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 you are deep in Southern territory when women driving open-air Jeeps keep an aerosol can of hairspray handy. Reminds me of the time many years ago when now-husband John Pitts called me from his office in Washington, D.C. “My ink pen exploded all over my shirt,” he said. “Any advice for getting it out?” I replied with the universal antidote: “Sure. Ask one of the women there if you can borrow their hairspray and then saturate and blot.” There was a pause and then laughter. “You forget,” he said, chuckling, “that this is not the South. I bet none of the women I work with even know what hairspray is.” Putting aside the argument that Washington IS, in fact, the South, it is true that hairspray — lots and lots of hairspray — is a Southern essential. Especially in Jeeps.
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.
Back in the olden days, the natural order of things was parents passing wisdom and valuable lessons down to their children because parents were the ones who KNEW THINGS. But that was long ago — way back when you had to stay in one spot to talk on the telephone — and times have changed. Now, parents KNOW NOTHING and we depend on our children to keep us up-to-date. At least that’s how it works in my family. Older Daughter, for example, is the one who got me hooked on Pinterest, TOMS and an interesting book called “Hunger Games.” And recently Younger Daughter has introduced me to two new obsessions: Acure Facial Toners and Roma Boots. I can’t even begin to tell you how good these products are — for you and for others. Acure uses organic and Fair Trade ingredients (as well as minimal and recyclable packaging) in its skin- and body-care lines, and this facial toner is seriously good stuff. I’ve got a bottle stashed at the office — the refreshing hydrating spray of wonderfulness is perfect when you need more than a brisk walk to the break room for
gossip and coffee to revive you. And it smells oh-so-good! Roma Boots smell, good, too — not only in that brand-new-shoe smell that makes you feel rich and prosperous but in that I’ve-done-something-good-for-someone-and-I-look-damn-cute-too sort of way. Roma Boots was started by a native of Romania, who was anguished to see Roma (or “gypsy”) children in the cold and wet streets without proper — or any — shoes. The company will donate a pair of boots plus school supplies to a child in need when you buy a pair of Roma’s all-weather lightweight, stylish and natural rubber-soled boots. That’s TWO people with dry feet for the price of one — a deal you cannot pass up.
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.
You get extra points if you immediately know what this image is and what it means. Until a few weeks ago, I would have had no idea — A new kind of container for growing tomatoes? A techno-modern jewelry holder? An industrial-minimalist magazine organizer? Good guesses. But all wrong. The orange part depicts a basket (or “disc entrapment device”) used in playing disc golf and, since this course was in the sandy wilds of north Florida, the arrows are directing you to the next hole so that you don’t get lost and subsequently carried away/eaten by hordes of mosquitoes. Do you know anything about disc golf? I was completely clueless until I hung out with my 13-year-old nephew and his mom (my sister-in-law) and dad (my brother) during our recent family beach trip. Banish all thoughts of lazily playing Frisbee with your dog — which, by the way, is never as successful as it looks on TV — because the only thing that carefree activity has in common with competitive disc golf is you throwing something. A disc-golf family like my nephew’s travels to courses and competitions the way other families take to the road for high-level baseball or softball games. When playing a course, competitors lug around backpacks filled with a couple of dozen discs and say things such as “This mid-range one is good for a hyzer flip, or should I use an overstable disc for a low-speed right backhand fade?” Since trees are the main challenge, my nephew suggested I make my first disc-golf attempt when we reached the one hole that was in the open — although you had to throw across a 700-foot-long ravine. Luckily, my brother volunteered to climb down and retrieve my discs that barely made it … well … I’d generously say 25 feet. This is serious stuff and much, much harder than it looks. I will never smile again when the subject of disc-golf at the summer Olympics comes up.
We’ve talked about art in one of my favorite adopted towns of all time — Chattanooga, Tenn., here and here. Now, art is good. I like art. I like people who make art, which is convenient since I work (most days) in an art museum. But when it comes to other things Chattanooga really is good at, have to put “coffee” high on the list. I’m not sure if it’s the mountain or the river or that whole we’re-cool-and-hipster-and-still-a-little-bit-country thing Chattanoogians have going, but folks there sure love and know their coffee. Me, too. At least the “love” part. Chattanooga fans surely will recognize where these two photos come from. On the left, it’s Rembrandt’s Coffee House in the Bluff View Art District, identifiable by its awesomely wonderful desserts. It’s one of those bakeries where you just stare through the glass and say “I want one of those and one of those and …” And, yes, the foam on my macchiato is a bit too foamy, but really that’s a minor complaint for such a fun location and satisfying sweetness. On the right, nobody could mistake the sturdy recycled tables and skillful foam art of Camp House Espresso, a few blocks from both the burgeoning Southside Art District and bustling downtown Market Street. The Camp House building truly is multi-purpose, housing at various times during the week a church, an entertainment venue and a clothing mission as well as a coffee house. That is sooooo Chattanooga.
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.
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.
Selmer, Tenn., is a small town near the Mississippi border where former-major-highways U.S. 45 and 64 (a once-popular east-coast-to-west-coast route known as Lee Highway) intersect. This brought more than traffic to Selmer — in the 1940s and ’50s, it helped meld the meeting of country, rock, swing and bluegrass into what’s known as rockabilly music. In fact, Selmer folks probably would much rather you think “rockabilly” when you think of their town instead of thinking, for example, “Buford Pusser.” And who wouldn’t want that? Downtown Selmer is a great spot for wandering around and poking around and discovering treasures such as the Rockabilly Highway Murals by Tennessee artist Brian Tull. Tull’s second mural was dedicated this past Saturday during the annual Rockabilly Highway Festival, held downtown and featuring music, art and Selmer’s version of the deep-fried doughburger called a slugburger. Go ahead — you know you want to try it.