Archive by Author

Gas Station Chicken Wars Break Out in North Mississippi

4 Jul

Lindsey's Chicken Salad

Lindsey’s Chevron station on North Lamar in Oxford, MS does sell gasoline. Yet they are far more famous for their chicken salad. You heard me right — chicken salad! And you know what? It’s pretty darn good. Not sure exactly what the recipe might be. I can tell you there is lots of shredded white meat, a good bit of mayo, some finely chopped celery … and perhaps a little relish??? Lindsey’s chicken salad has become a staple in our house. Truly a welcome relief from trying to make it yourself (never an easy task).

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This is just one of several popular food items sold by gas stations in our immediate area. The James Food Center (seen above) on Jackson Avenue sells a fine chicken salad and homemade pimento cheese. Both have their own loyal local following. The 4 Corners Chevron (intersection of South Lamar & University) is best known for their nearly world famous Chicken on a Stick.

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Chicken on a Stick is $3 well spent. This explains its popularity with college students and hungover SEC football fans alike. Add a roll and 2 potato logs and that constitutes a “snack” — and an extra buck out of your wallet.

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All said, this is another thing we love about touring the Deep South. Gas stations aren’t just for gas, chips, and soda anymore. Unique, gourmet quality regional fare can be found and savored. That’s what the term “local flavor” is all about. At least here in Dixie.

Pimento Cheeseburger at The Lamar Lounge – Oxford, MS

4 Jul

This burger, without question, is one of my favorite dishes in North Mississippi. We have lived in Oxford going on 3 years now, but it took us a while to find this gem of a bar/restaurant. The Lamar Lounge is a part of John Currence’s Oxford Culinary Empire. At last count, Currence operated 5 eateries in this little town of about 25,000.

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As the logo suggests, the Lounge is a bit pig-centric. Yet the burgers are what keep me coming back for more. Especially so if you slather house made pimento cheese all over the perfectly cooked beef. Pimento cheese has long been a Southern delicacy and a treasured condiment for Dixie Diners in the know. In our opinion, nothing beats fresh, scratch made pimento cheese. Many varieties exist — and finding some in your local grocery store has become increasingly easier.

Lamar Lounge Pimento Burger Good

Basic ingredients are a good sharp cheddar, some quality mayo (we like Duke’s), and chopped up nuggets of pimento (mild red pepper). Some even add jalapeno for an extra kick. Palmetto brand pimento cheese out of the SC Lowcountry makes a delicious jalapeno blend. Look for it in Kroger or WalMart stores across the South.

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When driving down North Lamar, look for the red neon BAR sign. It is your beacon for good food and drink. Service is casual and very laid back in a hipster sort of way. Live music is performed on many nights. They even show a movie from time to time. Go to their web site or give ’em a ring for more details on that.

Lamar Interior

The interior is a bit dark — those seeking more Vitamin D can ask to be seated outback in their open air patio. That space is illuminated with Napa style patio lights. It also provides a scenic view (and a sniff) of their whole hog pig smoking operation. Yes, they cook whole hog here — a real rarity here in the Magnolia State. Deer antlers and other wild game adorn the interior walls. The bar, a tourist attraction on its own, once belonged to Eddie Fisher, star of stage and screen. Fisher, most famously the husband of starlet Liz Taylor, had his initials carved into the rich mahogany.

This is more of a locals dive when compared to other Oxford dining institutions. But this local suggests you drop by and enjoy a burger, some terrific seasoned fries, a cold Yalobusha brew, and some Hollywood history — right here in the heart of Mississippi Hill Country.

***Bonus Tip — the collard greens are tasty too!

The Best Biscuits In Oxford, Mississippi

3 Jul

Embers crew

Oxford, Mississippi is a beautiful little college town. A very Southern town. And a foodie town. For a town of its size, Oxford has lots of interesting dining choices. Especially if you enjoy deep fried, bacon laced downhome cuisine. You’d think that great home-style biscuits would be as prevalent as Hotty Toddy t-shirts on Ole Miss co-eds. Well, that is not exactly the case.

Popeye’s makes a solid biscuit, but you can find Popeye’s pretty much all over the USA. John Currence’s Big Bad Breakfast makes scratch biscuits, yet I wouldn’t say they are exactly the star of the show. In our opinion, Oxford’s best biscuits are served by Ember’s Biscuits and BBQ on University Avenue. They are, in short, sublime little belly bombs. And they can be ordered with a variety of tasty fillings. Everything from stalwarts like bacon and sausage to double smoked ham (delicious) and a basil-flecked goat cheese and egg omelette. Wowza!

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They even serve a fine pulled pork BBQ sandwich and a serviceable sweet tea to boot. The restaurant is the brainchild of the same gent who started the McAlister’s and Newk’s franchise juggernauts. Ember’s opened with little fanfare but has garnered a loyal following over the past two years. So much so that they are opening a 2nd Oxford location (West Jackson Avenue) in August of 2015.

A name change is also in the works. However, you can bet the biscuit recipe will remain the same. It had better.

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Where’s Dixie Dining?

3 Apr

We’ve had a grand time, these past few months, eating our way around the Magnolia State of Mississippi.  Travel, eat, travel, eat.  Tough life, huh? We haven’t had much time to write about everything, but we’re putting together a great series of articles chronicling our trips with recommendations of some serious grub and cool things to do and see.  

Meanwhile, be sure to LIKE both me and the Dixie Dining Facebook page for up-to-date, on-the-spot knowledge of what’s happening in Dixieland.

Versailles Cuban Cuisine Stands Tall in Miami’s Little Havana

21 Apr

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A visit to Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood is like a trip outside the USA. The sights, the smells, the accents — you’ll feel like you’ve really journeyed to Cuba. For many of us, it will be the closest we ever get to the real deal. We only had a few brief hours to explore this go around, so it was something of a whirlwind tour, for certain.

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We rarely come to this part of the world without stopping for a meal at Versailles Cuban Cuisine. If not the best, it is surely the most popular and well known eatery in Little Havana. The food is consistently good and the prices always fair. It always seems to be a proper mix of tourists and locals. And if the locals are consistently eating here in large numbers, then you know they are doing something right.

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Lots of locals make Versailles a regular stop — even if it’s just to grab a jolt of strong Cuban coffee or a flaky pastry from Versailles always-busy bakery. This place is a bit of a compound. A cottage industry, one might even say. There is a walk up window to accomodate patrons on the go and it appears to be a never ending flow of humanity. Boston may run on Dunkin … but Miami runs on these tiny, shot glass-size shots of dark coffee loaded with more sugar than a box of Dunkin Donuts. Yes, you could say this is an acquired taste. I whoofed it down and immediately felt the combination caffeine/sugar buzz. Eileen didn’t care for it and I, not wanting to waste a drop, knocked hers back as well. My day was now in full tilt mode.

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Cafe Con Leche and Conversation — morning in Little Havana

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“The World’s Most Famous Cuban Restaurant” — enough said.

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Check out the ornate mirrored walls in Versaille’s rear dining area

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The Versailles’ traditional Cuban sandwich is my go-to lunch order

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Save room for some Tres Leche Cake — it’s moist and sinfully good

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If you love coconut, give these sugar bombs (aka “Coquitos”) a try

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Playing dominoes to pass the day is a Cuban (and Miami) passion

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The art of making a hand-rolled stogie is alive and kickin’ in Miami

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The Breakwater – one of South Beach’s fabulous art deco palaces

Do not miss Versailles Cuban Cuisine. But more importantly, don’t miss Miami’s Little Havana. It is a cultural gem that showcases Florida’s diversity and strong connection to Latin America. One day I will get to the real Havana. That day is coming soon. But until then, this will have to do. My son told me he felt like we were in a totally different country. “That’s the whole point, Travis,” I replied. “That is the whole point.”

Versailles Cuban Cuisine – 3555 SW 8th Street, Miami, FL 33135

www.versaillesrestaurant.com; (305) 444-0240

Fat Kahuna’s Beachside Grille Brings Hawaii’s Aloha Spirit to Cocoa Beach, Florida

21 Apr

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What do you think of when you think of Cocoa Beach? Most folks from my generation think of the classic TV show “I Dream of Jeannie,” which was set in this coastal Florida community. Major Anthony Nelson (played by Larry Hagman) was in the Air Force and I’m sure most of you know that Cape Canaveral is in the vicinity. I attended nearby Brevard Community College for one year, so I do have some working knowledge of the area. However, I must admit that my JuCo years were many moons ago. Areas can change a lot over 30 some odd years and the Melbourne-Cocoa Beach area is no different.  This region has long been popular with Spring Breakers and we happened to be returning during the annual Spring Break for many of our nation’s universities.

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We had planned on hitting The Pompano Grill, but it (as we found out) is only open for dinner. We encountered a very cool looking surfer joint called The Green Room. I was ready to eat there … until we eyeballed the menu. It featured a variety of health food smoothies, salads, and wraps — strictly vegan fare. That would have been fine for me and my wife, but we were also in the company of our two ravenous teenage boys. I asked a local for dining suggestions and she pointed us to a somewhat traditional seafood mecca overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I’m sure it would have been OK. Yet I was not seeking OK — I was seeking something fresh and out of the ordinary. It was then that we spotted Fat Kahuna’s.

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Fat Kahuna’s is actually sort of small — and brightly colored. The outside looked suitably beachy and the name was intruiging. A peek inside only made me more curious. It was a very hip little beach bar with ceiling fans spinning above and the sounds of Hawaiian music filling the room.

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Just take a gander at the interior (shown above). Pretty inviting, huh? My wife and I had just returned from a Hawaiian vacation a few short months earlier, so the surroundings felt familiar — and appealing. The upbeat hostess/waitress welcomed us with a big smile and led us to our table, which happened to be adorned with a cheerful orchid. The aloha vibe was clearly alive and well here. But I was now a bit baffled. How did this place even exist with little or no presense on the internet? Well, it turns out that Fat Kahuna’s had been open less than a year. The hostess explained that early reviews had been quite positive, although the place was still something of a well-kept secret. My goal is to make sure that this secret doesn’t continue on much longer. Their chef attended Johnson and Wales and the owners have spent a considerable amount of time in Hawaii. How’s that for a winning combo?

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A “Surfer Crossing” sign seems perfectly at home here

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A basket of tortilla chips with bean dip and a Big Wave Golden Ale

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The restaurant’s island-inspired decor was breezy and tasteful

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OK — so the atmosphere was nice and the people were friendly and the beer was cold. What about the food, you ask? Well, I am happy to report that it was fine as well. I ordered the fish taco plate with black beans, salsa, and coconut rice. The tacos were of the soft corn tortilla variety. The fish was mahi mahi — flaky, blackened mahi mahi, to be more precise. Everything was fresh and tasty. I became so relaxed and caught up in the Hawaiian vibe that I even ordered a second beer (they serve my current favorite, Kona’s BIG WAVE GOLDEN ALE). This is something I rarely do at lunchtime,  but, hey, I was on vacation, doggone it. Give me a break, will ya?

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Lesson to be learned here? Beach communities offer lots of dining choices. Many are good, many not so good. Most cater to tourists and the widest possible audience. Wait. Did I mean widest or widest? Yes … my answer will be YES. Too often fried seafood rules the day. Don’t get me wrong — I dig fried fish, oysters, and shrimp as much as the next guy. It’s easy to fall into that rut and never climb back out. Eating fresh does not mean having to sacrifice on flavor. Fat Kahuna’s is a perfect example of that. Beach views, fresh flavorful food with a Hawaiian Island flair — what exactly is not to like? Eat here now. You can say “MAHALO” later.

Trust me, friends.

At Fat Kahuna’s, you’ll ride a wave of deliciousness … with no fears of a wipeout.

Fat Kahuna’s – 8 Minutemen Causeway, Cocoa Beach, FL 32931

http://www.facebook.com/FatKahunasGrillBar; (321) 783-6858

Bama Brisket??? Thanks to Meat Boss, These Words Can Now Actually Co-Exist

16 Apr

MB sign

Meat Boss has only been open for a few short months. But they have already created quite a stir in a town that prides itself in knowing a thing or two about good BBQ. The Brick Pit has a very large following. The Shed can make a similar claim. And Moe’s Original BBQ has recently opened a location in downtown Mobile. Then there’s Dick Russell’s — and Big Al’s — and Tilmo’s — and Ossie’s — and … well, I think you get my drift. So is there room for another pitmaster to stake his claim? If you’ve already had the good fortune of dining with the Meat Boss (aka Benny Chinnis), you know the answer to this pressing question is a resounding SIR,YES, SIR!!!

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This is where the small batch BBQ magic happens at Meat Boss

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Yes, they use real wood! That alone sets them apart from many

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The quarters can be cramped, but the wait is certainly worth it

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This sign at Meat Boss is only lighted three smokey days a week

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These are good, God-fearing folks. Witness the chalkboard above

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Testimonials are pouring in from Leroy, Alabama – and beyond!

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Order lunch for one or carry out a feast and make some friends

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Now this is my kind of brown bagging!!!

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OK, let’s talk a little bit about the chow. The one thing that really separates Meat Boss from the local competition is their brisket. Beef brisket — especially the chopped or pulled variety (see above) — can be hard to find outside of the Lone Star State of Texas. Meat Boss does it right. I have lived in Texas and have eaten my share of brisket (good and bad). This is the good stuff. Smokey, lean and satisfying. And a lot more affordable than a plane ticket to Austin or Dallas. Several sauce options are available. I selected the sweet and spicy version for this first visit. It was an inspired choice — and certainly made more sense than the vinegar-based options. All the sauces are made right here and the TLC was clearly evident in every drop.

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Another sure sign of a quality BBQ joint are sides made with pride and joy. That is the case at Meat Boss. Case in point being their baked beans, their “sweet” bread, and the hand-crafted Jalapeno jelly. The beans are not just dumped out of a can. They are made with care and contain meaty strands of charred pork. The jelly is divine — a just right blend of sweet and heat. And don’t be afraid of my sweet bread description. I am not referring to the dreaded organ meat. I am talking bread here. Kind of a cross of Texas toast and King’s Hawaiian bread. Really good — more so if smeared with the aforementioned jelly.

All in all, Meat Boss is a welcome addition to the Mobile BBQ scene. Everyone has their niche and it appears that there is plenty of room for a new kid in town. But this is no kid. This dude is large and in charge. He is the Meat Boss and he is currently your best bet for Texas quality beef brisket this side of the Big Muddy.

Meat Boss – 5401 Cottage Hill Road, Suite D, Mobile, AL 36609

(251) 591-4842; www.meatboss.com

The Floridian Brings Fresh New Ideas to Old Town St. Augustine, Florida

16 Apr

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On our return trip from Palm Beach, we decided to take an alternate eastern route and spend the night in the historic city of St. Augustine. It had been decades since my last visit, so it all seemed new again to me. St. Augustine remains a striking town with equal parts Savannah, Mobile, and Charleston. Southern, check. Close to the water, check. Chock full of history and stunning architecture, check. What perhaps sets it apart a bit is the distinctive Floridian vibe. Palm trees and Spanish tile everywhere. And that, my friends, is where The Floridian comes in.

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The Floridian’s delivery bike — spic and span and ready for action

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The hours are kind of complicated — the concept is not

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Classic Old Florida kitsch can be viewed & enjoyed throughout

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They do tasty sweets here too — this one nutty and delicious

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This Gator painting was lurking over my shoulder all evening long

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Great, fresh menu — I opted for the unique Florida Sunshine Salad

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Drinks are served up in an old-fashioned yet timeless Ball Mason jar

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The Dining Room is a combo of soft pastels and fish camp ambiance

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The bar is cool – and diners must visit if you choose to imbibe

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The Floridian’s thrift store sensibility is charming, for sure

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Few details are overlooked here. Even the floor looks terrific!

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 I started my meal by ordering the Grit Cakes. This take was especially unique thanks to the inclusion of a spicy chili-cumin aioli and a seasonal salsa highlighted by small cubes of roasted sweet potato. A Wainwright Cheddar is also employed, giving the appetizer a true diversity of flavors and textures. There was a lot going on here, but it all managed to work just fine.

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My son’s po-boy with fresh Pork Sausage and Fried Green Tomatoes

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Behold (above) the Florida Sunshine Salad. It is a feast for the eyes and the belly. Look at those vibrant colors! Look at those plump Florida shrimp! Look at those BEETS!!! Hey, how often do diners actually get fired up about beets? Not very often, I can tell ya that. But you know what? They are the star of the show in this daring dish. If your only experience with beets involved a glass jar, I strongly suggest you reintroduce yourself to fresh beets. There is a BIG difference. Great texture with natural flavor that is often diminished during the normal pickling process. Fresh Plant City (FL) strawberries are also invited to the party, as are large chunks of blue cheese from Thomasville, Georgia’s Sweet Grass Dairy.

The inventive cuisine served at The Floridian is Southern-inspired … to a degree. More importantly, they are using farm fresh ingredients that spotlight the best natural bounty that the Sunshine State has to offer. The atmosphere is winning and the staff hip and helpful. If you’re looking for touristy, this ain’t your place.  

It’s not exactly vegan, but it’s close.

And it’s a smart choice for those ready to take a step beyond fried seafood.

So come tour The Floridian — where fresh flavors coming shining through.

Consider it a vacation for your palate.

The Floridian – 39 Cordova Street, St. Augustine, FL

(904) 829-0655; www.thefloridianstaug.com

The Hyppo Gourmet Popsicles Keeps Things Cool in Historic St. Augustine, FL

14 Apr

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Look for this sign (above) when touring historic St. Augustine, Florida. It should prove to be especially welcoming on a hot summer’s day. But don’t let the season of the year or weather dictate your decision to stop in at The Hyppo Gourmet Pops. Anytime is right for these delicious and surprisingly heathful frozen treats. The name Hyppo is obviously a play on the name of the street (Hypolito Street) on which the flagship shop (opened in 2010) is located.  

We dropped in this last March — following a tasty dinner at a nearby restaurant called The Floridian (more on that in a later post). It had been a particularly busy Saturday at The Hyppo. The young man working the counter proudly informed me that more than 500 pops had been sold that day. It helped that it was Easter weekend — and Spring Break — and in the midst of St. Augustine’s 500th anniversary celebration. But don’t be fooled … this joint is always pretty, well, POPular. (INSERT GROAN HERE)

I ordered a coconut popsicle dipped in dark chocolate and I did not regret my decision. My only regret was that we did not have more time to stick around and experiment just a bit more. Eccentric flavor marriages such as Watermelon Elvis, Honeydew Avocado, and Cream Cucumber Lemon sound tempting, to say the least. They may sound like shotgun weddings to you, but I assure you these tastes do somehow live happily ever after.

So many pops, so little time. But don’t worry … we’ll be back.

Drop by The Hyppo sometime and let us know what you think.

We think the folks at Hyppo are very cool, indeed! 

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Pop Art? A very cool wall hanging (above) at Hyppo Gourmet Pops.

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Only the freshest fruit is used — like Plant City (FL) Strawberries!

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This dreamy mural (seen above) adds to the shop’s whimsical feel.

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This simple process (shown above) produces delicious results.

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Ingredients like Mamey & Jackfruit can make choices tough.

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An intriguing flavor combination … and very appealing to me.

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What is DATIL, you ask? Well, the Datil is a pepper that produces a good deal of heat to the palate. It is especially popular in and around St. Augustine. In fact, the city hosts the annual Datil Pepper Festival each October. It is billed as “The Hottest Festival in Florida.”

The Hyppo Gourmet Pops – 15 Hypolito Street, St Augustine, FL 32084

(904) 217-7853; www.thehyppo.com

The Zombies’ Biloxi Performance Produces Magical Moments

10 Mar

Zombies

“The Zombies Live” — a bit of an oxymoron, right? Or maybe a title of an upcoming horror film? I’ll tell you what I call it: A damn good time! These guys (leaders Rod Argent and Colin Blunstone, by name) have been at it since 1961. Their first charting hit came along in 1964.  And you know what? They still sound great. Sure the lads have aged a bit. And maybe picked up a pound or two since the dashing portrait above was snapped. Some called them nerdy — some called them art school geeks — I have always dug them. They were always thinking a step ahead of their musical peers and that did not always translate into commercial success.

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The Hard Rock Casino – Biloxi is where it all went down

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Our tickets to this Thursday night Zombies show at the Hard Rock Casino were just $25 each plus tax — and the seats were superb. Probably about 10 rows back and just a tad left of center stage. I didn’t really want to be much closer. At the risk of sounding like an old fart, it can get a little loud up there sometimes.

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The average Joe might be hard pressed to name a single song by The Zombies. Time of the Season could come to mind … as it should. That recording, in my world, ranks right up there with The Beatles best work. The casual music fan of a certain vintage probably remembers tracks like Tell Her No and She’s Not There — and most likely Argent’s big solo smash Hold Your Head Up. The more hardcore vinyl junkie like your’s truly can go much deeper into The Zombies’ highly underappreciated catalog. I, for one, would be hard pressed to stop at 20 or so songs. They were indeed that special. Especially when further incorporating Rod’s time with Argent and vocalist Colin Blunstone’s solo recordings (check out his breathy Caroline Goodbye for starters) and stellar session work with the Alan Parsons Project (see Old and Wise for beginners).    

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The view from our seats (above) at Hard Rock – a steal at $25 + tax

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A signed CD was my souvenir for the evening

The Zombies masterpiece (often discussed in the same hushed tones as Sgt. Pepper’s, Pet Sounds, and Love’s Forever Changes) is their Odessey and Oracle album. It may have only included one chart hit (the soaring Time of the Season) but it is laden with innovative, quirky, and ultimately unforgettable tunes. The themes can be somber (A Rose for Emily) and downright bizarre (Care of Cell 44). This is an album that grows on you — and then stays with you forever. I can’t recommend it enough if you consider yourself a fan of The Beatles, Beach Boys, Moody Blues, The Kinks, or Pink Floyd. I’m pretty sure you will enjoy it. Critics rave about it and it is often cited as one of the Top 100 LPs of all time. Rolling Stone ranked it #80 in their Top 500. How ’bout them apples???

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If you ever get a chance to see The Zombies in concert, don’t miss them. Rod and Colin work incredible magic together. Argent can still bang on the keyboards like nobody’s business and Blunstone remains, to my ear, one of rock’s great voices. They play a great mix of the old and the new — and both founding members get plenty of time to bask in the spotlight. When they broke into Time of the Season (easily one of my all-time favorite songs), my wife Eileen and I were grinning from ear to ear. By the time the song reached its crescendo, I could have sworn our feet were floating about a foot or two off the ground. It was the same magical feeling I experienced when I first heard Booker T and the MGs perform Green Onions in person. Or the time I saw Tony Joe White singing Polk Salad Annie. Or the time I experienced the great Roy Orbison bring the crowd to its collective feet with a live take on Running Scared. It was indeed one for the ages.

Thank you, Rod and Colin. LONG LIVE THE ZOMBIES!!!

And just in case you boys ever wonder if all the bad meals, hotels, and travel are worth it, it is. Trust me … it really is.

You are making the world a brighter, more joyful place.

And what could be more rewarding than that?