Archive | April, 2009

Secret Supper Clubs a Growing Trend

29 Apr


Secret Suppers

A growing number of daring chefs and adventurous foodies have reignited the old Southern tradition of secret supper clubs. Eating out may never be the same

The plates of creamed kale and fried rabbit were going fast, passed from person to person down one long table set in a Texas pecan grove. It was a sultry evening on a four-acre urban farm in east Austin, where forty-three people sat in mismatched chairs for a family-style dinner of eight courses in the lamplight. An old door turned over on sawhorses was the prep table, and Jesse Griffiths, our host and chef, cooked mostly at a table-height iron grill with a bottom tray that—by consensus of several supper guests—was once a feed trough. The fryer, a large cooking pot over a portable propane flame, was behind him. And the whole setup was under the porch roof of a farm shed. He’d been cooking like that for hours, handing plates as soon as they were ready to his small crew, including his wife, Tamara Mayfield, who wore an embroidered summer dress, her brown hair in pigtails. A few yards from the long table, he cooked up pan-fried red peppers as big and sweet as strawberries, homemade jalapeño sausages, and smoky Gulf shrimp wrapped in grilled allspice leaves—all Texas ingredients.

This was a food-loving crowd, and they were eating it up. During the cocktail hour and between courses, people would often amble over to check out the cooking. As he turned quail over hot oak coals, Griffiths told stories: He told about the time he worked two weeks at a restaurant in Mexico that served only spit-roasted goat, turned in a coal-fired pit in the floor. Another time he caught the six pigeons he needed for a squab dinner by using some string, a box tilted up with a stick, and some chicken feed. Then there was Loncito, a lamb rancher, who talked of hosting long weekends at a South Texas hunting camp with two kitchens, where everyone takes turns cooking. A woman from the corporate offices of Whole Foods was there, of course. (Austin is the chain’s headquarters.)

The dinner that night was one put on by a two-year-old supper club in Austin, part of the now-simmering supper club scene in the South. As with many of the other secret-public grassroots clubs, Jesse and Tamara had started theirs with a small idea—to have one dinner on one night, inviting people to slow down for a few hours of good food and wine. More than two years later, the couple is still often cooking for a crowd on Saturday nights. And this is not just happening in Austin. In the Carolinas and Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Texas, and more, food-minded strangers are gathering at long tables to meet others and eat well. Operating outside the realm of official restaurants, this new wave of Southern supper clubs has sprung up in just the past two to three years. Upstarts in the Northwest, Midwest, California, and New York take earliest claim for such dinners, sometimes describing the meals in terms of a social movement, or even a revolution.


Supper Club History
The South, though, has a tradition of secret supper clubs, of gathering around food for food’s sake. At clandestine gatherings of the Hot and Hot Fish Club in the early 1800s, some thirty to forty landowners (and at least one South Carolina governor) would meet on fishing ground hummocks around Pawleys Island and Murrells Inlet. The story goes that the men would fish all morning and then cook the catch for a dinner of at least two courses, the second always better than the first—making it hot and hot. The club was “dedicated to epicurean pursuits,” and besides fish, everyone was required to bring champagne and brandy to share. I often heard of this fish and drink lore while growing up near Murrells Inlet, and I thought of it again while going to a granddaddy of today’s supper clubs, this one held at John Henry Whitmire’s house on the Waccamaw River, a few miles inland of Pawleys Island. Organized by Outstanding in the Field and chef Jim Denevan—who since 1999 has hosted dinners all over the country, with fans following along as if it’s a band tour—the event was sold-out four months before the exact location was announced. And once there, more than 150 guests passed platters of local-caught wahoo along a looping line of tables at the edge of the old tidal rice impoundments.

These onetime dinners keep popping up in the South. In Athens, Georgia, there’s a group of guys in their late twenties to mid-thirties—and now one woman—who cook together most Saturday nights in a century-old house downtown, with space to invite a couple dozen people to dinner. So they do. The supper club operates fairly underground; it started back in the spring of 2007 when four friends got together one Sunday to cook a four-course dinner. (Two of the men say they “aren’t chefs at all, but love food…to talk about it and cook it,” and two had already worked in kitchens of some of Athens’ best restaurants like Farm 255, the Grit, and the Five and Ten.) From that beginning, the Four Coursemen have filled their table several nights a month by inviting friends, and friends of friends. It’s been a pretty popular gig, and to help, the group of mostly University of Georgia grads have added a wine expert and another experienced chef, and have started collecting a donation of forty-five dollars or more. (At first they’d had “a loose donation system” and were left with lots of out-of-pocket expenses.) One of the Four Coursemen founders is a Web site designer in “real life” and has started a simple site for the club that lists no location address (that’s given once you’re invited to attend), and only the organizers’ and chefs’ first names, along with menus that are deep with food experimentation and local ingredients…celery root soup, crisped pork belly, beet gnocchi with boar sausage, boiled peanut ice cream. Every menu is for one night only, and not repeated. One of the founders explains, “This is about trusting the chef…it’s not like at a restaurant where you go in and say, ‘Here’s what I want.’ All we do is say, ‘This is what we’re cooking this week. Would you like to come over?’”

Similarly, in Charleston, South Carolina, a group called Guerrilla Cuisine has coordinated “experiments in collaborative dining” since the fall of 2007—in private homes downtown and on neighboring islands, in empty warehouses, and at the local muscadine vineyard. There’s always art and music at the dinners, even a between-course skit one night that involved penciled-in mustaches and canned sardines. The founder, who goes by Jimihatt (a Guerrilla alias), is in his late thirties and has worked in some of Charleston’s top kitchens. “We want to create one-night restaurants in places where there has never been one, and never would be,” Jimihatt says. “People who eat with us are adventurous…they want to try something new and maybe be taken out of their comfort zone.” To get there, an ever-changing lineup of Charleston chefs and sous-chefs cook for Guerrilla Cuisine, preparing everything from seafood and game, to a macrobiotic menu (one of the few dinners that didn’t sell out immediately), to eight courses of Spam recipes. “This is the South,” he says. “So of course, pork is a huge part of what we do.”

And in the supper club hotbed of Austin, thirty-two-year-old Hannah Calvert founded Supper Underground back in 2006. Over cocktails she explained how the club started, that she’s a corporate consultant who’s “obsessed with food” and put on the first two dinners herself—serving more than twenty guests—before she invited her friend Tasso Ziebarth to help out. (Also in his early thirties, Ziebarth has worked in the Austin restaurant scene for years.) Since then, more than seven hundred people have signed up to receive Supper Underground’s e-mail notices about the dinner parties, which are held on porches, in backyards, and in dining rooms around Austin. The monthly four-course meals are announced online on the Monday before a Saturday night event. People have twenty-four hours to accept, and from the responses, Calvert and Ziebarth create a thirty-person guest list. I mentioned to Calvert about meeting a woman who said she’d been trying to reserve a seat with Supper Underground for five months. “Yes,” Calvert said, smiling knowingly. “It can be tough for people to get in.”

Read many more great stories like this in Garden & Gun magazine.

New James Brown Collection on DVD

29 Apr


This looks great – can’t wait to score this one from JB!

Product Description
I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the ’60s is the definitive look at JB’s on-stage prowess, including an acclaimed documentary, two previously unreleased concerts, and more. With full-length versions of many classics, including”I Feel Good,” “Out Of Sight,” “Cold Sweat,” “Try Me,” “I Got The Feelin’,” “It’s A Man’s Man’s Man’s World,” “Bewildered,” and “Please, Please, Please,” I Got the Feelin’: James Brown in the ’60s is an essential part of any music lover’s collection.

Features the director’s cut of the acclaimed VH1 film The Night James Brown Saved Boston, which tells the story of a 1968 concert that not only averted riots in Boston in the aftermath of MLK’s assassination, but also set James Brown on a revolutionary new path. Includes additional interviews with members of James Brown’s band, friends and colleagues, plus a panel discussion from the film’s premiere in Boston.

Features the historic 1968 Boston Garden concert as originally broadcast by WGBH. Contains additional audio from the radio simulcast of the concert.

Features Man to Man: James Brown Live at The Apollo Theater 1968, a TV special taped the week before the Boston show and unseen for 40 years! Plus bonus performances from 1967 and 1968 shows at L’Olympia in Paris, AND the legendary version of “Out of Sight” from The T.A.M.I. Show (1964).

The Best Bathroom in the USA Is …

28 Apr


We just spotted this story on the web — congrats to The Hermitage!

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Hermitage Hotel has afternoon tea in the grand lobby. Down-filled duvets (that’s a fancy word for comforters). A presidential suite with 2,000 square feet. And a really nice toilet.

So nice, in fact, that it’s been voted (drum roll please) America’s best restroom.

Flush in the middle of downtown Nashville, the luxury hotel and its ground-floor men’s bathroom are definitely the head (so to speak) of the class.

The redoubtable restroom is art-deco style with gleaming lime-green-and-black leaded glass tiles, lime-green fixtures, terrazzo floor and a two-seat shoeshine station.

“You just can’t find anything like it anywhere else,” says Janet Kurtz, director of sales and marketing at the hotel.

The restroom won the honor in online voting sponsored by Cincinnati-based Cintas Corp., which supplies restroom hygiene products and services. The company says “tens of thousands” of people voted over two months last summer. Precise numbers are kept, well, private.

Criteria were hygiene, style and access to the public. The highfalutin honor has earned the restroom entry to “America’s Best Restroom Hall of Fame.”

“People see it and fall in love with it,” Kurtz said.

It has four stools, three urinals, four sinks, spotless mirrors and a Sultan telephone that connects to the front desk.

And, (how do you put this delicately?) women seem attracted to it.

Lita Esquinance of Bradley County, Tenn., guides friends to the restroom for a discreet peek just about every time she visits Nashville. One of them, Sonja Luckie, jokingly summed up her visit with this discerning observation:

“For men, it’s very stimulating.”

The hotel, built in 1910 and renovated in 2003, has 122 guest rooms and suites. The restroom, down the hall from the hotel bar and restaurant, dates back to 1939.

Do they leave the light on for you? Not necessarily, but the famous restroom is cleaned hourly.

In her six years at the hotel Kurtz has never used the men’s restroom. But just wait.

“I hope they have a ladies’ night sometime.”

SFA Summer Field Trip Motors to Bristol

20 Apr


Please read this message from our friends at SFA —

Join us as we explore the foodways of the northeastern reaches of Tennessee and the southwestern reaches of Virginia. Bristol, which straddles the two states and is known as the birthplace of country music, will be our headquarters.

We begin on THURSDAY EVENING with an Infield Supper at Bristol Motor Speedway. We’ve got all-access passes to the pits and permission to run cars on the high bank oval. We’ll enjoy hickoried sandwiches from Larry Proffitt’s fabled Ridgewood Barbecue, and brown whiskey.
FRIDAY means morning expeditions. Among the choices are trout cleaning and cookery, a winery tour, a pickle beancooking class by Sheri Castle, and a barbecue pit tutorial by Larry Proffitt. But first a Fred Sauceman lecture on local food and music. And a breakfast of stack cakes, from Jill Sauceman’s family recipe. Lunch is at the Burger Bar, where Hank Williams ate his last meal. We’ll hear a talk by Ted Olson on the Bristol Sessions. Come evening we tour a photography exhibit by Larry Smith and attend a re-staging of the “Farm and Fun Radio Hour.” At the Bristol Train Station, we’ll enjoy a trout supper, prepared by Sean Brock, a native of nearby Wise, Virginia, now cooking at McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina.
SATURDAY starts with a butterscotch pie breakfast from Blackbird Bakery. And a trip to the Abingdon, Virginia, Farmers Market with Anthony Flaccavento of Appalachian Sustainable Development. Following is a history tour of the Barter Theater. And our annual Anson Mills lunch, cooked by Karen Urie and John Shields of Town House in nearby Chilhowie, Virginia, served at Anthony Flaccavento’s farm. That night we travel to the Carter Fold, the cradle of American folk music. We’ll eat soup beans and chicken salad, prepared by the descendants of Mother Maybelle Carter. And homemade chocolate cake. We’ll dance to the Larkin Family band. Back at home, we’ll toast the weekend with a down home digestif of herbal Dr. Enuf and moonshine.
Cost for the weekend is $285 for members, $315 for nonmembers, inclusive of all lectures and meals.

New Book on “Pop Surf Culture”

20 Apr


Product Description
From original beachcomber personalities like the Waikiki Beachboys to the rise of Venice Beach as a creative center for music, art, and film, this insightful chronicle traces the roots of the surf boom and explores its connection to the Beat Generation and 1960s pop culture. Through accounts of key figures both obscure and popular, such as Mike Dormer, Rick Griffin, the Trashwomen, and the Beach Boys, the book illustrates why surf culture is a vital art movement of the 20th century. The entire spectrum of pop culture is covered, including discussions of the advent of surf magazines and the immense popularity of the “beach” movies starring Annette Funicello and Frankie Avalon.

The Only Ones – “Another Girl, Another Planet”

19 Apr

Love this song — fun video to watch as well.

Sit back and enjoy this rockin’ blast from the past.

“The Rise of Southern Cheese”

16 Apr

Sheryl’s Buffet Does Live Oak FL Proud

16 Apr


The last time we ate at Sheryl’s it was on a tip from a web site we have come to trust. This time we didn’t need anyone pushing us in their general direction. We made the trip gladly! Live Oak is a nice little Southern town. It feels much more like Alabama or Georgia than it does Florida. But I guess that could be said for much of the northern third of the Sunshine State. The people are so darn friendly at Sheryl’s — we have been treated like family each time we have visited.  In fact, we arrived just a few minutes from closing time (they are open from 11:30 a.m. ’til 2:30 p.m. daily) and they suggested that we call ahead next time if we are running a few minutes late and they’ll keep the place open for us. How ’bout them apples???


The fried chicken and the charcoal-kissed pork ribs (yes, they were cooked outside over coals) were the stars of the show on this particular afternoon. I added some turnip greens and some stewed okra and I was ready for business! Step one was to grab myself a big glass of ice cold sweet tea (they make it right here at Sheryl’s); step two involved splashing some Texas Pete Pepper Vinegar on my greens; while step three was to annoint the slimey okra with a few drops of Tabasco hot sauce. Finally, I ladeled out a small cup of the sweet, dark BBQ sauce (step four). It was all pretty amazing — the chicken some of the best we’ve ever tasted. Crispy on the outside, juicy on the inside, with none of that typical  greasy aftertaste.  


I was bummed to find that they were completely wiped out of Sheryl’s homemade banana pudding, but that disappointment soon disappeared when I spied the squares of red velvet cake on the nearby dessert table. Our server Debbie was super pleasant and highly efficient. She dished out the “sweeties” and “darlins” with the best of ’em while anticipating our every need. We were even awarded with a complimentary cartoon map of Live Oak and surrounding Suwannee County. This is probably the closest we’ll ever get to receiving a key to the city.

The true key to Live Oak, FL is good folks and good downhome eats. So please stop in the next time you’re on the road between Gainesville and Tallahassee. It will stimulate the local economy and your taste buds, y’all!

Southern Power Pop Lives on Bar/None Records

16 Apr


I first heard of the dB’s (led by Stamey & Holsapple) back when I was in college at WUVT Radio — and that has been a while back! The band came out of North Carolina and were masters of the genre that became known as “Power Pop.” Jangly guitars, crunchy chords, high octane arrangements, catchy melodies – I think you know the drill. Flash forward 30 years or so and the boys are still at it. The have mellowed a bit, but these guys have retained their knack for composing and performing some highly enjoyable music. We especially enjoyed the single “Early in the Morning” and the track called “Santa Monica.” If you fondly remember The dB’s “(I Thought) You Wanted to Know” or Stamey’s timeless “The Summer Sun,” pick up on this CD — and fast! You will surely dig it.

“hERE aND nOw” is the first new collaboration in almost two decades by Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey, the acclaimed songwriters of the dB’s. Scheduled for release June 9 on Bar/None Records, it features Branford Marsalis on two tracks: the single “Early in the Morning” and Peter’s ode to New Orleans, “Begin Again.” Drum aces Jon Wurster (Superchunk, Son Volt, Bob Mould, the Mountain Goats), Logan Matheny (Roman Candle, The Rosebuds), and percussionist Gary Greene (Hootie and the Blowfish, Big Head Todd and the Monsters) bring power to tracks such as “Some of the Parts” and “Widescreen World”, and the dB’s’ rhythm section Gene Holder and Will Rigby join in on the atmospheric “Santa Monica.” The acoustic side of the duo, reminiscent of their 1992 RNA album “Mavericks,” comes to the fore on tracks such as “Long Time Coming,” one of several that feature Greg Readling (Chatham County Line, Tift Merritt) on pedal steel. The lead track, “My Friend the Sun,” is a cover of a classic from the legendary British prog-pop band Family.

Peter and Chris grew up together in Winston-Salem, NC, and started playing music together in middle school—and have really never stopped. Through countless bands along the way—including Rittenhouse Square, Little Diesel, Sneakers, the H-Bombs, the dB’s, Continental Drifters, the Golden Palominos—and recording sessions and sideman stints with the likes of R.E.M., Bob Mould and Hootie and the Blowfish, the two have maintained a deep musical connection. They both are proficient at most string and keyboard instruments, and neither is much good at winds! Having relocated to Durham, NC, from New Orleans in 2006, Peter is constantly evident in international musical situations while Chris produces many records each year at Modern Recording, his home base in Chapel Hill, NC, where this record was made.

Brick Pit in Mobile is Still Really Great Stuff

16 Apr


We first visited the Brick Pit some 15 years ago and we were duly impressed. A return trip last week proved that very little had changed — and that is a very good thing! Why mess with pure porcine perfection? The cracked and aged sign seen above is in exactly the same place and still features the same half-assed effort at censorship.  


The big oak tree located just inches outside the Brick Pit’s smokehouse is a little taller now — and a hell of a lot smokier. Frankly, the grand ole tree doesn’t seem to mind. And why should it? I wouldn’t fuss a bit if I could sniff up that wonderful aroma of burning hickory and pecan all day.   


The roadside sign also remains unchanged – Old Glory still flies proudly!


The actual structure looks a tad more rickety than it did way back in 1995. My wife Eileen commented that it seemed a good deal more smoky too, which in BBQ terms means the building has finally been “broken in.”


They don’t sell cold brew at the Brick Pit – just sweet tea and Coke products and a lot of it. But owner and all-around good guy Bill Armbrecht promotes a casual BYOB policy, which is clearly advertised just outside the main entrance to the Mobile eatery. I trust these folks own stock in the company that makes Sharpie markers.


Just about everyone (including yours truly) has claimed a little space on the interior walls. But strategic chunks of the vertical real estate are reserved for images of Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant and other Crimson Tide football heroes. Yes, this is without a doubt a Bama joint … but they treat everyone (including Yankees) to good old Southern hospitality and top notch “Q.”


That’s BBQ chicken swimming under that layer of delicious blanket of Brick Pit sauce. We think the BBQ sauce here is some of the best in Dixie. The expertly smoked bird ain’t all that bad either!


The pulled pork plate comes with a generous portion of BBQ pig meat with some tantilizing charred end pieces. The sauce (offered in mild and hot varieties) is served warm and that is always a welcome touch. My order was served with some crispy cole slaw, baked beans, and a fat slab of Texas toast.  I quickly polished off the Q before topping off my tank with the sides. You have to have your priorities in order. And, before I forget, make sure you try the banana puddin’ for dessert … oh yeah, baby!


This sign, which has also been around for well over a decade, was created in reaction to the opening of the Mobile franchise of Dreamland BBQ. Founded in Tuscaloosa, Dreamland now has outlets all over the Southeast USA. The Brick Pit and Dreamland have squared off for many moons now, but there is obviously enough business to go around. In other words, this is serious BBQ country, folks!

The Brick Pit is simply one of our favorite BBQ dives in Dixie. We highly recommend it and encourage you to visit soon and often. Tell Bill and the gang that we invited you over. I know they will appreciate it — there are some really nice folks at the one and only Brick Pit!