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.
Chattanooga, Tenn., is a town that loves its art. (And its doughnuts, but that’s a different post.) Art is everywhere here. It oozes out of museums and galleries and spills out onto walls, buses and anywhere there’s an inspiring blank space. Such as sidewalks. In the emerging Southside Art District, for example, simply walking along immerses you in all sorts of innovative artistic minds. Sculptor John Petrey, for instance, is known for his dress series, and one of his astonishing works is just standing right there. You can walk up to it and inspect it and touch it all you want. Yea, art for the people!!! And then there was this wooden door propped up against a lamp post on a sidewalk in Northside, Chattanooga’s cool hipster alter ego. Younger Daughter and I were walking to Greenlife Grocery (which we all know is actually a Whole Foods, although everybody in Northside tries to deny it) when we spotted the door and tried to figure it out. Was it art? Apartment renovation? A magic door that would lead to an alternate universe? We resisted the urge to draw on it since all we had were ink pens and lipstick and, besides, if it did happen to be a magic door leading to an alternate universe, we felt that non-engagement was the proper response.
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.
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.
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.
Happy New Year! Even though the Tournament of Roses parade (and I guess a football game?) isn’t on until tomorrow so it really doesn’t feel like New Year’s morning, this is the first day of 2012. So far I’ve celebrated by (thinking about) a healthy breakfast and (thinking about) doing an exercise DVD, so I count that as a successful year so far. And since we”d already enjoyed the big-city lights of Nashville, Tennessee, this weekend, husband JP and I stayed home for the New Year’s Eve countdown. We chased some screw-top bubbly wine we’d unaccounatably found in the back of the fridge with some yummy Christmas chocolates, threw glitter out on the front porch and alternated being horrified by the (literal) spectre of a propped-up spray-tanned Dick Clark and being sympathetic with the Mobile, Alabama, TV hosts trying to make the anti-climatic Moon Pie drop and the lackluster crowd seem somehow festive. It’s a tough job. Bye-bye, 2011. You brought us adventures, opportunities, a boy grandbaby and much love and joy. However, you also brought us a few tears, fears and heart-stopping moments. Overall, though, you were pretty balanced. Here’s to 2012 — and we’re eating as many black-eyed peas as we can today.
When it comes to bookstores, we all have our favorites. Some folks like small and cozy. Some folks like bright and airy. Some want chairs and tables for group chatting. Some want soft curl-up-by-yourself chairs. Some want a full menu of coffee, tea and munchables. Some think cups and crumbs should be banned. But no matter what your bookstore preferences, you can’t help falling in love with Square Books in Oxford, Mississippi. This is the mecca of book lovers everywhere. For more than 30 years, Square Books is where you go for that quintessential bookstore experience. It’s where unknown indies and multi-million bestsellers mingle happily. It’s where you can find the titles everybody’s talking about and the ones nobody’s even noticed … yet. It’s where you can blow the budget on rare editions or fill your basket with bargains Plus, the folks at Square Books so kindly painted their stairs with practically all of my favorite things — except for “Survivor,” chocolate-covered cream-filled doughnuts and (this week) LSU. Geaux, Tigers!
Both my husband and Older Daughter are REM fans and were saddened to hear that the Athens, Ga., band was officially calling it quits. Husband JP has been a fan from practically REM’s very beginning, although of course Older Daughter wasn’t even born when future band members Michael Stipe and Peter Buck met in an Athens record store. (Historical note: “Record store” is an ancient term for the place in the olden days where teenagers would hang out and buy records, which were these sort of flat vinyl rounds that music came on back then. See also: “Antiques.”) So that tells you something about REM’s appeal and longevity. Coincidentally, Older Daughter and Son-in-Law recently spent a long weekend in REM’s hometown as a treat for themselves before Baby Boy No. 2 arrives in mid-November. And why did they choose Athens, Ga.? “For the food, obviously,” Older Daughter said when I asked the same question. That’s my girl! While Athens long has been known as a hip music town and of course the University of Georgia is there — with its football team’s new eye-catching all-red uniforms — it also has a growing reputation as a food destination. Luckily, it did not disappoint the baby-mooners. And although they didn’t see any sign of REM folks that weekend, several of the eateries they tried did claim REM connections. Here’s their list, in case you want to indulge in some REM
stalking research yourself (P.S. Older Daughter is a vegetarian who’s allergic to glycerin, Son-In-Law needs to eat lightly due to gall-bladder issues and they both tend toward gluten-free, sometimes ):
- Big City Bread Cafe — a bakery and cafe that serves breakfast, lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. Highlights were the hummus, the roasted vegetable and tofu saute and the bakery’s cookies.
- Grit — a vegetarian paradise that also serves burgers. Offers great salads and sandwiches as well as Italian, Mexican, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
- Ike and Jane Normaltown Cafe and Bakery — a bakery/cafe known for its yummy doughnuts. Need we say more?
- Jittery Joe’s Coffee — a local roaster and wholesaler with several retail spots around town. I can smell it from here.
- Last Resort Grill — named after a 1960s Athens music club, the Last Resort was the most upscale spot on the kids’ food tour. Plenty of good entrees with a vegetarian dish right smack on the menu, which always is a good sign.
This past Friday night, my husband and I took a romantic stroll through the carnival that’s part of the eagerly anticipated annual Slugburger Festival set up for the weekend just a couple of blocks from our house, in Corinth, Mississippi. We smooched on top of the ferris wheel and he won me a stuffed animal in the football toss and we walked arm-in-arm-in-cotton-candy and … aw, okay, you know that is all a big fat lie. I can’t fool you. Forget the romantic stuff. We did go to the festival, but naturally we bypassed the family fun and potentially romantic area and headed straight for the beer garden, where we loaded on Bud Light and rocked out to some great blues. But the carnival looked fun, in a scream-your-head-off-and-feel-your-stomach-do-flip-flops sort of way. And I know some of you are just now rejoining me after getting stuck at the words “Slugburger Festival” and wondering what, exactly, we and the good folks here in Corinth are doing and, more importantly, what we’re eating. I hope you read the link and learned that slugburgers are in fact an innovative and popular Corinth food item that people travel hundreds of miles for. And no slugs are harmed in the making of this sandwich, so it’s okay. But you’ve got to eat them hot and fast and please do not ask for catsup. That marks you as a non-slugburger connoisseur — or a Yankee. Not sure which is worse. Anyway, the festival continues tonight with country music, more carnival rides and all the beer and fried food
your gall bladder will allow you to have you can eat.