Sunday, December 16, 2012

A Waycross Picnic

A cowboy, a monkey and a cop walked into a bar …

Truth is, it wasn’t a bar, but they all were there that afternoon for the local feed store customer appreciation day in Waycross, Georgia.

Once a year the proprietors of this store throw a down home country buffet lunch for their many customers who trade at the store throughout the year.

Here you could sit elbow-to-elbow with farmers, accountants, family and friends. One fellow and his Mama even brought a pair of pet marmoset monkeys—to the delight of children of all ages (myself included).
Half a dozen state troopers stopped by and dug into plates of ribs and pulled pork sandwiches. There were three or four flavors of BBQ sauce—including the unlabeled house special.

Cowboys in Stetson hats perched on bales of hay in the parking lot. It wasn’t a prop, just more outdoor seating for the crowd that topped 300 visitors.

There were more than 60 pounds of potato salad, an equal amount of country style green beans and a mess of pork and beans served up from steaming pans and platters. I happily tossed my diet out the window and dove into a piece of homemade red velvet cake (make that two). Coconut cake, chocolate dipped pecans, peanut butter and divinity candy leapt off the serving table onto paper plates, at record speed as the hungry diners helped themselves to the home made sweet delights. Everything was made from scratch, with lots of heart.

Visitors wandered around the parking lot admiring the gussied up pick-up trucks being loaded with pallets full of animal feed. Inside the store they found a wide assortment of farming supplies and saddles—real working gear, not the stuff of show horses or dude ranches.

Talk centered around the harvest, speculation on the weather and how one of the kin was going to Las Vegas—not for the gambling or showgirls; for the rodeo. That's country!

Thanks folks, and we’ll see y’all next year.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

My Little Beach

Seventy blocks north of Chicago’s “Loop” lies Loyola (Leone) Park beach. Of an evening or weekend, this 8-block long swatch of sand on the shore of Lake Michigan, is a gathering place for students from the nearby university and local families looking to enjoy a little packet of nature in this city of over 2.7 million.

And although the beach is rarely crowded, today it belongs solely to me. 

It’s a mid-September afternoon and there is no one in sight. The sun shines brightly on the yellow sand, and there’s a chill in the steady breeze that always seems to be blowing inland. My own shadow is sharply delineated against a relief of stubble-grass. Each footfall plunges my shoe, laces-deep into sand leaving a string of micro-dunes that trace my aimless path.

In the distance, looking south, the magnificent cityscape fades to a uniform bluish-gray hue. All of its energy—the good, the bad and indifferent, dissipates into the haze. I am here to peer through a stand of trees at gentle waves that stumble to the shore wearing a frill of white caps. My thoughts drifting like it’s gently swirling tides.

The water is clear; the sand clean and lively. There is green space behind the beach which muffles the carking din of city traffic. So here in this place I am free to toss a piece of driftwood to the dog; to write poetry, or just wander quietly along the shore on a crisp afternoon in early autumn.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

3 Cheers for "306 North"

“Tonight’s special is sushi” says the smiling waitress. “They’re hand-rolled by Chef Lee,” she continues.

It’s another busy weeknight and the dining room is filling with hungry patrons, while others gather for happy hour at the well-stocked bar. Sushi is just one of the unique delights to be found here at 306 North Restaurant on a Thursday night. It’s a local favorite in historic, downtown Valdosta GA.

“306” is the kind of restaurant where diners are seated at tables covered with white linen tablecloths, each sporting a dollop of fresh flowers in a tiny vase. Soft green walls are hung with original artwork created by local artists. You can buy one and take it home.
Many of the recipes are Chef Lee’s unique spin on traditional Southern classics.

“I find something I like, then make it with my own twist.” And what he likes is sometimes humorous, like the may haw jelly and peanut butter crème brulee dessert. Or deep-fried fish bones. Based on the playful name, I couldn’t resist the temptation to try that one, and it was good. Really good.

Grits are a staple throughout the South, but Chef puts his own touch on this classic dish using home grown, all natural stone ground white corn grits that are produced in nearby Lakeland, Georgia. Incorporating smoked gouda adds a delicate complexity and richness that perfectly compliments any main dish.
Bask in the ambiance in the contemporary dining room, or wander out onto the covered patio to enjoy Happy Hour daily. On Friday nights, the restaurant showcases the music of newly discovered local talent. 

There are wine tastings on the second Tuesday of each month, where guests can enjoy samples from their robust wine collection along with hors d’oeuvres, for a fixed price.

306 North Restaurant is at 306 North Patterson St. in Valdosta, Georgia. The name is a playful use of its geographic location.

Telephone: 229-249-5333, and you can find them on FB

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Oh, Savannah

The wall of steel-grey clouds that chased us all the way from Waycross abruptly exploded in mid-stride, drenching the city of Savannah.

Then, just as quickly the summer storm stopped leaving a humid warm blanket of fragrant air hugging the city. As the town wrung itself out, we could hardly wait to re-visit its beautiful squares.

The charm of these urban parks lies in its blend of nature and beautiful architecture. In the historic downtown area, visitors will find one of the 24 little gardens every few blocks. Each one is surrounded by or encloses a piece of the city’s 300 year-old history.

Here are 3 favorites:

Forsythe Park

Named for former Georgia Governor John Forsyth (c. 1827). The park is the largest in the city, but its scale is intimate and welcoming. You might see runners enjoying the long stretches of shady pathways. And you might recognize this fountain from the movie “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” (1997)

Monterrey Square

A surprisingly short walk from the Forsythe Park fountain is Monterrey Square. Centered in the lush greenery of the park is the monument to Gen. Casimir Pulaski, the American Revolutionary War hero who was killed in the defense of the city.

Flanking this square is the Congregation Mickve IsraelSynagogue, which is third oldest Jewish congregation in America (1733)

Madison Square

Laid out in 1837, this square is named for the fourth American, President James Madison. In the center of this square is a statue dedicated to the memory of Revolutionary War era Sgt. William Jasper, shown hoisting a flag. He died of wounds in the Siege of Savannah. He was only 29.

Relax on a park bench and meet the locals under a magnificent live oak tree, or enjoy a refreshing stroll through Savannah’s Squares.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Glorious Galatoire's

“I knew him,” says the elderly waiter. “He would sit at his favorite corner table in the front window.” The server continues, “But sometimes he would sit over by the pillar, reading a book.”

Him” is the acclaimed Southern playwright Tennessee Williams, and we are in his favorite restaurant, Galatoire’s on Bourbon St. in the Vieux Carre of New Orleans.

Serving traditional French Creole food in high style, Galatoire’s has been a favorite of many patrons for 105 years. Historically, many would wait hours in long lines until a table opens up. (Seating on the main floor is first come first served, although reservations are now taken for second floor dining these days)

It’s the kind of restaurant where meals are served by jacketed waiters. Dishes are served on real china that is laid on linen tablecloths. The silverware is real silver and jackets are required for gentlemen after 5 pm weekdays and all day Sunday.

Many of the recipes and traditions were brought here from France by the original owner, Jean Galatoire. The timeless, award winning menu has changed little in its years of operation.

 Lunch begins with a warm baguette—its thin veneer of toasty-crisp crust encasing an airy crumb. It’s as luscious as any to be found in a Parisian sidewalk café. The bread is served with double pats of salty rich creamy butter that rivals the pale smooth gold of Normandie butter.

Shrimp remoulade, a favorite chilled appetizer, is a staple in this town. We had it paired with crabmeat maison. The combination was a delicate balance of richness and spice. Best of all, the recipe can be found on their website.

We ordered a steaming bowl of rich bouillabaisse and delicate redfish smothered in jumbo lump crabmeat. I began to wonder if Stella and Blanche might have ordered this for supper in Streetcar Named Desire.

Guests are invited to savor the experience, table hop and bask in the ambience.

Galatoire’s is at 209 Bourbon St. in New Orleans. Just look for the longest line on a Friday night in the Big Easy. Telephone: 504.525.2021 Dining room is open Sunday from Noon – 10 pm. Monday-CLOSED, Tuesday – Saturday 11:30 am – 10 pm

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Savannah Squares

 300 years ago James E. Oglethorpe and his band of 120 colonists left England to establish a colony in the New World. He named it “Georgia” after the king who granted him the charter. Georgia was to be the last of the 13 original colonies.
On arrival, he laid out the city of Savannah in 8 block “wards” --each having a small park (square) in its center. The original 4 squares grew to 24 by 1851. Today, visitors can enjoy each one as unique with it’s own special charm.

Forsythe Park:
One of the bigger parks in the historic district of Savannah, Forsythe Park covers 30 acres. Its fountain dates from 1858, and you may recognize it from the movie “Forrest Gump.” Stroll around the 1-mile perimeter to see some of the prettiest restored houses in town.

Wright Square:
Girl Scouts young and old visit this square to see the Gordon Monument (1883). It honors William Gordon who founded of the Central Georgia Railroad. 

But it’s his granddaughter they celebrate. Juliet Gordon Low founded the Girl Scouts here in Savannah (1912).

Curiously, this monument sits atop the burial mound of a Creek Indian Chief named Tomochichi. He built peace between the two groups facilitating the success of the colony.

Monterey Square:
Flanking one whole side of Monterey square is the exquisite Williams-Mercer house. It’s in this very house that the shooting of Danny Hansford took place in John Berendt’s book, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. The story is true, and visitors can tour the house and gardens.

The square’s name refers to General Zachary Taylor’s victory in Monterrey, Mexico (1846). Yet in the center of the square there is also monument to General Casmir Pulaski, killed in the Revolutionary War during the Siege of Savannah.

Telfair Square:
This square is surrounded by the Telfair Art Museum, the oldest art museum in the Southeast. It is the original site of the royal governors residence. Trinity United Methodist Church and the more modern Jepson Center for the arts surround the other sides.

Strolling through these shady open centers visitors can enjoy a cool breeze, read the historic plaques, admire the beauty of the local architecture, or sit on a park bench and enjoy a snack, or simply people watch.

What’s your favorite square?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Red Hot Red Door Records

There’s no menu. A chalkboard hangs on a back wall behind the counter. It’s here that you’ll see a short list of sandwiches, dogs, toppings and specialties. If you’d like a beer, there’s a smaller board listing domestic, import and specialty brews. Or you can wash down a bag of chips with soft drinks chilling in the cooler.

Sit on a tall chrome stool at the ceramic-tiled bar. You can hear soft strains of oldies coming from a turntable just behind you. It’s perched on the end of long table covered with cardboard boxes filled with records. “LP’s” as they used to be called, long before 8-track tapes and cassettes or even iPods came onto the scene.

You can catch a glimpse of fresh hot dogs cooking on a grill. Their sizzling scent drifts around a curtain of vinyl records suspended on chains.

Someone from behind calls out “how ya doin’ today?”

Red Door Records is a friendly place. It attracts a cross-section of folks from the university, the town and travelers who wander in. Diners relax at the bistro tables or the long bar, clicking away on laptops, chatting or reading. Someone works a crossword puzzle over in the corner.

There’s always some fun activity underway--be it movie nite, music bingo, or a pop-culture trivia contest the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month.  On this afternoon the staff was ramping up for International Record Store Day, planning designer T-shirts, live music and a hot dog eating contest.

Vinyl in a hot dog diner? Is it a record store or a restaurant? 
It’s both, and doing it well.

There’s no mistaking it’s a record shop with all the LPs cleverly hung, boxed or mounted on the walls. In a day when most turntables and record players are gathering dust in thrift shops, Jessica, Red Door Record’s proprietor, does a thriving business reselling these gems.

Even if you’re not looking to buy or sell records, it’s worth a visit. Coming from Chicago, we were in search of a good hot dog. Not an easy task here in the land of ribs, burgers and Southern-fried foods. We found it here!

“It had been my dream to open a used record store,” says Jessica. “But we needed something else to bring in the business.”

She points to an album cover mounted over the window. On its cover is a hot dog drizzled with mustard, nestled in a bun. “That was my inspiration for records and hot dogs.”
The restaurant is now offering craft, imported and domestic beer. Soon there will be booths to provide additional seating.

The menu is limited but well done and consistently good. Try a chicken salad sandwich, a (soy) veggie dog, or the best slaw dog you’ve ever tasted. There’s soda, tea, beer or bottled water if you’re thirsty.

Like the artwork on the walls? Make an offer, and you might walk out with some vintage records, a full stomach and something nice for your art collection.

Red Door Records is a fun place for great food, good oldies music and killer slaw dogs. Even Flat Stanley stopped in for lunch one afternoon. Eat, hang out, and pick up a copy of The Glass Onion to find out what’s happening in town. Want to find out what’s new at the store? You can follow them on MySpace and Facebook.

Red Door Records is located at 136 N. Ashley St. in Valdosta GA. Close to VSU campus. Doors open at 11:30 am every day except Sunday. Monday through Wednesday it closes at 6 pm, but stays open late Thursday, Friday and Saturday. 
Most of the menu items are under $4. 

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Flat Stanley's Adventures in Georgia

After reading Jeff Brown's "Flat Stanley," Alyssa sent me her cutout version of the main character. She asked if I would show him around and document his adventure. Here is my response:

Flat Stanley arrived in Valdosta, Georgia on a busy Tuesday morning in April. The town is nicknamed “The Azalea City” (azaleas are a pretty flowering bush that blooms in the early springtime)

Valdosta is 1,000 miles south of Chicago. Stanley had come a long, long way.

He wondered what wonderful things he could find there, so he read The Valdosta Daily Times. In it he found things to do and places to go.

"Where shall I visit first", he wondered? " I’ll ride into town and see what there is to see."

Along the way he saw many flowers already in bloom. He learned that it almost never snows in south Georgia. Even the winter is warm. You never have to wear gloves or a hat, unless you want to.

There are many pine trees here, and they grow very tall.

In the town square, Stanley was happy to see a Welcome sign.

He looked around and saw the Courthouse. In front of the Courthouse is a statue honoring important people of the town.

Stanley also saw a very old church.

Stanley likes flowers so much he decided to visit The Crescent Center. All the garden clubs in town meet here and plant pretty flowers.

Next, Stanley went to the pecan store. He learned that pecans grow on trees that are planted in large groves. When the pecans are ripe the farmer shakes the trees to make them fall to the ground. Then the pecans are brought here to be shelled and packaged.

Next door to the pecan factory is a farmers market. The townspeople shop for vegetables here.

Seeing the pecans and vegetables was making Stanley hungry. He drove by the grocery store called Winn-Dixie.

But he was too hungry to wait, so he went to the Red Door Record store.

He was happy to see that he could get a slaw dog there. In the South people eat coleslaw on their hot dogs.

On the way back to his new friend’s house, he drove by the big University in town, called Valdosta State University. "Maybe I can go to college here when I grow up," he thought.

The next day, Flat Stanley went back home to his friend. "I can’t wait to tell Alyssa all about my adventures in Georgia!"

Friday, March 30, 2012

Thomasville Treats

Maybe it was the image of a fresh strawberry meringue cake on the cover that caught my eye. I began to flip through the April 2012 issue of Southern Living magazine and found an article about a specialty cheese shop not an hour’s drive away.

The Sweet Grass Dairy Cheese Shop on Broad Street in Thomasville, GA is owned by a local couple who sell cheese made at their nearby farm. Among the favorites are a Camembert-style cheese, a semi-soft gouda and a savory blue named after one of their sons.

Yet there’s more than cheese in the shop. Just inside the door visitors are treated to a sampler table holding a bowl of golden olive oil and plate of crusty bread squares for dipping.

Along the walls are rows of jams, jellies, fine wines, crackers, spreads and cellophane bags of pecans.

Toward the back is a refrigerated display case where you’ll find a tempting variety of cheeses—some local and some imported along with different flavored salamis. You can ask for a taste.

We came to buy cheese but stayed for a lunch—a toasted sandwich with two kinds of salami, mustard, and smoky mayo on gluten-free ciabatta.

Dubbed the “Barcelona”, it is one of 5 delicious sandwiches on the lunch menu that is served with a choice of Zapps chips or mixed Geek olives. There is a selection of beer, wine and non-alcoholic beverages to complement the meal.

But the real star is the charcuterie plate of 3 cheeses paired with jam or fresh pecans drizzled with wildflower honey. The garlic and chive moo paired with Emily G’s Blackberry Vanilla Jam of Love (center) tastes like cheesecake on a cracker. I finished the entire scoop and bought more to take home.

Tucked away in the back corner is a tiny restroom. It’s walls are covered with awards in various categories of artisanal cheeses from The American Cheese Society. It’s no wonder they ship these handcrafted cheeses to chefs and retailers all over Georgia and Florida.

You can visit the store weekdays from 10 am until 8 pm and 7 pm on Saturday (closed Sunday and Monday), or visit their website at to order on line.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Going from Eeww to Aaahh in 2 Days

Ever wonder how a leaky pool gets fixed and prepped for the swim season?

Step 1: Start with a hole in the ground, filled with 21,000 gallons of lime green colored water. No it’s not a special effect--think of it as a giant Petri dish filled with algae.

Step 2: Steam off the surface. This clears off the slime and softens the vinyl liner.

Step 3: Slice then peel off the old liner. Oh … guess I wasn’t expecting that underneath.

Step 4: Resurface with a skim coat.

Step 5: Open a surprisingly small cardboard box and roll out the new liner.

Step 6: Overlay the liner onto the sandy concrete base. Think of it as a supersized tablecloth.

Step 7: Add a little water and pity the frogman who has to dive into 50-degree water to install the drain cover in the deep end.

Step 8: Make a cut out for the steps.

Step 9: Add water with a garden hose. A lot more water. Keep adding water all day and all night. Have freakish nightmares about your upcoming water bill.

Step 10: Grab a beach towel. Put on your swim fins. Wait for warm weather.