir fry. You can take your drinks to the grill while you watch and go back as often as you like. It was lots of fun, but it can be a little intimidating if you feel pressured by the thought that a good meal is up to your own skill at combining ingredients. After all, relying on somebody else’s expertise is one of the reasons we go out to eat. But there are no bad choices, and the sauce redeems all. If you’re uneasy at first, start out small with only a few ingredients — although if it’s crowded and there’s a line at the grill, this approach might slow down your evening. And if you don’t want a stir fry at all, do a hamburger or veggie burger at the grill and get a big basket of fries to go with. Yum! The salad/entree bar is $15.95 for dinner and $9.9 for lunch. There are also appetizers and a dessert, including a fondue for more do-it-yourself eating, but these are extra. As long as you’ve got folks along who are willing to try something new, this is a great place. It’s also good for families like mine, where everybody likes different things. According to the Web site, http://www.fire-ice.com/, Fire and Ice is a chain that started in 1997 in Cambridge, Mass., and now is all over the world. It’s fun and different, so try it.
Have you tried Numbrix yet? Marilyn vos Savant, who authors the “Ask Marilyn” column in the Sunday magazine Parade, invented this fun number game recently. New puzzles are in her Parade “Ask Marilyn” column and daily at http://www.parade.com/askmarilyn/numbrix. Here’s how it works: You fill in a partially complete grid with the missing numbers 1-81 so that the numbers are in numerical order without diagonals — only horizontally and vertically. It’s one of the rare puzzles that’s challenging yet simple at the same time. If you need to warm up for a five-star Sudoku or the Sunday New York Times crossword or you just need to rest your brain while giving it a gentle nudge, try Numbrix. A word of warning, though: It’s much easier to do online so you don’t have massive erasing. Unlike Sudoku, where a quick check can show you where you’re going wrong, you can work yourself into a Numbrix hole without realizing it until the very last square — much better to hit the “reset” button than rub holes in the Sunday parade with your eraser. If a puzzle can be elegant, then this one is. When you’re — literally — on the right path, you get into a satisfying rhythm and everything falls into place. Good luck!
Ah, it’s fall, and that means one thing: “Survivor” is back! I love this show! Thursday night was the opening of its 17th season, filmed in Africa’s Gabon, which is billed as “Earth’s last Eden.” The first episodes are always fun as we viewers try to identify the good, the bad and the clueless. And it’s our chance to get to know what the contestants normally look like while they still have clean hair and somewhat intact clothes. And then, of course, there’s my man, Jeff Probst — now, after his recent Emmy win, officially proclaimed best reality-show host ever (OK, I added in the “ever” part. But still.) I’ve always thought Jeff is the perfect candidate for vice president. I mean, he’s kind but tough, smart but accessible, believes in hard work and trying your best and, most importantly, takes no nonsense from anybody. Isn’t this exactly what we need??? I think so. Plus, he’s so cute and looks great in both a tux and a baseball cap. I’m telling you, if we’d all just listen to Jeff, we’d be in much better shape. I’m just saying. So here are my predictions for this season: Ace and Bob will get the boot after the merge, Jacquie and Kelly will remain under the radar and Charlie will see his carefully constructed alliance disintegrate before his eyes — or rather, he won’t see it because he’ll be completely blindsided. Jeff has said that this season degenerates into the most intense “good versus evil” competition he’s ever seen. Now, that will be interesting! Cannot wait.
Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon were among the women singers/songwriters whose music defined a generation: the hippie baby-boomers coming of age in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Sheila Weller’s book, “Girls Like Us,” explores the trio’s intertwining lives and how their successes changed the music industry. It’s a fascinating look at these women’s beginnings, their personal and professional struggles and the men who inspired them (although not always for the good). It’s also an homage to the rise of feminism and the fast-track advances in women’s rights from one decade to the next. Sounds like a must-read, right? Well, maybe. It’s long — more than 500 pages — detailed and peppered with references and observations that do nothing to move the story along. Also, Weller writes with interminably long sentences, relies on distracting hyphens and parentheses and can’t disguise an annoying sort of exclusionary elitist attitude that’s prejudicial and unattractive. For example, she believes that the only smart and progressive women found in America in the early1960s were at the elite Northeastern women’s colleges. Really? Hmmm … That’s just one instance of Weller’s biased and insider approach. But, that being said, I’m glad I read this book. If you’ve ever belted out Simon’s “You’re So Vain,” if King’s “Tapestry” is on your best-album-ever list or if a mellow mood sends you to Mitchell’s “Clouds,” this is the book for you. But if you like quick reads and straightforward writing, it’s not.