Category Archives: Food

Food, Glorious…Okay, Maybe Not So Much

A Facebook friend, who in this case is a verifiable live person that I haven’t seen in a while but  know to be real person, did a post about a meal he had yesterday:  Basil Leaf Phat Thai, with an order of shrimp and pork stuffed dumplings. 

Oddly enough, I had a semi-Thai meal yesterday for lunch at one of my favorite restaurants, Kool Beanz.  I spent $28 on it.  Just for me!  This was a major splurge for me!  But considering the week I’d had…And I almost had the chilled melon soup, which would have been another $7.  See, I can exercise restraint. 

The cool thing about Kool Beanz is that they primarily use local ingredients.  So the meal was basil-lime grouper (the only fish worth writing home about) with a Red Thai curry sauce, cilantro rice, and a veggie mix that consisted of yellow squash, shitake mushrooms, and sugarsnap peas (as opposed to snow peas).  And they threw in five mussels they didn’t even mention on the menu.  That was okay with me.  I like mussels. 

I only have a couple of complaints.  First, there is presentation.  (Perhaps I’ve watched the Food Channel too often.)  But Kool Beanz is a one-trick pony there.  Everything they describe on the menu is piled up on top of each other like a pyramid.  There are the veggies, the rice, the mussels placed pleasingly in a circle around the center, topped by the Red Thai sauce, and topped with the grouper.  That presentation gets boring…but on the other hand, at least they have one.  And what do you expect when they’re trying to do it in 15 minutes or less?  It’s lunch, okay? 

My other complaint was the shitakes, which is not something you can blame on Kool Beanz.  As far as I know, this is the first time I’ve ever eaten them.  I found them to be unbearably slimy.  This coming from a person who can eat two dozen raw oysters without blinking an eye.  I don’t know what the difference is, but there was a difference.  Is it because one is cold and the other is hot?  There may have been a slight difference in texture.  Whatever it was, each time I ate a slice of shitake, I felt like I was swallowing a live slug.  Taste is a very mysterious thing, and it’s intertwined with the other senses of smell and sight.  My imagination was possibly the real culprit here. 

On to the dumplings…I was with my friend.  Seared is the best, out of steamed, fried, or seared.  Which is pretty funny.  They are all essentially the same.  Why is seared best?  Possibly the caramelization of the outer dough. 

I find that I am more obsessed with food than ever, even though I barely eat.  It has to be appealing.  I used to say, that will do!  (“You don’t have seared dumplings?  Okay, I’ll settle for steamed.”)  I’m more attuned to nuances in food.  If they only had steamed dumplings, I wouldn’t eat them. 

But don’t think that I’m  a prude about it all.  I don’t eat this way because I’m “watching my weight”.  If anything, I should be trying to keep my weight up.  You might think that’s a better problem to have, but not really. 

In any case, I forgot to mention that I had dessert at Kool Beanz, which is very, very rare for me.  (I don’t do sugar.).  It was peach cobbler.  Now is the time when we are just inundated with Georgia peaches (there is a reason they’re called the Peach State).  They clearly ran the cobbler under the broiler to heat it up, so the peaches were a little wrinkled.  It created a “skin” and sealed in the natural juice and sweetness of the peaches.  Then they topped it with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.  I’m sure that food never gets any better than that.  I was all prepared to ask for a to-go box–but I didn’t need to.

Have It Your Way? I Don’t Think So

It’s been a while since Fakename discussed food, which her byline says is one of her favorite topics, so it’s only fair that she give the subject some attention.  The perfect opportunity arose when the NY Times published this article yesterday.  I could hardly make it through the article without stopping to laugh and applaud.  It’s essentially about chefs who say no, you can’t have it your way. 

That’s because in part it reminds me of someone I used to know.  Fortunately I haven’t seen him in years, and wouldn’t have chosen to see him voluntarily even when I knew him, but regrettably, he was the partner of one of my very best friends ever.  Going out for a meal with him was torturous and maddening.  It was like…restaurant rage. 

It didn’t matter where you went, he wanted to alter the menu.  I think it was more of a control issue than a taste issue.  You just wanted to say to him…if you don’t like black olives, DON’T ORDER THE DISH WITH BLACK OLIVES IN IT.  Pick something else!  But really, it was far worse than that.  Ordering was more like an interrogation of the server.  If he was leaning toward the shrimp, it would be, how large are the shrimp?  Are they fresh or frozen?  Where did they come from?  What school did they attend?  (Just seeing if you were paying attention there.)  If he could make it through all the shrimp questions without stumping the server, he’d start on the chicken.  After about 20 minutes, he would finally settle on something, only he would rewrite the whole dish.  (“I’d like the pan-fried grouper, except broiled instead, and tartar sauce with no capers, the mixed grilled vegetables except leave out the carrots, and I’ll have unsweetened tea but bring me some Splenda.  What?  You don’t have Splenda?  What kind of place is this anyway?”)  Fakename would be grinding her teeth by this time, probably some sort of primitive precursor to biting him.  It’s like, Dude!  You need to just go home and cook your own bleeping food. 

So if you go to a restaurant that only serves burgers with Roquefort, don’t ask them for a burger with Provolone.  Go somewhere they let you pick the cheese, or otherwise, see above (go home).

That said, some things can be a little too picky on the part of the chef.  A refusal to provide salt and pepper for example, as described in the article.    If they are serving steak or roast beef, you should be able to have it cooked to your specification.  You should be able to get salad dressing on the side.  None of these things interfere with the chef’s “vision”.

A funny story now…at least, I think it is…in September of last year, Fakesister came to visit.  We went to the coast, and on the way back we had lunch at Angelo’s in Panacea, FL, a very famous place around these parts.  They have their own fleet of boats, and whatever they bring in that day is whatever gets served.  I ordered a dozen raw oysters, and when they came, I asked the server, “Why are they so small?”  That was not intended to be a criticism, it could have been (and probably is) because past hurricanes have diminished the oyster beds.  And the server answered, “Um.  Because that’s what the boats brought in today?”  I almost spit out an oyster, I laughed so hard.  “Good answer!”, I said. 

Sharing a meal with someone is a surprisingly intimate experience.  I don’t know why that is, but it must be some evolutionary issue.  I always feel as if I know someone better after sharing a meal, although, again, I couldn’t say why.  Perhaps a reader can enlighten me.  I do know that if you start complaining about the sauce on that mammoth steak I’m feeding you, I’m moving your ass way outside the campfire.  And I might bite you first.

Food, Glorious Food

In addition to being the opening song for the musical Oliver!, Food Glorious Food is also the name of a restaurant in Tallahassee.  I actually never knew it was a song until my sister visited in September and started singing it on the way to lunch.  Now that I know, I feel kind of guilty going there.  But it remains my second favorite restaurant in town, the first being Kool Beanz. 

Both these restaurants qualify as somewhat frou-frou, but they aren’t terribly expensive (FGF being more so than Kool Beanz).  I am kind of a frou-frou eater.  (Not counting the part where I will sell my soul for a fried green tomato.) I think that comes to some extent from when I was ill 4 1/2 years ago, and I would have to force myself to eat.  It was like a job:  I would cruise the aisles of Publix at lunch time, waiting for something to spark just a tad of desire.  Some days it was an avocado.  Some days it was Honey Nut Cheerios.  No rhyme or reason to it. 

This morning I woke up craving the quiche I had in Atlanta at Gourmandises, a little pastry shop/lunch restaurant hidden at the end of a strip mall.  (Okay, it’s Atlanta.  What ISN’T in a strip mall?)  The quiche was goat cheese, tomato, and…something else I forgot, but you don’t get more frou-frou than goat cheese.  I’ve been really into quiche since then and last Tuesday went to Chez Pierre here and had their Quiche Lorraine, which was an act of desperation.  They put HAM in it.  Yech.  Dear Pierre:  Lorraine is BACON.  Bacon, bacon, bacon…like the Beggin’ Strips ad for dog treats says. 

On both Wednesday and Thursday, I went to Kool Beanz, which was rather unusual, but as I was leaving on Wednesday, the guy seated next to me at the counter ordered the soup, which was butternut squash and apple, and it looked so incredible I had to go back on the off chance they would have it again.  No such luck.  I had to settle for Bahamian clam chowder instead, but it was fabulous anyway.  Then I had grilled salmon with olive tapenade (what the hell is a tapenade anyway?), white beans, and sauteed chard.  Kool Beanz is really into sauteed chard, which they saute with enough minced garlic to make you forget that sauteed chard looks like regurgitated kudzu.  I’ve developed a liking for it 🙂  For dessert I had Sweet Corn Creme Brulee…now there was a creative recipe.  It was topped with blackberry compote.  And just what the hell is a compote, anyway? 

Besides having a craving for the goat cheese quiche, my Long Distance Book Club caused me this morning to crave Mediterranean/Middle Eastern food.  Our book this month was “Blood Brothers”, by Elias Chacour and David Hazard…Hazard basically being the ghostwriter.  Chacour is a Palestinian.  The book club meets monthly and when the hostess is feeling up to the task, the food matches the book or the locale of the book.  So they had stuffed grape leaves, olives, hummus, etc.  And THAT made me think of baklava!  I was suddenly dying for baklava. 

I have an employee who is Palestinian, and when I’m lucky, his wife sends little treats to me after their big feast days.  One year his mother was visiting from Jordan and I got homemade baklava, with only pistachios as the nuts.  Before that, I thought of baklava as a Greek dessert, but that isn’t true.

I’ve always thought of myself as adventurous when it comes to food.  That’s one of the illusions about myself I’ve had to give up.  I haven’t nearly taken advantage of all the wonderful food of other cultures that I could have.  I have to be introduced to it.  But I will say this…if more of us ate together, World Peace would be advanced. 

In closing, have some baklava…possibly invented by the Turks…


Reading With Fakename: Cleaving

Subtitled “A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession”.  It’s the second book by Julie Powell, author of Julie and Julia.    I guess it was fairly clear in that first book that Julie was a bit…quirky.  If only that she set a goal for herself of cooking all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in one year.  For no particular reason, other than that she was restless.  And felt unaccomplished.  (My take on it.)  So it should come as no surprise to anyone that in her second book, Julie has gone way beyond quirky. 

She’s had some fame and success now, and money, and it has given her the freedom to move all the way from quirky into crazy. 

This book is uncomfortable to read.  Quoting from her acknowledgements, she says, “Thanks to my editor, Judy Clain, and her assistant, Nathan Rostron, who edit adroitly and remind me from time to time that there is such a thing as too much information.”  Well Julie, maybe they didn’t remind you often enough. 

When we meet up again with Julie in the beginning of this book, she is engaged in two more projects.  Project 1 is carrying on an affair with a man we know only as D.  We get to hear more than we would like about some specifics of their encounters, which become increasingly masochistic on her part without her seeming to realize it.  The problem is that while these encounters are described somewhat explicitly, there is no eroticism in them.  They are sad. 

Project 2 is that she has become an apprentice butcher.  Why she would want to do that is inexplicable.  But I would say, Julie has power issues.  In a perverse sort of way, the more she surrendered to D, the freer she felt, and that feeling of freedom gave her the illusion of power.  The butchery was more complicated.  You got a window into why Julie might choose this in the first book, when she seemed far too proud of herself, in my opinion, when she was able to stab a lobster to death on her kitchen table.  Of course, she was only following orders.  That’s how Julia said to do it. 

The butchery is described in even more explicit detail, and there is just about as much discomfort engendered there.  But it’s a bit hypocritical to be a meat-eater and yet be too squeamish to learn how it gets into those nice wrapped packages in the grocery store.  Butchery turns out to be quite an art; yes, it requires some brute force but it also requires skill and endurance.  Julie becomes very good at it, and that feeling of accomplishment is all that keeps her sane as her affair and her marriage (yes, she’s still married to Mr. Alleged Soulmate whom we met in the first book) are falling apart. 

Then, she developed carpal tunnel in the wrist of her cutting hand, which is excruciatingly painful.  And still she won’t quit.  That’s when you grasp that what we have here is the same old Julie.  It’s just a different form of masochism. 

At last the 6-month apprenticeship is over, the affair is over–at least from D’s perspective–and her husband is now having his own affair. 

So she takes a trip by herself…a “meat tour”, which begins in Argentina.  It’s in Tanzania that the event happens that seems to change Julie (finally!)  She’s the victim of an attempted rape in her tent.  Her response is to push the man away and tell him she isn’t interested, and shine the light from her cell phone on his face.  She could have cried out for help–there are people in other tents within easy reach, but she does not.  He leaves, but some hours later, she wakes up to find him on top of her.  What is her response?  She feels around for her cellphone–that most powerful of weapons.  Again she manages to talk him into leaving, but if you’re me, you’re like…

Goddamn it, Julie!  If there was ever a time to give up your stupid control issues and your masochism and your self-loathing, this is it!  Scream, you idiot!  She does not, but he does leave again.  In the morning, she at least tells her traveling companions…and justice is done.  I’m not sure why this changed her, but it did. 

Cooking still plays a role in this book, and there are 15 recipes that tell the tale of her journey through the mysteries of, as she announces in the subtitle, marriage, meat, and obsession.  I wouldn’t say it has a happy ending, but it has a satisfying ending.  At least, one less awful than I feared.

Reading With Fakename: Julie and Julia

For the sake of not giving anything away to those who have neither read the book or seen the movie, and for the sake of not boring those who have, I’ll try to keep the description brief.  Actually, there isn’t much to give away.  This is not exactly a plot-based book, which isn’t intended as an insult at all.  It’s a memoir.  You read it for the joy of the language and the humor.  If you want mega-plot and uber-suspense, go read Tom Clancy.  (Not that I have anything against Tom Clancy.  I think  The Hunt for Red October is a classic.)

The situation is this:  a young woman from New York City, Julie Powell, is in the emotional doldrums at age 29, and decides that what she needs is a Project (note capital letter).  She decides she will cook her way through all 500-plus recipes in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking in a year.  Her husband suggested she do a blog about it at the same time, so she did.  The book is almost equally about the cooking and the blog.

Today, you have to be a complete Neanderthal to even want to cook from what Julie soon abbreviates into MtAoFC.  There are seriously unnecessary steps and modern conveniences undreamed of in France in 1961.  I’m a moderate purist myself, and would, for example, have to be starving to eat canned mushrooms.  On the other hand, I consider the dawn of civilization to have begun when grocery stores started selling already-diced onions. 

When I cook (oh wait, lemme think…when was it that I did that last?) I prefer to use fresh ingredients–as if there is such a thing in our modern pesticided, herbicided, hormone-enhanced, preservative-laden world.  To get a truly “fresh” tomato, for example, you have to grow it yourself.  And even then, you have to sit by the plant in a lawn chair for its entire life cycle to protect it. 

So we follow Julie through her cooking of various dishes that even I wouldn’t eat, and I’m reasonably adventurous.  We follow her as she debates with herself about the most humane way to kill a live lobster (which she carries home on the subway!).  But two of the things I was most amused by had to do with the blog. 

In one case, a day comes when there is a massive blackout and everyone is forced to walk home from their offices in Manhattan.  Once power is restored and she’s able to check her blog, there are many messages from people she’s never met to the effect of “Are you OK?” or “I was worried about you.”  And it’s as if she recognizes at that point the power of her words.  To her readers (whom she calls her “bleaders”), the blackout in NYC became not just an event in a distant place, it was an event that affected someone they “know”.  Given the opportunity, Julie says, people will care about one another. 

The other thing that cracked me up was her reference to the comments from the regular bleaders.  One of them frequently said her blog would be much improved if she would stop using the word f*** so often.  (I’m using her spelling here–I have no problem spelling the word out myself.)  Then one day, an article is published about her “Project” in the New York Times.  Her evil boss is not pleased.  And she says, You know what?  I think my ship just came the f*** in.   

Now she’s written another book, which was supposedly published in December of last year.  It’s called Cleaving:  A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession.  There is an exerpt of it at the end of the library’s copy of Julie and Julia.  With the success of her book and the movie, she was able to quit her mind-numbing secretarial job, and she went on to become a butcher’s apprentice.  I guess finding that you have a talent for mangling lobsters to death while they flap on your kitchen table points you in a certain direction career-wise.  I plan to read the book, although it makes me a bit nervous.  I’m afraid that her ship has, indeed, come the f*** in.

Food Advice from Fakename

My first food advice is this:  if you are into healthy eating, ignore every warning you ever heard.  I base this on the fact that eggs used to be good for you, then they were bad for you, then they became good for you again.  Carrots were good for you too, because they improve your vision, until we found out you can get Vitamin A poisoning.  (Fakename asks:  How many carrots would you have to eat before that happens?  And how come rabbits can’t see better?) 

And you also aren’t supposed to eat undercooked land animals (trichinosis and Mad Cow disease) or raw sea animals such as oysters.  Then we found out we can die from eating spinach.  It’s a wonder we can bear to eat anything any more.  It’s all so dangerous.  My theory is that one day we will evolve to have built-in IV ports, which will allow us to hook up at perfectly sanitary feeding stations.  (Of course, I also have a theory that we will evolve to have stylus-shaped fingers so that we can use our cell phones.)

So Fakename’s first food advice is this:  Eat whatever the hell you want.  One day it will be proven that salt, and real butter, have amazing health benefits.  Life is entirely too short to obsess over your food choices.  And think about it:  the people who die from food-related causes don’t do so because they made a bad decision.  They got blind-sided by something totally unpredictable.  In other words, they ate spinach.  (Not that Fakename has anything against spinach. In fact she loves it. )

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take reasonable precautions.  Fakename believes you should never eat feral dogs or cats.  Unless you’re really, really hungry. 

Fakename acknowledges that taking her advice is chancy, but here is the one area where she truly claims to be an expert:  ice cream.  Never, ever, ever buy ice cream with an ingredient that ends in “gum”, as in “guar gum” or “xanthun gum”.  These are cheap additives which allow the ice cream to congeal without actually using as much cream.  And the gums completely change the mouthfeel (I love that word).  Ice cream with gum additives taste more like pudding to me.  And while you’re at it, don’t buy ice cream with propylene glycol added.  Sometimes taste is in the brain, and in my brain, I think I’m eating motor oil.  Or possibly…antifreeze. 

This is why you should always eat Haagen-dazs ice cream.  In spite of the fact that they have a fake name…oh wait, I think that rings a bell for me.  But H-d sounds Dutch, only it’s made in New York.  The only thing I dislike about them is that they do these experimental flavors, and about the time I get addicted to one of them, they quit making it.  Very similar to cosmetic companies.  As soon as I become enamored of a particular color of lipstick, they quit making it. Or, at least, they change the name of it so that you have to poke through tube after tube to find its clone. 

Life is a series of difficult choices.  Food and lipstick choices should not be so hard.

Death to the FDA! Or Maybe Not…

The occasion for this hysterical reaction on my part was the following headline in today’s local newspaper (an AP feed, of course) FDA to ban sale of raw oysters from Gulf of Mexico.  When did this happen?  Why was I not told? 

It turns out my hysteria, as so often happens, was premature.  What the FDA is saying is they plan to ban oysters harvested from the Gulf in the warmer months, unless they’ve been treated to kill the bacteria Vibrio vulnificus, which kills about 15 people a year. 

Okay, I still have so many problems with this issue.  It kills 15 people a year.  Usually people with compromised immune systems…who in my view should have better sense than to be eating raw oysters from the Gulf in the summer.  (Rebuttal:  as the advisor to the FDA said on NPR this afternoon, 15 deaths is too many if they can be prevented.  They can be…see my last statement.) To underscore, here is a quote from the article:  

“The FDA is promoting a ban because high-risk groups are not heeding warnings about raw oysters, and millions of other people may not know they are vulnerable.”  Well, whose problem is that? 

The problem is the treatment, which oyster people say destroys the taste and texture of the raw oyster.  The treatment, according to the article,  involves mild heat, freezing temperatures, high pressure, and low dose gamma radiation.  I’m picturing a raw oyster with nothing left but the pearl.  Well apparently they don’t do all these things at once to the oyster, they are individual alternatives. 

Now then, for the oyster people, in my opinion, oysters do not really have a “taste” except for whatever you might put on them…lemon juice, hot sauce, horseradish, etc.  Oysters are more of a sensation than a taste.  Mostly a sensation of coolness, rivaled only by the cucumber.  I object to the article calling them slimy.  They are smooth.  But if the treatment process interferes with that (which I consider a “texture” issue), that would be bad. 

But so…I don’t get to have big fat, perfectly delicately salty oysters from Appalachicola Bay year-round (except for the algae bloom periods, of course.)  I have to eat scrawny little oysters from like frigging Massachusetts? 

Is Fakename about to have her first revelation about “government interference”?.  This is truly ridiculous in my opinion.  Where was the FDA when it was about spinach?  I’m suspicious that the FDA has latched onto an industry think they can cower into submission in order to resurrect their tarnished image.  In order to have a worse reputation in the Gulf, you would have to be FEMA. 

The ban is not supposed to take place until 2011, and I’m hoping it will never happen.  I don’t actually think it will.  Oyster People, Unite!

Fried Green Tomatoes

By popular demand (or not), this food item deserves a blog of its own.  My friend Sue from Canada is to blame, since she commented on Facebook that she wishes she had a recipe for them, and I will herewith provide one, with commentary.   

First, as an aside.  Many, many years ago, while visiting Canada, I decided to make gumbo, but my plan was foiled because I could not find any…okra.  I spoke to every grocer I could find, and it was kind of like a game of Twenty Questions.  “Okra”, they would say.  “Is that an animal, a vegetable, or a mineral?”

Please don’t assume I’m making fun of Canada.  Canada would at least have an equal reason to make fun of me.  Not that long ago, I lived in Fort Lauderdale, and I used to buy gas at a station next to a small grocery which proudly advertised in all capital letters “GOAT AVAILABLE HERE!”  Now I vaguely knew that people ate goats, but I thought of it as something you did in secret on a farm somewhere.  It never dawned on me that you could buy it in a store, like it was a package of chicken breasts. 

But I digress as usual.  My list of items I’ve been on the hunt for perfect examples of in my life includes not only fried green tomatoes, but gumbo, bread pudding, and popovers.  All these items have one thing in common.  They are very simple dishes, which seem impossible to screw up, and yet, it isn’t only possible, it’s probable. 

Let’s start with the recipe.  Now I’ll tell you how you can screw it up.  It’s if you don’t pay close attention to this particular recipe, starting with the tomato.  It must be perfectly green.  Green tomatoes without red spots are very hard and tart.  Slice them very thinly.  Notice the picture of the fried ones at the bottom of the picture…they are totally covered in batter.  That is indeed the first “secret”.  The batter must be thick enough to adhere to the tomato.  Next, the oil must be very hot, but not too hot.  That’s the hard part, and requires more or less knowing how to cook.  You have to have judgement.  If the oil is too hot, it will immediately burn the outside, and leave the inside hard.  If the oil isn’t hot enough, the batter will sort of melt off for the most part and your tomato will be mushy.  What you want is the tomato to soften and the batter to brown quickly but not too quickly.  It’s a difference of seconds, not minutes. 

Good luck experimenting!  If you fail, take a time out and watch the movie.

More Southern Dining: Florida Version

Let’s face it, eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  It’s something you can keep doing long after certain other of life’s greatest pleasures have somewhat…diminished, if not in quality then in quantity. 

Everybody has peculiarities either in the way they eat or in their likes and dislikes, and I find these fascinating.  For instance, in my previous blog on quintessential Southern dining, I mentioned my lunch companion Mrs. H., who included a grilled pork chop on her platter of food.  Upon finding the restuarant had forgotten to order steak knives, and finding that her dinner knife was inadequate, she proceeded to tear the meat off with her fingers.  She said she hoped I didn’t think she was being rude, but she was from the country.  (Translation:  I really don’t care if you think it’s rude or not.)  I was charmed!  I was right there with her!  Go for it! 

One of my quirks is that I’ve always, at least since I left home and could get away with it, eaten only when I’m hungry.  I have never adhered to any schedule.  I believe that eating when it’s “time” is a contributing factor to obesity, since it encourages people to eat when they aren’t hungry.  Of course, the case can be made that by adhering to a schedule, you’ve trained your body to be “hungry” when it’s “time”.  In any case, my method surely saved me from becoming a complete blimp as opposed to a mini-blimp (a subject covered in my blog “How Much Do You Weigh?”) 

However, in the last three years, my method turned out to have a downside.  My appetite went to hell in a handbasket, which forced me to eat because I had to, and that, my friends, is no fun whatsoever.  I used to wander forlornly through the aisles of the grocery store, hoping to spy something that would spark my interest.  I’m not quite that bad any more, but I am to some degree.  Therefore, when I have a food craving of some sort out of the blue, I satisfy it immediately.  After satisfying my craving for fried green tomatoes earlier in the week, I found that I had a craving for oysters, which brings me to lunch at Barnacle Bill’s. 

Barnacle Bill’s is an institution in Tallahassee–it’s been around 30 or 40 years.  It lies on the main drag (Monroe Street), sandwiched between a Wendy’s (ugh!) and an “international” food grocery (translation:  Hispanic).  BB’s manages to replicate quite nicely the kind of seafood houses you might find on the coast, say in Appalachicola.  It has a huge raw bar in the center of the room, surrounded by booths.  The restroom doors read “Maine” and “Womaine”.  There are grains of rice in the salt shaker, to counteract the humidity.  There is a basket of crackers on the table, and they are all saltines.  No variations allowed.  If a sissy thing like some multi-grain cracker were to invade the basket, it would be stomped to death by its saltine neighbors.

I started with a dozen on the half-shell.  (Note re: oyster etiquette.  One does not order a dozen oysters on the half-shell.  One orders “a dozen on the half-shell” or “a dozen raw”.  The word “oyster” is redundant.)  While you wait for them to be fresh-shucked, your server brings you the de rigeur condiments:  ketchup, cocktail sauce, and hot sauce (in this case, Crystal hot sauce, which I totally reject in favor of Tabasco).

The oysters themselves come with an oyster fork, a slice of lemon, and a tiny cup of horseradish, along with a slightly larger cup so that you can mix the horseradish with the house cocktail sauce in case theirs isn’t horseradishy enough for you. 

After that, I had the two item combo and chose catfish and oysters (again).  Those come with French fries, corn fritters (actually little hushpuppy sized balls of creamed corn, dipped in batter and fried) and your choice of cole slaw or cheese grits.  Against my better judgement, I picked the cole slaw.  Which brings me to my rant about cole slaw. 

I am in despair that I will ever find cole slaw in the South which doesn’t have sugar in it.  A proper cole slaw has only five ingredients:  cabbage, mayonnaise, vinegar, and salt and pepper.  However, if they have to put sugar in it, it’s at least better than putting mustard in it.  I consider this to be the unforgiveable sin, right up there with putting ketchup on eggs. 

In this case, they used a combination of green and red cabbage.  I have nothing against red cabbage, but in cole slaw, it turns the mayonnaise pink, which completely spoils the aesthetics.  It took us 50 years to understand that tea can be served without sugar in it, so perhaps in another 50 we will get cole slaw without sugar. 

Despite these minor flaws, the attraction of Barnacle Bill’s is this:  You can trust them.  I don’t know who their suppliers are, but they have some sort of direct pipeline to the coast, 25 miles away.  They know how to handle seafood and freshwater fish as well.  (It isn’t a real big secret, the answer is…lots of ice.  But where other restaurants are casual about it, there is real quality control at BB’s.)  Year-round, they have the best and largest oysters.  You can eat them and know that you will not get sick.  That takes some genius, and it explains why they’ve been in business 30 or 40 years.  My only advice is, if you go–and you should–order the cheese grits.

Quintessential Southern Dining

This past week, friend Steve (aka “Anarchist”) and Mrs. Anarchist tried out a new-to-Tallahassee restuarant called Seminole Wind.  I felt compelled to visit myself, since Steve mentioned that one of the items on their buffet is fried green tomatoes.  I am ever on a quest for the perfect fried green tomato–as I have in the past been on a quest for the perfect bread pudding, the perfect gumbo, and the perfect popover.  I have the answer to those last three questions, by the way.  If you too desire to know, please send $10 and a SASO to “Perfect Contest”, P.O. Box 0100100, Tallahassee, Florida 32301. 

So, first of all, I went on Wednesday at lunchtime, and I had a bit of a clue what I might be facing when I got the only open parking space left in the vast parking lot.  Inside, it was a zoo.  And I’m guessing 75% of the patrons were senior citizens.  There was no shortage of walkers, canes, and white hair.  Which causes me to ask the following question:  What is it about buffet style dining that draws senior citizens like a magnet? 

Here is my theory:  many of these people remember the Great Depression, when you ate what you could today because there might not be anything tomorrow.  But it’s more than that.  It’s a perception of value.  It’s my observation that the average senior citizen eats like the proverbial bird.  He or she could go to any restuarant, order an appetizer and a glass of sweet tea (we are still talking about the South here), pay the same amount, and go home happy.  But the concept is that if they WANTED to (and could choke it down), they COULD eat as much as they wanted.  Interesting idea.  Maybe there is a project in this for someone interested in the social psychology of buffet-style restaurant eating. 

While I’ve said this is quintessential, it had a few extra added features you don’t normally see in these establishments.  Such as the giant, possibly life-sized,  painting of Jesus on one wall in the waiting area.  Perhaps to remind you that patience is a virtue.  Or to give you someone to pray to for a table.  On a another wall is a framed American flag, with Bible phrases embroidered on satin, appliqued to it.  Quite artistic actually, but none too subtle in either its political or religious implications.  In this waiting area you’re facing the cashier station where you pay as you leave, and also, a rack containing those little palm-sized Christian booklets where a truth is told in cartoon form.  On my way out, I selected one called “Who Is Allah?”

I had a twenty minute wait, which would have been longer, since I was alone, if I hadn’t agreed to share a table with a Mrs. Harris or a Mrs. Harry, I couldn’t quite hear above the din of the crowd.  Drat!  I said.  No reading for Fakename during lunch today.  A lunch table is not an airplane.  You just can’t do it.  But it was either that or wait for Jesus to break out the loaves and fishes. 

It turned out that Mrs. H. was, as we like to say in the South, a pistol.  She told me that at first she refused to share a table because she was afraid she would get stuck with some man.  (I know, right?  The horror!)  I swear she didn’t look much older than me, but she’s a great-grandmother already, which maybe has something to do with the fact that she got married at 14, and my guess is her children and their children followed in her footsteps.  She gave me the entire history of the restaurant from its beginnings in Cairo, Georgia.  (That’s pronounced “Kay-ro”, like the syrup, not like that place in Egypt.)  A year and a half ago she broke her right arm due to a very unfortunate encounter with a rolling trash container.  She was my spirit guide to the buffet table.  When I told her I was there for the fried green tomatoes, she told me they didn’t have them every day, and I said, Oh no!  My trip will have been in vain!  She knew the owner and most of the servers, and it’s my firm belief that she would have made them go out and buy some if they didn’t have any that day.  But they did, and I can’t say they were perfect, but they were pretty close.  And I would have lunch with Mrs. H. any day.  I’m just not sure I want to have lunch with Jesus…even for near-perfect fried green tomatoes. 

In closing, let me enlighten you about who Allah is.  Summarizing, he’s a pagan moon god that Mohammed conscripted because he (Mohammed, not Allah) wanted to start his own religion and be a false prophet.  In the booklet, a Christian man and his son convince a Muslim they have caught praying to convert to Christianity, thereby saving him from the fires of everlasting hell.  He is very grateful.  Happy ending.  For a sample assortment and price list of similar publications, send $12.95 (shipping included) to:  Chick Publications, P.O. Box 3500, Ontario, California 91761-1019.  Or you can visit them at  or you can call them at (909) 987-0771.  Or you can go have lunch at Seminole Wind for free samples.