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.
I love it when folks who love good food and good wine give parties, ’cause we all know we’re in for a treat. Now, don’t get me wrong. “Party” to me pretty much means a bag of Ruffles and a container of french onion dip. After all, what else do you need? But if somebody’s going to all the trouble of planning something special, then I’m thrilled to get an invite. Such as my friend Sarah’s 60th birthday party, which was at a local wine shop with food from a great local restaurant. Sarah is a former caterer and a fantastic cook and knows her wines, so all guests were looking forward to a memorable evening — which we got, and then some. The food, from Sweet Magnolia Cafe, featured a Cajun flair with deconstructed muffalettas and the best shrimp and grits I’ve ever had. Ever. The fruit and chocolate cupcakes were extra yummy, and the Wine Seller folks had appropriate wines ready for everything you could eat. It was the perfect party, made even better by the fact that my fear of knocking over a wine-bottle display proved groundless. It even inspired me to dream big — maybe for the next party at our house, I’ll add a bag of Cheetos. Baby steps, you know. Baby steps.
When we were in Target the other day and I lost my husband for a few minutes (I was busy contemplating the pretty new blue-and-white dishes because you never can have enough coffee cups), I found him standing in the wine aisle, studying things. Things such as a Box o’ Wine. “How bad could it be, really?” he said, impressed with the pricing that equaled to four normal bottles of wine for the price of one box. So we took it home and tried it. And the answer is, “The more you drink, the better it gets.” There’s no complexity or layers of flavor, and it’s very grape juicey. With benefits. However, as Dear Husband pointed out, it’s okay to say you drank a whole bottle of wine, but you don’t want to say you drank a whole box. So we didn’t. Just.
If you’re headed to Nashville, Tennessee, put Tin Angel on your places-to-eat list. Heck, it’s worth making a trip there on its own. From the tin ceiling and weathered brick walls to the menu featuring fresh and innovative dishes to the feeling of neighborhood and convivial warmth (important on freezing winter nights when it’s literally, you know, freezing), Tin Angel is one of my new favorite places. We visited the West End restaurant on the strength of a review my husband had read in the Nashville Scene (http://www.tinangel.net/images_miscellany/scenereview.pdf) and ordered according to the reviewer’s recommendations. All I can say is, “Yes, please.” I had the spinach salad with poached egg, and it was the best spinach salad I’ve ever had — not your usual bacon-sugar-vinegar combination but instead some sort of savory yummy deliciousness topped with a velvety poached egg. Only my mother’s warning voice in my head kept me from licking the plate. My husband had the Catfish Pomme de Terre with a horseradish crust and mustard sauce on braised shredded cabbage and I had grilled scallops, one of the evening’s specials, both accompanied by our go-to restaurant seafood wine — a bottle of Conundrum. Our dishes were full of balanced and layered satisfying flavors and the portions were perfect. A wonderful evening and a memorable meal! We ate late enough — in fact we closed the place down — that we had no lines or parking glitches, but Tin Angel is so popular that at peak times you probably will. Worth it, though. Here’s the Web site: http://www.tinangel.net
Welcome to the eighth day of Cathy’s New Year Countdown. Look, I promise you that it is not too late to make your 2009 resolutions. (Go to http://www.timesdaily.com/article/20090102/ARTICLES/901020301 to find out why.) You were nursing a headache busy yesterday, anyway, so make today the day. Need inspiration? Go to your favorite bookstore and find new guides and how-to’s for every problem you’ve got. Browsing in good bookstores is a joy and treat you deserve — what better way to start 2009? (A friend told her book-loving granddaughter she’d take her to Barnes & Noble for her birthday but they only had a couple hours and her granddaughter said, “Only two hours? That’s not much time!”) My motivating picks for 2009 are “A Year of Wine” — which explores the idea of drinking wine by the season and packs in lots of wine info — because I want to stop wandering around wine shops aimlessly and choosing bottles only by the cute labels; “Style Statement: Live by Your Own Design” — a workbook for identifying and celebrating your personal style — because I have none; “Great Hair,” by What Not To Wear’s Nick Arrojo — who shows you how to choose styles and products based on your hair’s texture — because my hair is a disaster; and “Get Positively Beautiful,” by WNTW’s Carmindy — who believes in enhancing the positive instead of hiding the negative — because I couldn’t get Nick Arrojo’s book without getting Carmindy’s, too. Based on the way my post-holiday house looks right now, I probably should have concentrated on books about cleaning and organizing, but wine, fashion and makeup are much more fun. Check back for day no. 9 in Cathy’s New Year Countdown, when we finally face the dismantling of Christmas.
How did I know I’ve been drinking the wrong wine? I mean, I knew that New Age is perfect for drinking with a lime wedge over ice cubes and I do like that very much and I keep a couple bottles on hand for that very purpose. But one time recently all my limes looked and felt like walnuts I didn’t have any limes and all my ice cubes smelled like shrimp so I just poured some New Age straight in a can’t-break-it wineglass and drank it and I liked it that way. It seemed like a light and refreshing alternative to all the rich holiday food I’ve been inhaling enjoying. However, later I saw a bottle of New Age in the discount basket at a local wine shop and the store owner explained that most people only drink New Age in the summer so the old vintage goes on sale to make room for the new when it warms up. I mean, she said it nicely when I asked why one of my favorite wines was on sale and I’m sure she’s not the kind of person to judge one’s drinking habits but I did detect a glint of suspicion in her eyes as she answered. So, to recap, I’ve been drinking the wrong wine the wrong way at the wrong time of year.
Anybody ready for another glass?
Is the glass half empty or half full … or broken? My mom gave me four of these wine glasses for Christmas after I admired them at Henhouse Antiques in Birmingham, Alabama (http://www.shophenhouseantiques.com/). I loved their style and also the fact that I couldn’t knock them over and break them, the way I do with stemmed wineglasses. But, of course, in the 10 months I’ve had them, I’ve broken every single one of them. The fourth and last one developed a crack on Wednesday night, probably in sympathy with its lost three companions, and so I put it out of its misery.
And in other random thoughts, friends and family always are tickled at my love for Fresh Market and Whole Foods and places like Tria Market in Birmingham — since they all know that I don’t actually cook. Much, that is. My husband’s sports-editor schedule means that we eat out a lot. And when I’m on my own, I’m a low-maintenance grazer. But I love good food, so you gotta go to the source. Besides, it’s the promise of possibilities that I love in good grocery stores. With all that inspiration, it’s possible that I might get motivated to grill some cedar-plank salmon or whip up a fresh risotto. It’s possible!
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.