8 of 11

Today is a travel day, driving from Huntsville to Nashville and then flying home on Southwest.

But before that I must get three weeks of travel receipts on its way to Alameda because there are no reimbursements until after they’ve seen them. The on-line expense reports are all in and approved but they won’t cut the check — or do the automatic deposit — before the paperwork is done.

[Sigh.] Ok, so where’s the nearest Kinko’s / FedEx store?

Looking back, it’s been a good two weeks here. Two classes of sixteen, the maximum we book, means a solid contribution to the department’s bottom line. And with a weekend on the company nickel instead of flying home on Saturday and back to the same place the next day, I had time to enjoy myself while catching a few extra winks. Yeah, that was a real help.

And the restaurant list has been tended with a few dead plants removed and a couple of new ones added.

  • Worth Another Visit
    • Jackson Family Restaurant, 234 Lime Quarry Rd, Madison Al 35758, breakfast and lunch only
    • Cajun Cafe, 704 Hwy 231, Lacey’s Spring, AL 35754, a memorable dive, lots of gumbos to sample
    • Edo, in Madison AL, surprisingly good Japanese, hispanic sushi chefs (who were very good), and a full meal in a simple bowl of ramen
    • Saigon Vietnamese, 8760 Madison Blvd, Suites P and Q, Madoson, AL 35758, great BBQ pork with vermicelli, spring rolls good but wrappers a tad on the rubbery side
    • Vinotini, tapas lounge next to Pauli’s, 7143 Hwy 72 West, SW corner Slaughter Rd and Univeristy Dr., excellent wine list, but pricey at $30-50 per person depending on what you get
    • Thomas Bar-B-Q, 7929 Hwy 72 W, Madison AL, slow service but worth the wait — the hot sauce on the table is wonderful
    • Surin, 975 Airport Rd, Huntsville AL 35802, very good Thai, also known for their martinis
    • Oh’ Bryans Family Steak House, 100 Plaza Blvd, Madison AL, downright honest steaks if you order from the high end of the menu (the cheaper cuts get many downturned thumbs from locals)
  • Don’t Bother
    • Greenbriar’s, the old place, 27028 Old Hwy 20, Madison AL, food is “died and fried” but in no specific order, don’t bother unless you want an interesting place to see and have already had dinner before you arrive (and I REALLY hated the cole slaw)
    • Greenbriar’s, the new place, http://www.greenbrierbarbque.com/, east on 565 to Greenbriar exit north, but then first turn and on the access road — there’s a sign to mark the turn, reportedly a good place but apparently gone to seed as all the dishes were incredibly bland (and, again, I REALLY hated the cole slaw)
    • Tai Pan, 2012 S. Memorial Pkwy, Huntsville, AL, tons of MSG in the food give mega-headaches and major drowsiness after eating

(I think I’ll skip food today.)

Cajun Cafe




Cajun Cafe, 704 Hwy 231,
Lacey’s Spring, Alabama 35754
(Click for larger image)

After work, I drove south from Huntsville Alabama a handful of miles to where highway 231 crosses the Tennessee

River.

“Maybe there’ll be an interesting restaurant,” I thought.

And, yup, just after crossing the bridge, there it was, the Cajun Cafe.

Small, dumpy, with red Christmas lights hanging from the eaves and a stray white cat sneaking around the parking

lot.

“Doesn’t look like much,” I said to myself. “I’ll check the menu but then probably go somewhere that looks better

kept.”



Today’s Menu
(Click for larger image)

Standing just inside the door was a large menu with today’s fare written in multi-colored chalk.

“Hmmm, several gumbos, shrimp, crawfish, … this has possibilities.”

As I started to think more seriously about staying, three groups came though the door and lined up at the cash

register to order.

I moved to the end of the line but continued to study the menu.

The list of side dishes looked interesting, too. Lots of southern cooking here.

So I listened to those before me to hear what they wanted.

“Catfish, two pieces, with hush puppies, greens and butter beans, please.”

“Catfish, one piece, with hush puppies, cabbage and corn.”

“Catfish, two pieces, potato salad, and red beans and rice. Oh, and hush puppies, too.”

These folks know something.

My turn came.

“And what will you have, sir?”

“Catfish, two pieces, hush puppies and, uhm, spicy turnip greens and, ah, yellow squash.”

“$8.55, please.”

I found an empty table to await the food and turned on my Blackberry to check email and fill the time.

There was a message from Robin: “Had any Gumbo yet?” she asked.

I filled her in and the expected dinner but before I could send it dinner arrived.

I quickly sampled each dish and finished the email reply to Robin with “Wonderful!” and hit send.

If you like atmosphere, hush puppies, catfish and southern cooking, this one’s worth a drive. And with several gumbos on the menu, the Cajun Cafe will see me a few more times.

Special Meat Dumplings

Thanksgiving is over and I’m back on the road but not to teach. Instead, I get to update the master images of the computers we use in the classroom with new licenses for next year.

At the moment, I’m in the corporate headquarters in the bay area making disk space in which to work. I’ve collected most of the equipment (hardware) needed, verified that the new license works for the mainstream products, looked at the oddball products and started a chart of the “funny s tuff” I don’t understand, and I’ve touched base with the one guy who knows how all that weirdness should go together.

A good start.

So, there’s a big band playing at Yoshi’s in Oakland this evening. Cover is $15 which is pretty good for that venue. They start at 8:00PM and I’ll sit towards the back — with a name instrumentalist I’d want to be up close to watch but, with the whole band, any place in the room will be fine.

If you haven’t been to Yoshi’s and you want to be up close, buy your tickets early and be there at 5:00PM to line up so that, at 6:00PM, you can rush in and mark your seat with a PostIt-like note (supplied by Yoshi’s) for the 8:00PM show. Then go and eat before coming back for the show.




East Ocean Seafood Restaurant
Alameda California

Then, tomorrow for lunch I will break the “no starch” initial phase of the South Beach diet my wife and I are following. I’ll go to East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alameda. They are known for their various dumpling dishes. There are 9 or 10 of them, more than one person can eat, so I’ll take the guy who’s gonna help with the weird stuff — he likes the place, too.

We will get all the dumpling dishes including the special meat dumplings.

Ordering them goes like this.

“And I’d like the special meat dumplings, please.”

“We no have that.”

“Yes but I’d really like to have the special meat dumplings.”

“That on Chinese menu. You no Chinese.”

“That’s true but I would like to have the special meat dumplings.”

Pause, then skeptically, “You sure you want special meat dumplings?”

“Yes, I’d like the special meat dumplings.”

Again skeptically, “OK, I bring you special meat dumplings.”

Trust me, they’re wonderful.

Drive or Fly?

We’re just back from LA. I say “we” because my wife went along for this trip, too. (Sounds like she’s got the “wanderlust” after our east coast trip?)

The class was in the main part of LA, a couple of miles south of LAX and within two miles of the ocean. Looking at the location, it was a coin toss between driving and flying from Phoenix.

Flying time from Phoenix to Los Angeles is one hour which seems like a lot less than driving but, then again, when driving I don’t have to leave the house two hours before the trip starts, nor spend a half hour at the other end getting out of the airport. Plus, when I fly, the car stays home and I take a shuttle to the airport which adds another half hour to the deal.

So, when flying, my “in-transit” time is three (3) hours more than the actual flying time.

And then there are the delayed flights, weather and equipment issues, and all the other “fun” that goes with flying these days.

So make that “at least three hours” overhead when flying.

But to be completely honest, the drive to this part of LA would take us right through some of the worst of the LA freeways. We would leave I-10 just west of Banning, take a run on 60 and then on and on across what seems like the never-ending 91. The final mile or two of city street driving would be anti-climactic, for sure. Door to door, the drive would be seven (7) hours as opposed to four (4) flying.

And that’s an equality in my book. Seven hours of driving even with two in LA traffic is equivalent to four hours in airports and being bounced around in the air.

So we drove, listened to jazz CDs through the Mojave desert, played hop-scotch with the cars and semis headed west on I-10, joked about telling the border patrol our names were Eduardo and Juanita (but didn’t), marvelled at the 35+ MPG the rental Honda Civic achieved, and then went white-knuckled driving 80 along with everyone else in LA on 91 while we all totally ignoring the posted 65 MPH speed limit — and were passed twice by Police cruisers!

While there, we found some really nice jazz and good food on a Wednesday evening in Hermosa Beach on Pier Ave — it was a Spanish place but, sorry, I don’t remember the name. You won’t have any trouble finding the place, however, as it’s the only one in the short pedestrian block that ends at the beach.

Indeed, the only problem we ran into was that, before they started playing, we couldn’t look at someone and then tell if they were one of the musicians, one of the fans, or one of the neighborhood panhandlers.

Amici Miei

With several strong recommendations, my business associate and I went to this old town Pizzaria for the real thing, true Italian pizza.

“You want the Salsiccia E Friarielli pizza,” I was told. “It’s the original.”

This is basically a sausage pizza with an unusual (to me) but wonderful green vegetable, the friarielli. You can’t see much of it in the picture above (I’m on the right in the blue shirt) but, trust me, it is excellent.

Before that, I had a frittata with funghi, basically a flat pancake-like creation, very eggy, with mushrooms. It was more filling than I expected, so much so that I couldn’t finish the pizza.

Sadly, the half bottle of chardonay left me cold as do all chardonays. Maybe I just don’t have the taste bud for that white. And I do really enjoy the variety in many other whites but, for some reason, all chardonays disappoint me.

But the double cream puff “dolce” made up for it. They were light, creamy, and just the right amount.

Trattoria della Posta




Trattoria della Posta

After the long airplane ride from Phoenix to Philadelphia, to Rome Italy, and then up to Turin (“Torino”) Italy, it was very nice to find a small neighborhood restaurant (“Trattoria”) within walking distance of the hotel. Before leaving the states, I had used Google Earth to find nearby places and then Google’s search engine to see if there were any reviews or comments by other patrons. The Trattoria della Posta received several reviews, all positive, so it was on my “try this for sure” list.




My View

I arrived in time for the Sunday after-church meal but ahead of the crowd. My table was at the front corner across from the bar but with a good view of the room. The blue door to the kitchen was open and although I never glimpsed anyone back there, from the occasional clatter of dishes, it was clearly in use. Another dining area, behind the plant, was occupied by several regulars who kept the bar busy.




Libations

I ordered a bottle of “Frizzante” (fizzy) water and whatever wine they had that was local. I’ve since forgotten the name but it turned out to be a pleasant red, very drinkable and not overpowering.

Traditional Italian meals may seem confusing at first with the “Antipasto”, then “Insalate” followed by the “Primo” and the “Secondo”, “Dolce” but, in actuality, it’s very much like an American meal. Here’s the translation:

  1. First, you might order something to nibble on. You can call that an appetizer but since the Italians often have this dish before the pasta, this warm-up dish typically contains anything but pasta. Hence, this is the antipasto dish. If you are expecting to make a night of it, order an antipasta so you have something to eat while considering the menu. If you aren’t that hungry, skip it.
  2. Next, at an American restaurant, you’d have a salad. And sometimes that salad will contain pasta. Well, in Italy, this course usually contains pasta, but you can get “Primo” dishes that don’t. If you are hugely hungry, you can get both, hence the “Insalate” (salad) and the “Primo” (usually pasta) dishes. And remember that, at this point, you’re still getting warmed up. If you don’t want that big a meal, you could just have a salad for dinner, an “Insalate”, or you could just have the “Primo” for dinner, the pasta dish. Nothing wrong with a small meal.
  3. Then, if you’re the “meat and potatoes” type, the “Secondo” is your course. This is the, well, the “meat and potatoes” course. If you’ve ordered everything up to this point, you have a much larger stomach than I do. Indeed, I’m good for a “Primo” and a “Secondo”, but that will usually fill me up.
  4. Optionally, you might add a “Contorno” or two, a side dish of salad or cooked vegetables.
  5. But if there’s still a corner of space left, then it’s time for desserts. There can two two, cheese and fruits first, that’s the “Formaggio e frutta”, and then a “Dolce”, a sweet. The latter be the very traditional and delicious “tira misu”. And if you want, you can get a “cafe” with that. When Italians ask for “cafe”, they expect what American’s call an espresso. (You could ask for a “cafe american” but, hey, when in Rome, …) And for your “cafe”, you can ask for a double, and for decaf if you wish.



Friends

On the other hand, sometimes people just come in to stand at the bar, have a glass of wine and some good conversation.




Family

And when you find a nice neighborhood place, don’t be surprised to find members of the multi-generation family coming in and all the work coming to a halt for the duration of the visit. Just lean back, relax, and enjoy the show.




Digestif

Oh, did I forget to mention the after-dinner “digestivo”? This one reminded me of the raisin wine we used to steal from a neighbor’s illegal supply when I was a kid. I enjoyed this glass after my large meal in Italy as well as the memories it provoked of so many years ago.

On the menu, some of these will be speleed slightly different: Primi, Secondi, Contorni and Digestivi but just think of “pasta salad first”, “main course second ‘contorted’ with a side”, a sweet (Dolce) and then something for the digestion.

During my week long visit to “Torino”, I would have another meal at this same place and it would be every bit as enjoyable as the first.

For my second meal I had the local red wine again, homemade agnolotti with butter and then the Finanziera (interior parts of beef cooked with vegetables — and yes, that was *very* different!). I skipped the dessert and coffee and went directly to my favorite, a small glass of limoncello.

Oh, and as in the UK, all the public places in Italy are now “Vietato Fumare”, No Smoking.

Very nice!

The Shire Horse, near Littlewick Green, Berkshire, UK

Sunday dinner, like all evening meals when I’m jet-lagging, is an appetizer. No more than that.

That and a cider, of course.

I drove past The Shire Horse on the way to the hotel. The Shire’s “car park” was nearly full at the time, midday Saturday. That spoke well for the place. And Sunday evening when I asked the hotel desk for ideas, it was mentioned. That sealed the deal.

Waiting for Dinner

Like most proper British pubs, you can sit at the bar for dinner or find an empty table. In the latter case, if you want a food order you note the table’s number recorded somewhere on top of, screwed onto the side, written on the wall behind it or hand-written on the malt vinegar bottle, leave something to stake your claim to the table and then go to the bar and order. The barman takes your drink and dinner order, fills one and enters the other. You pay directly — er, immediately — or he can hold your card if you want to run a tab.

I always pay — one pint is plenty.

And in case you don’t know, there’s no tipping.

I must say I really like this arrangement. It’s so much better than the service I get in the states. At a proper British pub, there’s no sitting around waiting for the wait-person — ever wonder why they’re called “wait”-persons? — to leave the menu but jet off with no more than your drink order, return a couple of minutes later with the drink but, again, disappear before taking your order. Then, the US-style server will come back again — this is the third visit, mind you — and take your food order.

And invariably after that, it seems my “party of one” and the miniscule tip it is now imagined I will leave takes a distant back seat to the party of six on their third round of drinks. And so my order sits in the warmer until exceedingly overdone, and dry, and then it gets carried all around the restaurant with other others, meanwhile fanning my food to tepidity (is that a word?).

All that rigamarole is there, of course, to make the server seem all the more important, all the more essential, and somehow guarantee you’ll leave a bigger tip.

But wait, we’ve got this backwards!

Bribes have to be delivered up front or they don’t work. Doesn’t “tip” mean “To Insure Promptness?” Shouldn’t we be giving our nickels and dimes, well maybe stacks of quarters and dollar bills each step of the way? Wouldn’t that make more sense?

But no, we wait until the very end. That way, we’re all pissed off at the lousy service and the server finally realizes she’s neglected you, discriminated against you, was prejudiced from the very beginning and now she just wants you to get the hell out of her sight.

And don’t give me any of that crap about, “It’s not her fault.”

Bull!

I worked in a restaurant. I waited tables. Hell, I roller-skated orders to cars in the parking lot and got zero tip as the customer complained, “Send the girl next time.”

Look, the server can toss the meal back to the cook if it’s bad. And if the cook doesn’t like that treatment, he can go to the manager. [Yes, it sounds like I’m being sexist but I’m not. I just know that most servers are female, and most cooks in restaurants are male. I’m just using the majority-term. If we’re gonna have “wait-persons”, let’s require they all be named Pat, OK?] And after that chain of complaining, if the manager comes down on the server, then it’s a crappy place and the server should forget her tips and just try to survive until she can find a better place.

Yes, the server is responsible.

If I piss her off with a small tip, she’ll ask herself why. And if she figures out the food was cold, was burnt, took forever to get delivered, maybe, just maybe she’ll keep an eye on things a little better next time.

The idea is it’s money in her pocket.

If the customer is happy, they’ll make her happy.

That’s how it’s supposed to work and, in the finer restaurants, perhaps it does.

But most of us don’t eat in those places on a regular basis.

For most of us, if we sit down to a meal where there’s someone to take and deliver our order, it’s in some nationally-known chain where dinner with all the trimmings is $10-15 so the tip is, what $2-3? So from the wait-person’s (yes, OK, I can say that, too) from the wait-person’s perspective, just how much kowtowing is worth three bucks? (Probably not much.)

So, now the diner thinks, should I cut the tip from $3 to $2, or to $1? And if they’re really mad, some diners might even consider leaving the ultimate insult, two cents, to say, “No, I didn’t forget your tip. Guess what this means?”

But then the gets messed up because, after a lousy meal in the states, many diners now get cold feet about expressing their true feelings. They say to themselves, “Well, maybe it’s not her fault this dinner took so long, or that the food was overdone, or that it was cold,” or rationalize some other reason not to risk a confrontation.

So they leave their usual 15-20% tip which tells the wait-person everything was fine, or more likely it says that the customer is an idiot with no taste buds, no ability to grasp the subtle concept of “hot” food, and whose mother probably served the original Swanson TV dinners still frozen.

Dining in a British pub, on the other hand, is civilized.

You place your order, drink or food, when it suits you. The barman doesn’t expect a tip. Instead he wants to get it out of his hands as quickly as possible, so it goes
right to the kitchen. And when the food comes up, the kitchen doesn’t want to see it anymore so they instantly call someone to make the delivery “to table number 46 … and here’s one for 14 while you’re about it”.

Oh, and when you’re finished eating at a proper British pub, you leave. There’s no need to look for your server, flag her down by waving your credit card in the air, and no feeling of obligation to add back that dollar you mentally deducted for some affront you now rationalize that you imagined, possibly out of thirst or hunger that were obviously your own fault for waiting so long to place your order in the first place.

No, in a proper British pub, when you’re done, you go.

This was to be my second jet lag dinner. My plan when traveling internationally is to have light dinners for the first three nights to get through the jet lag. During that time, I don’t read the whole menu. Just the appetizers.

Today’s Menu

And there, first on the list of the Shire Horse’s “Starters” menu, were scallops.

I love scallops!

And I love spinach, and the “Chili and Seasame Seed Sauce” — is that the British spelling? They would be a nice contrast with the scallops. It would be a nice light
meal but with some protein, vitamins and minerals.

At the bar I ordered, “Table 46, I’ll have the scallops and a pint of Strongbow.”

“That’s 8.95.”

In US dollars, that’s about $16.00 at this time — pricey for such a small meal,
yes, but perfect to what my job requires that I go through to be ready to teach
the next morning.

Yes, it’s a tough job sometimes but, by golly, someone’s got to do it and this time it’s me that’s up half the night unable to sleep, and then struggling through class to stay awake and give well thought out answers to tough technical questions the next day.

So yes, when I’m travelling, I watch what I eat and try to take care of my body and brain so they can function and do what my employer expects me to do.

I hand the barman my credit card, sign the receipt a few moments later, pick up my cider and walk back to the table that I left under guard by my reversible raincoat and folding umbrella.

And, true to form, less than one-third of my pint later, someone never seen before
drops off the food still steaming from the skillet.

Scallops on Toast
with Fresh Spinach

“Bravo,” I think as I look at the nicely seared scallops.

“Good sized, not too many for my stomach, spinach looks very fresh. Hope the chili has some pizzazz.”

At the first bite, my tongue tells me the scallops are done “just barely” as they should be. Someone in the kitchen knew exactly when to get them out of the skillet so
that, as they were rushed to my table, they would finish cooking with the residual heat.

And the spinach is fresh, very fresh, obviously grown somewhere nearby or, worst case, driven in just that morning from a plane through Heathrow 20 miles east of here.

A little more “jazz” in the chili would’ve been all right is my only complaint, and a weak one at that. Just my personal taste.

Of course, it was a small meal, a very small meal. I was done in five minutes, and that only by cutting each scallop in half and, at the end, using the last few gobbets of bread to mop up the sweet chili sauce.

Two-thirds of my pint were gone with the last bite.

I set the empty plate on the other side of the table, pushed my chair back slightly and leaned back to savor the atmosphere.

And I suddenly realized, no one was smoking!

There was no smoke in this otherwise most proper British pub!!

Nor was anyone smoking at the Bird in Hand for my lunch of split pea soup with a pint of Guinness even though that extremely traditional Inn had roots back to the thirteenth century.

No one smokes in British pubs anymore!

So I have to say this for the Brits: they not only know how to run a proper pub that caters to its customers — oh yes, I’ll go back to the Shire Horse all right — but they’re also not afraid to see something that works somewhere alien with decidedly silly ideas called “tipping” that obviously aren’t working, try this other idea called “no smoking” to see if it works for their British clientele, and to adopt it when it does.

Well done, England!

I think I’ll have another pint, if you please.

Eating in Atlanta

I was really impressed with Atlanta.

The company at which I taught the four day class did not have any place to eat so I went out for lunch each day and was accompanied by some of the students on three of those days. One of them, John, had some strong ideas about places to go for lunch so I let him choose. I wasn’t disappointed.

Junior’s Grill

On the first day, four of us hiked 15 minutes across the Georgia Tech campus to Junior’s Grill. They had the expected student-fare of burgers and fries, but also a cafeteria-style selection of better but still home-style dishes. I had the meat loaf with sides of black-eyed peas, spinach and a piece of cornbread. Everything was very good, far better than the name “Junior’s Grill” had led me to expect. Whoever was back in the kitchen knew how to cook these dishes. And they obviously had a large iron pan in which to make the cornbread; southern cooks will tell you that’s an essential “ingredient” for a proper cornbread.

Chinese Buddha

Only John and I went out together on the second day. We walked east instead of south to an upscale Chinese place he knew, Chinese Buddha. I had the Kung Pao chicken. When delivered, I was delighted to find the ingredients fresh and not overly done. And the sauce was spicey but not so much as to overpower the flavors of the other ingredients. And it was nicely presented in a large semi-bowl shaped white dish.

The Varsity

Day #3 I was on my own as the others had a meeting to attend where the boss would be providing lunch — pizza. She didn’t ask so I didn’t have to say, “No thanks.” Left to my own, I relied on the advice of several who had mentioned, and warned me about, the local greasy-burger tradition — since 1928 — the Varsity. It was said to be historic in appearance, in cuisine, and in the age of its grease with the onion rings being particularly notable in all three categories. After checking my computer bag to be sure I had a roll of Tums, I committed.

I had to circle the parking lot to find a place to park. Getting out of the car, I noticed the line was out the front door waiting to get in.

“This looks interesting,” I thought.

Once through the door, I found the menu up on the wall in several places over a very long counter with several stations where an order could be placed. I chose the “Express Line.” The fellow ahead warned it was “Express” because you had better know what you want when you get to the front. I ordered a cheeseburer, ring and a big orange, no frills, nothing fancy, just straight off the menu. The tab was five-something and the food was in front of me in less than a minute. Taking my tray, I checked a couple of rooms before finding an empty seat.

The burger was small, utterly plain, but good. (Note to self: order it with something, *anything* on it next time.)

The rings were, as had been said, the real thing, prepared and cooked correctly. These were not from one of those machine that chopped and shaped “rings of onion” that the fast food chains use. Nope, these were real onion rings, probably rinsed in a milky solution before battering and frying. And the batter was solidly glued to the onion inside so there was no danger of the onion coming out of the batter tube. Nope, these were perfect rings.

I went back for another treat. I’d seen them on many trays, the chili dog. But, alas, I must say I was disappointed. The chili was bland and the dog unremarkable. Maybe onions? And cheese? And some tabasco. Definitely some tabasco.

Two hours later back in the classroom and halfway through the source code debugger lecture, a single burp forced its way out mid-sentence. When I excused myself I added, “The Varsity.” Universally there were excusing smiles in the classroom.

Spoon

On the last day, we took a third compass direction and walked to Spoon, a Thai place about ten minutes away. And as with the other places, the atmosphere was great. The place was busy with lots of people and with an amazing number of waiters (that’s a sex-generic term, by the way — “wait-persons” is so ugly, don’t you think?) bustling about.

I had the Panang with shrimp and scallops. Uncertain of the chef, I ordered medium-hot. I’ll go “hot” next time, maybe even Thai-hot. As with John’s other selections, the food was excellent.

The dinners didn’t score quite as well but, nonetheless, I found some places worth repeating.

Luckie’s

First, however, the “miss”. The hotel had a 10% off coupon for Luckie’s, on Luckie.

The first omen was the fellow standing outside the door. I noticed him while still half a block away and wondered if he was waiting for a ride or something. He had a nice suit, a tad on the bulky side for his physique, but didn’t look like a druggie waiting for someone to mug.

Intending to walk past and see if there were other restaurants around the corner, I cut across the parking lot in front of Luckies.

“Please stay on the sidewalk. This is private property,” he said to me.

“I’m going to go in and eat,” I answered. “I just wanted to see what else there might be.”

“Well, that’ll be just fine then, sir. Go ahead and have a look.”

I took a few steps and had my now obligated glance down the cross street. There was a burger place next door but that was it.

“I’ll go on in now and eat,” I said.

“Yes sir. And I hope you weren’t offended by what I said.”

“Not at all,” I answered but thought to myself that he looked awfully silly trying to shoo folks away, and was undoubtedly driving away the occasional customer who wouldn’t overlook the affront as I had.

Strike one.

As I entered through the front door, I saw again this was a mistake. The decor was as trendy as you could be with strange shaped light fixtures, a slithery bar, some raised seating as well as normal, and an open view into the kitchen with tall flames jetting up from the stoves.

Strike two.

But I had walked several blocks to get there after standing and walking around the classroom all day and, frankly, I just wasn’t up to the walk back without getting some energy first. So I read the unfortunately predictable menu, ordered the top sirloin medium with the caesar salad and have since forgotten the sides. I ordered a local beer, a 402, while I waited for the food. The food was nicely presented and nicely done and the wait-person smiled and was nicely patronizing to the single while the six-top waited, but the whole experience said this was a place to bring someone when you want to impress them with your snobbishness.

But when you’re by yourself as I was, why bother? Who’s to impress?

So I ate half the meal as I’d intended and took the rest back to the hotel to refrigerate and then nuke tomorrow for dinner.

With that, Luckies provided my dinner for the first two nights while forcing me to suffer their atmosphere and insults only once. That’s the only thing I can say for the place.

Osterial del Figo

Fortunately, that was the only downer on this trip. Dinner on the third evening was back up to another pleasant surprise, and was via another suggestion from John. I had asked for Northern Italian. He said, Osteria del Figo on Howell Mill Rd.

Reportedly this is a local chain, and unbeknownst to me, the location on Howell Mill Road I chose was the least fancy of the trio. But what I found suited my interests and fatigue perfectly. It was very casual, out of the way, and not the least bit ostentatious. The decor was nicely done but more like sitting on someone’s patio rather than in a fancy restaurant. Everything seem to say, “Come on in, relax, we’ll take good care of you.”

When I entered, I picked up a menu by the cash register to decide if I would stay or not. That only took a moment; there were several intriguing possibilities with pasta and sauce were ordered separately. I could customize my own order. I like that.

Orders are placed before being seated so I chose the capellini, the shrimp and zucchini in white wine sauce, and a glass of the house Pinot Grigio. My three item-order was tallied and my credit card processed. They handed me a green-painted pepper grinder as the marker of my order and said, “Please sit anywhere you like.”

I chose a table by the window with the chair positioned so I could also watch the other patrons. They appeared to be locals, many of them students or young professionals. There were couples, groups of 2-4 women, and two other singles like myself.

My tumbler (!) of wine came. I eyed it apprehensively before picking it up. Wine in a heavy glass tumbler is almost always a bad sign. But not this time. The Pinot Grigio was light and fruity as it should be with a faint lemon tang. Well after each sip, no bitterness came.

“A good start,” I nodded to myself.

A server brought bread but before I could stop her, she poured a plateful of olive oil.

Uh, oh!

You see, Italians refer to this manner of dunking and eating of bread as “American style.” Italians would say that anyone with even the feeblest of manners would know that the proper way is to first hold the bread over the plate and then to dribble olive oil directly onto the bread. The only purpose of the plate is to catch any oil that drips through.

Pouring out a lake of oil as the Americans do is just crass.

But with that plateful of oil before me, what could I do?

Looking about, I did not see any obvious Italians — check the shoes, you can always tell from the shoes — so I decided to be one of those Americans.

I ripped, I dunked, I dabbed, I leaned over and slurped in the bread and oil.

And to my very pleasant surprise, it was superb!

It was obviously a very good quality first squeeze, a virgin virgin. It had been infused with herbs and red peppers but then filtered to remove all sediment. It appeared to be plain oil but, oh that red pepper!

As I finished the bread, the capellini arrived and, without going into details, it was next to perfect as well.

Originally intending a light meal but with three “hits” already beneath my belt, I decided to take on extra innings.

“Espresso and tira misu, please.”

Again, both were excellent.

After driving back to the hotel, I slept well. Probably with a smile. Figo’s made this tired traveller glad he had stopped there for a meal.

Six Feet Under Grant Park

By the fourth night, I’d struck up a passing friendship with one of the hotel valet drivers. On my way out for dinner on this last night in Atlanta, I told him of my earlier disappointment with Luckies, how much I had liked Figo’s and that, for my last night, I’d just like to get a nice piece of fish without a lot of pretense and maybe a beer or two. He immediately suggested Six Feet Under Grant Park.

“It’s across from a graveyard,” He added.

I smiled and thought yes, that could be my kind of place.

Before setting out, I looked up the restaurant and reviewed their menu on the internet. Several dishes looked interesting so I noted the address and headed out. Plugging the address into my GPS, I was there in a few minutes.

I ordered a locally brewed ale, the home-made potato chips appetizer, the shrimp and scallops in parchment, with sides of spinach and greens. It sounded like too much food and, yes, it was. The potato chips with sour cream dill dip were an interesting diversion but not worth repeating. The shrimp and scallops, on the other hand, were quite good with the parchment keeping them good and hot as I ate. And the vegetables were also good but I soon found myself running out of steam. The pepper sauce was helpful, as always, with the slight bitterness in the greens but, frankly, I had reached the point where my excesses of the week had pushed me into the wall.

I could eat no more and a doggie bag was out of the question.

Four interesting lunches and two such dinners in four days; that’s a rare score. Both Atlanta and John are going into my book for good eating.

I’m on my way up to Newport Rhode Island on Saturday for a class there the following week. My food budget, while not abused except for that one unfortunate “Luckie” choice, was close to full and I suspected my stomach would also feel that way for a couple of days. Indeed, often after one of these trips I find myself nearly fasting for a few days.

“A cup o’ noodles for lunch? Why yes, that sounds just about right. And maybe some saltines for dinner.”