To Beer or Not to Beer — That is the Question

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.

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.

Rockabilly, Highways and Slugburgers

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.

Newspapers ‘R’ Us

Husband JP and I are newspaper geeks. We met at a newspaper — Sidelines, the student newspaper at Middle Tennessee State University, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. We work for newspapers — he’s actually fortunate enough to get a regular paycheck from one. We talk and post and discuss and argue about newspapers (and also whose turn it is to clean out the cat boxes and which one of us forgot to buy beer). And we buy newspapers — you know, the old-fashioned kind made of paper — everywhere we go. When we travel, our hotel room is littered with newspapers. We take stacks into restaurants (although not the really good ones). We pile them in the back seat of the car and haul them home for additional perusal. In doing all this, we stumble across some fascinating things. Such as the fact that the May 27 edition of the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press — the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend — weighed in at an incredible 2 pounds and, when folded, was 1 1/2 inches deep. This is, we calculated, about four times bigger than your average regular daily paper and seemed mainly due to an inordinately large amount of advertising inserts. Most papers, it seemed to us, had a lighter number of inserts for Memorial Day Sunday. Anyway, this is the sort of stuff that fascinates us. Just wait until you hear our discussion on Times Roman versus Times New Roman.

Sister Myotis, Beer and Frozen Yogurt

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.

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.