Monthly Archives: September 2015

Tupelo Time

 

Tupelo was not on my radar when I woke up that Monday morning. Nor was it in my weekend plans. But by the end of the day an opportunity had come our way to spend the better part of the weekend there in the All-America City. Just The Wife and I. Sans the kids. So we loaded up the truck and took off.  (Not this one.)

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The first meal of our whirlwind journey was the Feast for the Farmers put on by the Tupelo Main Street Association, a kick-off dinner for the Farmer’s Depot, featuring ingredients from the local farms. Waiting for us on the table were baskets of yeast rolls made by Simply Sweet by Margarete. We ended up meeting Margarete at the Farmer’s Depot the next day, and she told us they had rolled up each one by hand. Lots of work and lots of love went into those rolls, and I lost count of how many I ate.
The salad was a thick slice of St. Bethany Fresh tomato, with Ralph and Evie greens, Neon Pig house-cured bacon, and preserved grapefruit vinaigrette from Kermit’s Outlaw Kitchen; slices of tiny turnips were also hanging about. The Wife is not normally someone who craves a big slice of tomato, but this one received rave reviews. I’m quite sure I’ve never had a vinaigrette with preserved grapefruit, but wow. And the bacon. Oh the bacon.
Our entree was a chicken quarter from Zion Farm, wonderfully seasoned, served on a bed of Grit Girl Black-Eyed Pea Grits flavored by Beaverdam Farm sausage. It’s still a bit tough to wrap my mind around a black-eyed pea grit, but I managed to wrap my mouth around them just fine. Native Son Farms bok choy was served alongside, under a drizzle of Neon Pig White Gold sauce.

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And don’t forget dessert: Memory Orchard fresh mint pound cake with Mayhew Tomato Farm strawberries and Estes Honey. The cake had just the right amount of mint to let you know it was there, without overpowering the sweetness of the cake. But just to make sure, I may or may not have sent The Wife back for another piece. And I may or may not have eaten some of hers, too.
After dinner, the nice ladies across the table helped us pick our meals for the next day. I asked for their favorites as locals, and we got around to talking about a burger at Blue Canoe and a bread pudding made with blueberry donuts from Connie’s Fried Chicken. They had my attention.
I thought it would be a good scientific study to have the blueberry donuts in both forms, so breakfast at Connie’s was an easy decision. To get a balanced meal, we also ordered a tenderloin biscuit with gravy, and an open-faced chicken biscuit with lots more gravy. Biscuits: great. Donuts: highlight. They were a little lighter on the inside compared to cake donuts, a little crispier on the outside. The Wife called it a deep-fried blueberry muffin.

Mother and Child

Mother and Child

Between meals we cruised Main Street and did a little snacking with our friends at About the South, a gift shop with a great selection of gourmet food items. Those kept me busy while The Wife looks at candles and jewelry. I tried the Caramelized Onion Dip and White Bean Hummus from The Debutante Farmer, and we both got a couple of bite-sized Dinstuhl’s chocolates for the walk. That was just enough nourishment to tide us over through our visit to the King’s birthplace.
Lunch – or whatever you call a meal at 4 pm that follows breakfast – was at the Blue Canoe. I knew I would be getting a burger – the tough part was choosing. The BC burger was a traditional burger dressed (or “pimped out” as the menu said) to your heart’s desire. For a little extra, you could get it slathered with Crack Dip ( spicy sausage cheese dip). Another option was the Smash Burger, a mix of ground chuck, filet, and Benton’s Bacon which they get from the Neon Pig – I already knew that was good. I chose the Surf and Turf Burger, which mixed in a little crawfish and “love” (which the waitress said was actually cheese – and I get that). When it came, in it’s double-pattied glory, I knew I wouldn’t be able to eat it all, even that late – but what I could manage was well worth the wait.
I convinced The Wife to get the daily special, the meatloaf mac-and-cheese pot pie, but we found out it wouldn’t be ready until dinner time, so in a rush, she ordered the first thing she saw on the sandwich/entree section: the Hot Brown. And we learned something: sometimes the oh-shoot-it’s-time-to-order-and-I’m-not-ready panic selection is the right thing to do. I’m pretty sure it was the gravy that cinched it.
It was interesting that we began and ended the weekend with black-eyed peas gone wild. At Blue Canoe we got an appetizer, also recommended by the nice ladies at Feast for the Famers, called Fried Black-Eyed Peas. Served in a Mason jar with a side of sweet, chunky chow-chow, these were just crispy enough on the outside to confirm their swim in hot oil, yet didn’t come off as a seriously heavy dish. Loved it.

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The South in a jar?

We topped off our time in Tupelo town with the Connie’s Blueberry Donut Bread Pudding I’d been looking forward to all day long. This concoction was served in a tall mug with a dollop of whipped cream, accented by some extra blueberries. I shared it, of course, and just to prove I can eat in moderation, I left two bites. Then I figured, my head probably won’t spin any faster if I eat another – so I left one bite for the Blue Canoe busboy.
Thanks to my Tupelo friends, old and new – we will be back, and we will come hungry.

Friends of the Farmers

Friends of the Farmers

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Back to Florence

Sometimes choosing a restaurant can be a bit overwhelming. I’ve brought this on myself, I know, but that’s another column. As I write this, I am sitting in a hotel in Houston, Texas. Big city, hundreds of restaurants – overwhelming. In the end, I chose well, but again – that’s another column.
Even in smaller towns, when there is limited time, decision-making can be tough. Say you are going to Florence, Alabama for a work trip and only have time for one meal, but in the quad-cities area there are multiple places on the 100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die app. (I’ve upgraded from the brochure). How do you choose?
Well, when I first found myself in that situation, I let my friends, the BFFFF’s (Both Fine Fellows From Florence) choose for me, and I was rewarded with good barbecue and a hot dog that hadn’t even made the list. Another solution? Go back and eat some more.
About a year ago the Mighty Jackets of Starkville High took on Florence High School, and we took that opportunity to go back to The Shoals. There are five places on the 100 list in Florence. One is Dale’s Steakhouse (of Dale’s Steak Seasoning fame) which, I was sad to learn, is Dale’s no longer. Another place was known specifically for Sunday brunch – and it wasn’t Sunday. The orange-pineapple ice cream from Trowbridge’s? I got that last time. We weren’t dressed to go to the revolving restaurant. That left one choice – Ricatoni’s. Since that was my first choice, anyway, it worked out perfectly.
Of course I couldn’t go to Florence without checking in with my buddies, so we set a time to meet the elder BFFFF and his wife (which also makes her a BFFFF – Bride of Fine Fellow From Florence). As we walked up the sidewalk to the restaurant a man with a Ricatoni’s t-shirt was hanging around out front. When he turned and saw our SHS gear he said, “Are you Jerry?” (If you say my full name quickly it sounds a lot like Jerry. And I am Jerry on my birth certificate, so I answer to that, too.) “Yessir!” I said. “I’m Ric,” he said, “I’ll walk you back to your table – your friends are waiting for you.” If you’re doing the math at home, Ricatoni’s begins with Ric. Now I understood why it wasn’t called “Rigatoni’s”. See what he did there?
The BFFFF’s were waiting for us, and the table was already set with the fresh bread (kept warm in a paper bag) along with the herbs and olive oil for dipping – this was the dish on “the list”. We were especially happy because this is something we do a lot at home, except our bread is not nearly as good as Ric’s. Another friend from Florence (AFFF?) who had already publicly declared that this was one of her favorite restaurants told me to ask for a bowl of tomato cream sauce to dip in as well. We did. Also good. Now we just had to choose the perfect meal – yikes.
The BFFFF’s had their favorites already, one of which was Shrimp Spiedino – that’s Italian for skewered shrimp. This one was breaded with seasoned bread crumbs, grilled, and topped with lemon butter sauce. And because he is a good guy, he let me try one. I was impressed. For the newbies, Ric had recommended the veal, so I ordered Marsala and The Wife ordered Parmesan, because she’s a Parmesan kind of gal. Oh, and lest I forget, I also got a bowl of the soup of the day – a chowder with shrimp, with which I was also impressed.
On the side of many of the dishes (including ours) was Tagliarini Piace Pellerossa, a pasta topped with a sauce made from crushed tomatoes, basil, olive oil and garlic. It sounds simple, but it was a sight for the eyes as well as the taste buds: flaming bright red and whole cloves of garlic tossed in with abandon. I apologize to the people who sat in front of me at the ballgame, because I ate all the garlic. (It’s good for you, and I’m a pharmacist – I wouldn’t steer you wrong.)

Marsala and Tagliarini

Marsala and Tagliarini

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