Archive | October, 2011

Mobile’s Own Eugene Walter Lives Again with the Release of “The Happy Table”

9 Oct

Talk about a renaissance man! Eugene Walter was surely that. The term “Bon Vivant” comes to mind. Walter loved life – and fine cuisine. But he was no food snob. Sure, he had a palate that was appreciative of the gourmet. After all, he traveled the globe and rubbed elbows with the rich and famous. He even appeared in a prominent Fellini film. Yet Walter was a man unafraid to crack open a can of Campbell’s Soup (or “Mr. Campbell’s Soup” as he called it) if he felt it could elevate a home recipe.

Eugene’s book entitled “Hints & Pinches” has long been one of my favorite “cookbooks” (if you could call it that). And his novel “The Untidy Pilgrim” is a wonderful look at the Mobile AL of days gone by. So I was pretty excited when I learned that “The Happy Table” was being prepared for release. It is essentially the posthumous release of boxes full of recipes, drawings, and anecdotes from Walter’s exceptionally creative mind and kitchen. The editors have done a fine job of piecing all of this together. No small task. The common thread is booze — or perhaps spirits is a better word. Eugene Walter had spirit in spades. And he knew how to best employ alcoholic beverages in both food and cocktails.

So consider this your formal invitation.

Raise a glass and join the ever-jovial Eugene Walter in a toast and a belly laugh.

This is one party you do not want to miss.

The Happy Table of Eugene Walter

Southern Spirits in Food and Drink

By Eugene Walter

 Edited by Donald Goodman and Thomas Head

Awards & Distinctions

A Fall 2011 Okra Pick: Great Southern Books Fresh Off the Vine, Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance

A southern Renaissance man, Eugene Walter (1921-98) was a pioneering food writer, a champion of southern foodways and culture, and a legendary personality among food lovers. The Happy Table of Eugene Walter, which introduces a new generation of readers to Walter’s culinary legacy, is a revelation to anyone interested in today’s booming scene in vintage and artisanal drinks–from bourbon and juleps to champagne and punch–and a southern twist on America’s culinary heritage.

Assembled and edited by Walter’s literary executor, Donald Goodman, and food writer Thomas Head, this charming cookbook includes more than 300 recipes featuring the use of spirits in the food and drink of the South, as well as numerous asides, lovely short essays, and countless witticisms that make for great reading as well as good cooking. A wellspring of southern eating and drinking traditions lovingly collected by Walter over the years, the volume is also a celebration of Walter himself and his incomparable appetite and talent for life and its surprising pleasures. The Happy Table showcases Walter’s remarkably contemporary gustatory sensibilities and the humorous and quirky yet incisive voice for which he has long been embraced.

About the Author

Eugene Walter (1921-98), a native of Mobile, Alabama, and author of the classic American Cooking: Southern Style, was a pioneering food writer and editor who enjoyed long sojourns in New York, Rome, and Paris when he wasn’t at home in the South. A translator, screenwriter, novelist, puppeteer, artist, costume designer, actor, and more, Walter was a man of arts, letters, and food. The Happy Table of Eugene Walter, a cookbook that Walter was working on in the final years of his life, is the first new book by Walter to appear in more than a decade.

Donald Goodman was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He and his wife currently live in the Washington, D.C., area, where he manages the Eugene Walter estate.

Thomas Head, a native of Louisiana, is a food and travel writer based in Washington, D.C. Former executive wine and food editor of Washingtonianmagazine, he has published articles in many nationally distributed magazines and newspapers.

 Reviews

“This cookbook contains over 300 Southern-themed recipes for foods and libations that not only inspire but offer a history lesson. . . . this collection shines. . . . It uniquely captures the history and culture of the South and is highly recommended.”
Library Journal

A top “10 Must-Read Fall Books for Food Lovers.”
–Zagat.com

“Any cooking lover should know the work of Eugene Walter, a great Southern food writer and notable character in the foodie community.”
–Zagat.com

“Eugene Walter was a southern writer of dazzling gifts. He possessed an uncanny ability to make the English language dance the flamenco across the page. He loved great humor, clowns, monkeys, food, and bourbon, in no particular order. He acted in Fellini movies, wrote screenplays, poems, cookbooks, translations, novels, and short stories of rare but complete genius. Eugene was one of the cofounders of The Paris Review and lived one of the richest lives of any American writer that I know of. I only wish he had written more. This book is a wonder. I love Eugene and I’ve always loved his writing.”
–Pat Conroy, author of The Prince of Tides and Beach Music

“Eugene Walter was not too timid to live life to the fullest, and we are indebted to him for sharing his flamboyant insights into this wonderland of food and drink. The Happy Table captures a history of southern culture that might otherwise be lost and most certainly needs to be preserved. I envision readers using these recipes and throwing Eugene Walter parties as a salute to this great, eccentric Southern man–and I hope to be invited.”
–Frank Stitt, James Beard award-winning chef and owner of Highlands Bar and Grill, Bottega, and Chez Fonfon, Birmingham, AL

 “This is just like sitting at a table with Eugene Walter, hearing his stories about Rome, Italy, and the pursuit of Southern food. His charm and wit show throughout! And he was a first-rate author–without him, we would never have had the Time-Life Foods of the World volume American Cooking: Southern Style, which is a masterpiece in itself.”
–Nathalie Dupree, author of New Southern Cooking

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West Mobile’s Brick Pit Keeps Turning Out First Class “Q” Along Old Shell Road

8 Oct

Competitors come and competitors go. After some 17 years in business, Bill Armbrecht is now used to the routine. Bill didn’t start out thinking he would ever become Mobile’s King of BBQ. In fact,  he started out his professional career as a charter boat captain. He did love to grill out and entertain friends — and over time he developed a true passion for it. Thus began his quest for what eventually became The Brick Pit. He found his destiny in a small white house not far from the University of South Alabama campus in West Mobile.

Armbrecht claims it was love at first sight. Something in his gut told him that this was where he was going to make his stand. A “Pig Stand,” you might say. He was determined to do it right, so he procured the proper equipment and started turning out amazing, slow-smoked pork BBQ and ribs. Word spread pretty quickly. It does that here in the Heart of Dixie. Folks love good BBQ … and love talking about it too!

There have been a few ups and downs along the way. Road construction almost shut Bill down a few years back. Then there’s the competition: first Dreamland, then The Shed — and Moe’s BBQ. It used to worry him, but Armbrecht has mellowed a bit thru the years. And he knows how loyal his customers have been and continue to be.

This little smoker (above) is not used in the cooking process. It is simply for show — and for luring in potential customers motoring along scenic Old Shell Road. The smoker is loaded with wood each morning and in moments the sweet smoke is drifting across the street and into passing vehicles. Now that is some Old School marketing for you!

Bill Armbrecht created the above slogan when the fabled Dreamland BBQ moved into the Mobile market more than a decade ago. Bill braced himself for an all out BBQ battle, but it never really materialized. There was enough room for both joints. This remains the case in 2011. Mississippi-based The Shed BBQ is the latest arrival on the scene, having set up shop just a stones throw down Old Shell. Each eatery has its following, yet Bill has more than held his own despite not having big corporate backers or investors. It’s all about the food quality — and The Brick Pit continues to do it right.  

The Brick Pit is nestled underneath giant live oak trees. It’s a cozy little spot. The trees are smoke-stained and they smell, well, really good. Not that I usually go around sniffing trees, mind you. I haven’t asked, but I’m guessing the red and white color scheme (both inside and out) is in tribute to Armbrecht’s beloved Crimson Tide. He’s a lifelong fan and the restaurant’s interior decor bears that out. Bear … as in Bryant … get it???

The sign at the front entry (aove) is no exaggeration. We have been all around Dixie and Bill’s BBQ is right up there with the best of ’em. The Q here is artfully smoked overnight and Bill’s expert pitmaster has been with him on and off for most of the eatery’s lifetime. The process is slow and painstaking, no doubt. But the rewards are worthwhile. Deep dark, smokey BBQ pork that will satisfy your most ancient carniverous cravings.

The Rib Plate at lunch (served with your choice of 2 sides & a thick slab of white bread) is $9.99. Now that is a pretty fair shake. They do make a fine cole slaw at The Brick Pit. However this time I stepped outside the box and ordered the potato salad. It was very good — as were the beans. The beans are not just dumped out of a giant tin can. They’re seasoned up nice and have a sweet tang to them. The ribs were thick, super meaty and finger licking good. Armbrecht offers regular or spicy BBQ sauce options. I have long been a fan of the spicy variety, which isn’t scorching hot. I like that, since I want to taste the dark crusted meat that Bill and his crew have worked so hard to turn out of the pits.

The ribs at The Brick Pit are indeed sublime, but please do not miss out on their pulled pork platter. It has long been my favorite call here. The portions are substantial and the meat lean & delicious. Many other BBQ joints around the South are now taking shortcuts to save time and money. Times are hard and desperate measures are sometimes resorted too. Not at The Brick Pit. Bill Armbrecht would surely close his doors before he would allow that to happen. Too much pride. Too much respect for his customers. The day may one day come when Bill again dusts off his Captain’s hat. Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen anytime soon. When it does, West Mobile will be a much sadder (if less smokey) place.

THE BRICK PIT BBQ – 5456 OLD SHELL ROAD, MOBILE, AL

WWW.BRICKPIT.COM – 251 343-0001

Willie Nile’s “The Innocent Ones” is a Rare Rock ‘n Roll Treat

7 Oct

Willie Nile is another one of those artists who deserves a larger audience. Petty, Springsteen, Dylan, The Clash, Buddy Holly — the spirit and energy of all of these iconic artists can be heard in the music of Willie Nile. But his style is ultimately all his own. Nile has always surrounded himself with great players. And many of the greats frequently sing Willie’s praises. I do too. There is truly not a weak link in this entirely new 11-song collection. The opening track (“Singin’ Bell”) is a cracking, sing-along anthem, which is followed up by perhaps the CD’s best track, “One Guitar.” It reminds me a bit of Lloyd Cole & The Commotions. Remember them?

“Hear You Breathe” is a straight-ahead rocker complete with staccato guitar flourishes and plenty of ringing Byrds-like jangle. “Song for You” slows the tempo with a Dylan-esque vocal passionately delivered over sparse piano. It eventually builds into another strong arena anthem, so raise those Bic lighters high. You can almost hear the ghost of Buddy Holly in the sweet innocence of “My Little Girl.” “Topless Amateur” follows with the wild abandon of vintage Springsteen or Mellencamp.  “Rich and Broken” again features echoes of a certain Mr. Robert Zimmerman. You can detect the pub rock influences of bands like The Waterboys in this number too. Very cool track.

“Can’t Stay Home” has a punk edge with a distinctly Brit Pop bounce. “Sideways Beautiful” is indeed a gorgeous effort and “Far Green Hills” ends the CD on a shimmering high point. Terrific guitar work on this one. The vocals have a Tom Petty wistfulness to them. It’s a fine way to wrap up a wonderful effort from the talented Mr. Nile. I hope Willie’s got more in the tank because this is some high octane stuff that needs to be heard, enjoyed and savored.

WILLIE NILE’S THE INNOCENT ONES
TO FINALLY SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY IN THE U.S.

The album, widely acclaimed in Europe, was co-produced by Nile, collaborator Frankie Lee, noted producer Stewart Lerman and Eagles/Rosanne Cash guitarist Steuart Smith.

NEW YORK, N.Y. — “This is as good a record as I’ve ever made,” Willie Nile says of his new release The Innocent Ones. That’s saying a lot, considering the amount of indispensable music that the tenacious New Yorker has produced over his long and eventful career. The CD, which long eluded the American market except as an import and the odd merch table, has a U.S. brick-and-mortar street date of November 22, 2011.

In that time, Nile has survived life as a Next Big Thing, walked away from the major-label world twice, and reinvented himself as a scrappy DIY artist. Along the way, he’s built a deeply impressive body of recordings, earned the loyalty of a devoted worldwide fan base, and amassed an extensive backlog of effusive critical acclaim.

Willie Nile is both a songwriter’s songwriter and an impassioned performer whose stirring, personally charged rock ’n’ roll marks him as a true believer. His compositions are as impassioned as they are infectious, and he performs them with a fervor that matches their melodic craft and lyrical insight.

The ranks of Willie Nile’s fans include Bruce Springsteen, who has invited him to perform with the E Street Band on multiple occasions, including a pair of historic shows at New York’s Shea Stadium and Giant Stadium, and Pete Townshend, who personally requested him as the opening act on The Who’s 1980 U.S. tour. Other avowed Nile admirers include Bono, Lou Reed, Graham Parker, Ian Hunter, Jim Jarmusch, Adam Duritz, Little Steven and Lucinda Williams, who once remarked, “Willie Nile is a great artist. If there was any justice in this world, I’d be opening up for him instead of him for me.”

The Innocent Ones decisively demonstrates that, more than 30 years into his recording career, Willie Nile is at the top of his game, making music that’s as powerful as anything in his esteemed catalog. The album, recorded in New York and Hoboken with such longtime cohorts as songwriting collaborator Frankie Lee, noted producer Stewart Lerman and Eagles/Rosanne Cash guitarist Steuart Smith, has already won considerable praise from critics and fans overseas, where BBC Radio Scotland recently named it Album of the Week, calling it “stunning . . . THE rock ’n’ roll album of 2011!,” and JAM magazine proclaimed it to be “full of timeless songs . . . passionate . . . romantic . . . stupendous,” and called Nile “one of the best American singer-songwriters of our time.”

Those raves are borne out on such new tunes as “Singin’ Bell,” a bracing anthem that the artist describes as an effort to filter the populist sentiment of Pete Seeger through the in-your-face sensibility of the Ramones, and the album’s moving title track, on which Nile draws upon some harsh truths to create an uplifting rock anthem.

“This album,” he says, “includes a number of songs dedicated to the downtrodden, the forgotten, the outcasts, the hopeless — the innocent ones. It deals with some heavy issues here and there, but at the same time I think it’s an upbeat, feel-good record. I wanted it to be light on its feet and fun to listen to, and it’s all that.”

Another album track that holds particular significance for Nile is “One Guitar,” a moving ode to music’s ability to heal and inspire. “It’s about what one guitar and one voice can do to help change the world,” the artist asserts. The response that the song has already received from audiences, critics and fellow artists has inspired Nile to create the One Guitar Campaign (oneguitar.org), a collaborative charitable initiative. The One Guitar Campaign encourages other artists to record their own rendition of the song, with the various versions being sold as downloads on iTunes, and the net profits donated to a variety of worthy charitable causes.

His passionate belief in the power of music has been a cornerstone of Nile’s life since his childhood. Born into a large Irish Catholic family in Buffalo, NY, he began playing piano at the age of eight, and within a few years had begun writing his own songs. After graduating from the University at Buffalo with a B.A. in Philosophy, he moved to Greenwich Village. He was initially sidelined in New York by bouts with pneumonia and mono, which put him out of commission for a couple years. While recuperating, he concentrated on honing his songwriting skills.

After recovering, Nile became a popular fixture in the Village’s folk clubs, while drawing energy from the emerging downtown punk scene. An extended residency at the Bleecker Street club Kenny’s Castaways led to a high-profile piece by legendary New York Times critic Robert Palmer, who called Nile “an exceptional talent” and “one of the best singer-songwriters to emerge from the New York scene in a long time.”

The Times piece led to a record deal with Arista Records, for which Nile  recorded a pair of albums, Willie Nile and Golden Down, released in 1980 and 1981, respectively. Those albums won a sizable audience and established Nile as a major talent, with one critic calling his debut effort “one of the most thrilling post-Byrds folk-rock albums of all time.” But his career momentum took a dive when legal disputes with his label caused him to walk away from the music business, beginning a recording hiatus that lasted nearly a decade.

Although he continued to write, Nile maintained his distance from the spotlight until 1991, when he reemerged with a new deal with Columbia Records and a new album, Places I Have Never Been. That album, which featured guest appearances by Roger McGuinn, Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III, restored Nile to prominence with fans and critics. The following year, he went the independent route with the four-song EP Hard Times in America. 1997 saw the release of Willie Nile — Archive Alive, which documented a 1980 performance in New York’s Central Park. In 1998, Nile lent his unmistakable voice to the all-star concept album Largo, alongside the likes of Levon Helm, Carole King, Cyndi Lauper and Taj Mahal.

In 1999, Nile released Beautiful Wreck of the World, which launched an exciting new chapter in his career, one in which he’s embraced independent status to create and distribute his music on his own terms. His new approach yielded substantial results, with the disc chosen as one of the year’s Top Ten Albums by critics at Billboard, The Village Voice and Stereo Review. By that point, Nile had substantially stepped up his touring activities in Europe, where he’s built a large and enthusiastic following in several countries.

2005’s Streets of New York, acclaimed by many longtime fans as his most potent work to date, ushered in the busiest and most productive period of Nile’s long career. Graham Parker called the disc “a real gem . . . Stirring melodies, passionate vocals, intriguing lyrics — every track a winner,” and Lucinda Williams was moved to note, “If there was any justice in this world, I’d be opening up for him instead of him for me.” The CD Live From the Turning Point and the DVD Live From the Streets of New York followed in 2007 and 2008, respectively. His widely celebrated collection of new songs in 2009, House of a Thousand Guitars, inspired UNCUT to liken him to a “one-man Clash,” and Power Pop to rave, “The title song references Hendrix, Dylan, The Stones, Lennon, and John Lee Hooker, and manages the incredible feat of living up the best of every one of them!”

That ongoing burst of creative momentum continues with The Innocent Ones, which makes it clear that, after more than three decades of music-making, Willie Nile remains as much of a believer as ever. “There have been some tough times, but overall I think that taking the long road has been a good thing,” he reflects. “The same fire and passion that I felt when I first came to New York City still burns as bright, and maybe even brighter, now.” I love what I do. I’m writing all the time and still have ideas coming out of my ears. It feels like I’m just getting started, and I look forward to the days ahead and the adventures to come.”

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Make The Old 27 Grill Your New Friend in Fairhope

1 Oct

The Old 27 Grill can be found on Alabama State Route 181 (once known as County Road 27) just south of Wal-Mart. It’s somewhat off the beaten path, although this part of Baldwin County is growing more bustling by the day. The local residents are a mix of farmers (cotton, corn, pecans, etc.) and Mobile-based professionals seeking a little more elbow room & greenery.  

The front facade of the restaurant looks relatively new, but the overall vibe is retro general store. As a matter of fact, the word GROCERY actually appears on the sign which tops the eatery’s entry. I was in the vicinity one weekday (late morning) and decided to drop in for an early lunch. Cool looking little joint, I thought. And the reports I had been receiving about the food quality were pretty encouraging. Spotting motorcycles parked out front is another positive indicator. I must add that the American flag flying to the right of the main doorway is a nice touch too.

The patio courtyard at the Old 27 is inviting, for sure. But it was a steamy day in late September and most diners had opted for indoor seating. I joined them inside. The surroundings were clean and appropriately appointed. My glass-topped table had a decidedly Ducks Unlimited theme. Picking up the menu, I was immediately impressed with the variety of choices for such a tiny kitchen.

Hot Dogs & Sausage Dogs are principal players at The Old 27 Grill. The dogs are all beef and offered in your choice of 7″ or 10″. Beyond that, the possibilities are pretty endless. 27 toppings, yes 27, in all. Figures, right? All the basics are here, along with more quirky condiments such as “Comeback” sauce, Green Chili sauce, and that omnipresent Sriracha red chili sauce. The first dozen topping options are free. Others require an additional modest financial commitment.  I also couldn’t help noticing the ambitious list of beverage options. Abita Root Beer, Vernor’s Ginger Ale, Stewart’s Cream Soda, Yuengling, Lazy Magnolia & Abita Beers, and a better than average wine list (bottle prices range from $12-$16). The Old 27 also sells local honey and a variety of their bottled sauces. I guess that is where the GROCERY comes in, huh? 

Beyond weenies, there are several appealing sandwich choices at lunchtime. The burgers are popular, yet I decided to go with Comeback Chicken Sandwich. Marinated chicken breast, bacon, Swiss cheese, crisp lettuce, thinly sliced red onion, and a heaping dollop of Old 27’s signature Comeback sauce. Comeback sauce is a prevalent condiment in the Mississippi Delta. You might say it’s the Magnolia State’s answer to Louisiana’s remoulade. Take some mayo, add some red chili sauce, mix well. That will give you the general idea. Each sauce is slightly different to the next — everyone introducing their own spin or secret ingredient to the party.   

This Comeback Chicken Sandwich (seen below) is elevated by a fresh brioche-style bun at Old 27 Grill. The sandwich was tasty (how could it not be?). My lunch basket was rounded out with a generous helping of Old 27’s housemade potato chips. You can upgrade to fries or onion rings for a slight upcharge, but sticking with the standard option was not a misstep. The chips were great and I was soon a member of the clean plate (or should I say basket?) club.

A closer look at the Comeback Chicken Sandwich at Old 27 Grill

The housemade chips at Old 27 were large, crunchy & delicious

I must say I was tempted by the dessert menu at Old 27. Not that I was still hungry. The sandwich and chips, along with a tall glass of iced tea, had made for a quite satisfying mid-day meal. Brownies, crepes, and soft serve ice cream all make for excellent post-entree selections. I was drawn to the Strawberry Crepe, but that will have to wait for another visit. This first trip to the Old 27 Grill was, in my mind, a success. Sure, my tea was a little weak for my taste. But if that is your biggest gripe, then you are likely doing pretty darn well. The service, I should add, was friendly & swift. The atmosphere homey & welcoming. The overall attention to detail impressive. Looks like I have found a new dining partner in the Old 27 Grill.  

OLD 27 GROCERY & GRILL – 19992 Highway 181, Fairhope, AL

(251) 281-2663; www.old27grill.com

Open Tuesday-Saturday 9 am – 9:30 pm; Sundays 11 am – 8 pm