Tag Archives: Collard Greens

Annie Mae Turnes Justice, the primary inspiration behind DixieDining.com, dies at age 101

26 Aug

“Living a century on Earth is pretty remarkable — even in this modern age of medical miracles. But Annie Mae was a truly remarkable lady in many ways. I may be more than a little biased, but I believe this with all my heart. Many people today measure a successful life in terms of fame and fortune. Sad, but true. I can honestly say that Annie Mae never got caught up in any of that. She lived a simple, graceful life — and always seemed more than content with life’s simpler pleasures. In her long lifetime, she rarely left her home state of Virginia. Here favorite place to be was at home — surrounded by her friends and family. She first worked at Tubize Artificial Silk Company and, later, along with her husband Phillip, ran Justice Grocery in Hopewell, VA. She preferred home cooked meals to ritzy restaurants. She loved farm markets and yard sales. She could cook up a mess of greens with the best of ‘em. Her crispy fried okra was an inspiration. Her red velvet cake and chess pie were other worldly. When I recently asked her to name her favorite food, she surprised me by saying: “Potatoes.” Think about it: “Potatoes!” Not steak. Not lobster. I think that says a lot. The woman lacked pretension of any kind.”

“Annie Mae was indeed a woman of simple needs and tastes. And she possessed the unique God-given gift of turning simple, everyday things into something rather exceptional. I always admired that trait in her. As she aged, the world around her became increasingly busy, materialistic, and complex. But Annie Mae chose to keep it simple. She never seemed to long for material things. Never appeared to worry about what she didn’t have. She was too busy being thankful for what she did have — and placing other people’s needs ahead of her own. Annie Mae was always a giver — not a taker. She was ever positive — rarely complaining. She gave enormous hugs — and had an unforgettable, infectious laugh. And she was always perfectly comfortable in her own skin. What a rare quality that is these days. I can only hope a little bit of that has rubbed off on me.”

“I recall visiting Annie Mae & Phillip during my college years. As soon as I pulled in their Petersburg driveway, Annie Mae was quickly out the door to the grocery store. She wanted to whip up something extra special. I told her that wouldn’t be necessary, but she wouldn’t hear it. So she was off in a flash. She backed her sedan out of the carport — and slammed right into the front of my car.  I was so mad at myself for not reminding her that my vehicle was parked there. Just hadn’t thought about it. Didn’t have time. And, of course, I was concerned that she might have hurt herself. But all she could talk about was how sorry SHE was — and how she still needed to get groceries. That story speaks volumes about Annie Mae’s outlook on life. It was NEVER about her — ALWAYS about someone else. But in living out her life in that fashion, she forged a lasting legacy of love that few can match.”

A picture of me & Granny – taken at her 100th birthday party 

“We were all so blessed to have had Annie Mae Turnes Justice in our lives. Her quiet, selfless, Christian way of moving through this world made a massive impression on me. We were separated my many miles in recent years, yet I always felt a special bond with that wonderful Southern lady I called “Granny Justice.” Or, sometimes, “Granny Mae.” She would often tell me: “You were always my boy.” It never failed to put a smile on my face. During our last family trip to visit Granny, we arrived at Imperial Plaza cradling white cardboard box lunches from Sally Bell’s Kitchen in Richmond, VA. And by Granny’s reaction, you would have thought we were toting jewel boxes. She made such a big fuss about how tasty everything was – and how nice it was to see us all. Her smile lit up the room. Meanwhile, our youngest son Travis was growing more anxious by the minute — stomping back and forth — constantly asking when we would be leaving. Eileen and I were so embarrassed. But Granny, true to form, was simply “tickled” and that uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment soon disappeared. She had worked her special magic once again.” 

“I know the final few months were very hard on her. A loss of independence and energy, no more cooking, bland hospital meals, a bad fall, and a broken hip. She slowly lost her healthy appetite for good food — and for life. She was ready to go. She said that more than once during our last phone conversation. The Lord knew this, sensed her pain, and promptly carried her to Glory. God, as she often reminded us, is SO good! In our time of sorrow, I take comfort in knowing that Granny is no longer suffering, she is in a far better place, she sees clearly, she walks without pain, and she is at last (after 26 long years) reunited with her beloved Phillip Hendry Justice. They have an awful lot of catching up to do. And lots fish to catch too. That was always their thing. Rest in Peace, my sweet Granny. I love you so much and feel blessed to have had you in my life for so many wonderful years. I will see you again on the other side — and I will be fully expecting one of your famous bear hugs.”

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar – Bon Secour, Alabama

18 Jun

The Tin Top Restaurant & Oyster Bar is something of an Alabama tradition (they also have a location in Tuscaloosa). It takes a while for tourists to find it. Even locals are often late in discovering its many delicious charms. This is due in part to the eatery’s remote location off Alabama State Highway 10 in the historic fishing village of Bon Secour, Alabama. The Tin Top does indeed have a tin roof — but it is not rusted (that’s a B-52’s reference, friends).

A wrecked shrimp boat along the shores of the Bon Secour Bay

It was a very hot, steamy Saturday, but the outdoor patio seemed like a comfortable place to drop anchor for a few minutes. Fans circled rapidly overhead. That helped prevent things from getting too stifling. We settled at a well ventilated table with a good view of the TV and the massive daily menu chalk board. So many choices — so little room in my belly. 

The “Coco Loco Shrimp” appetizer looked tempting and it did not disappoint. In fact, it disappeared so quickly that I couldn’t get a picture of the dish. You might call it the culinary equivalent to the Bigfoot monster. The “coco” is due to an obvious infusion of coconut milk/shredded coconut. The “loco’ is likely used to describe the subtle, but noticeable spicy kick the dish delivers. The shrimp are fat and mega-fresh. It was all bowl licking good — and I’m not exaggerating, folks.   

Tin Top serves a retro Iceberg salad with ranch or blue cheese

I wasted no time in ordering the Tuna Steak Po-Boy topped with freshly sliced cucumber and a Wasabi ranch dressing. I couldn’t believe how much fresh-caught tuna came with this sandwich. And they only charged me $8.99! Now Tin Top is not often heralded as an inexpensive restaurant, but this was truly an amazing value. Tasted great too. The tuna was not overcooked (still a little pink inside). The veggies were crisp and farm fresh. The bread (buttered and grilled before serving) was authentic as well — New Orleans-style!

A closer look at one incredible Tuna Steak Po-Boy sandwich – YUM! 

When ordering sides at Tin Top, please don’t overlook their famous lima beans and andouille sausage combo. It’s a match made in culinary heaven. Trust me  … it’s really tasty … even if you are not a fan of lima beans. This dish may just convert you.  Tin Top owners Bob and Patty Hallmark have spent a lot of time in New Orleans and those influences show up in many of the restaurant’s offerings (including this one).

The Tin Top does collard greens right too. First and foremost, they are fresh — not canned. Please don’t ever serve me canned greens at a restaurant. I can eat those at home — and I NEVER do. There’s a reason for that, people. Tin Top’s collards, on the other hand, were rough chopped & smoky with a tiny hint of sweetness. That is definitely more my style.

All told, a strong first visit to the Tin Top. 

They get the little things right — and don’t miss on the big things either.


Along the way back home to Fairhope, we took a brief detour for some homemade ice cream @ Joe’s Fabulicious in Foley. They are in a new roadside location this summer. But thankfully the quality and value remain sky high. I’d tried their homemade peach ice cream the weekend before and found it to be, well, fabulicious. Today I had a hankering for some old fashioned chocolate ice cream (sans cone).

Not sure about the Amish Maid, but the product speaks for itself

Joe’s Ice Cream in a cup — just $1.39 for one crazy good scoop!

Exploring Old Pensacola

15 Jun

I had several work stops in the Pensacola area on Monday and I had some time in between to semi-explore the city’s downtown. I spent most of that time in Pensacola’s Historic District. Old Town Pensacola is loaded with charm and is peppered with many quaint Creole-style cottages like the one shown above. It reminds me just a little bit of New Orleans’ French Quarter – minus the bars and crazy nightlife.

Jimmy Buffett’s new Margaritaville Beach Hotel on Pensacola Beach will open later this month. Their target date is June 28th and the construction, from what I could see, is coming right along. I learned today that Jimmy’s sister Lucy (aka “Lulu”) is going to be opening a second eatery inside the hotel property. Her first venture in nearby Gulf Shores, AL has been a smashing success. The food is decent and the cheerful island vibe is always uplifting.  

I took a break at lunchtime at The Pensacola Fish House (above). This waterfront compound was recommended to me by a friend and it turned out to be a pretty sound tip. My mid-day meal consisted of a blackened Red Snapper filet paired with smoked corn tartar sauce, Gouda grits, collard greens, and two hush puppies chased by a Tazo citrus-infused iced tea. The fresh fish was excellent and the accompanying dipping sauce was an ideal match. The chopped collards were good, but the hush puppies were mealy and, to be honest, nothing special. The Fish House is known for their cheese grits (their web address is www.goodgrits.com ) and I must admit they were quite tasty, if just a tad dry. The tea was very refreshing and missing the spoonfuls of sugar that are frequently dumped into most Southern brews.    

The atmosphere at the Pensacola Fish House was surely pleasant enough. Folksy coastal art could be seen on the restuarant’s rear deck. My spacious views of the waterfront were only partially ruined by the presence of oil retention booms just a stones throw from the docks.  

TV crews (local and national) were all over the beachfront the day I visited. The media-types are obviously out in full force, bracing for the worst. I couldn’t help but notice that protective booms were pretty much everywhere I could see water. Very sad. We can only hope and pray that BP’s mess doesn’t soil the beautiful white sand beaches of Pensacola and Destin.

As you can see from the booms visible above, the local authorities and area volunteer groups are doing what they can to prepare for the oil’s likely arrival. BP has established an outpost in Pensacola’s Historic District and the building surprisingly lacked the mega-security presence that exists at similar office fronts in Mobile, AL. That may change once the greasy stuff makes its way onshore.  

I spied a BP sign post in Pensacola’s Old Town —- pretty ominous, huh? I ask that you say a little prayer tonight for the people of the Gulf Coast and the beautiful wildlife that inhabits the region. This is a gorgeous part of our country and it sickens me to see this eco-tragedy continue to spread along our coastline.

We will continue to monitor the situation on the Panhandle — specifically from the foodie’s point of view. I hope my dining on local seafood in plain view of all the satellite trucks and retention booms will send a message to the entire Dixie Dining community. Don’t turn your back on the Gulf and its many delights – edible or otherwise. We need you more than ever right now.

Finding Martha’s Place

18 Apr

We all know that Martha Washington was our country’s original “First Lady.” But you should also know that Montgomery, Alabama’s Martha Hawkins is the South’s “First Lady of Soul Food.”  The only other lady who could possibly make lay claim to that title might be North Carolina’s Mildred “Mama Dip” Council. We’ve dined at both places and actually prefer the delicious downhome offerings at Martha’s.

Martha’s Place is located on Sayre Street in downtown Montgomery, where Hawkins has created something of a soul food empire. Over the last 20 some odd years, she has made a mighty name for herself among locals who have a deep appreciation for authentic home cooking. Each dish on Martha’s buffet line is created with great love and attention to detail. It all tastes fantastic — and it is truly good for your soul.

Martha also runs a thriving catering operation.

Pick up her book “Finding Martha’s Place” – a moving read!

Celebrities from all over the world have come home to Martha’s Place.

She is such a sweet lady — we enjoyed finally meeting her!

We enjoyed our lunch in this bright, cheerful setting.

We found an authentic Mose Tolliver folk art piece on the wall.  


My first trip thru the buffet line – fried bird, collards, butter beans, cornbread, and some amazing au gratin potatoes. Everything was simply fabulous. The chicken was crispy and flavorful on the outside while retaining its moisture on the inside. I only wish the plates (and my stomach) were bigger!

The perfect picture of pure plump poultry perfection.

The collards were just like Granny’s – the highest praise possible.

Words can’t describe the goodness of Martha’s pineapple bread pudding.

The restrooms are spotless & there is always a Bible within arm’s reach.

We found Martha’s to be a very special place. It is filled with love, nice people, and some of the best soul food you will ever put in your mouth. So what’s not to like about all that? Make sure you visit — and soon!


New York Times on Southern New Year’s Traditions

30 Dec

Nice piece — Happy New Year, y’all …

Black-eyed peas and ham hocks please Northerners, too.

It’s a lesson I learned earlier this month, when James Graham handed me a couple of pieces of seasoning meat from his truck, parked on a stretch of asphalt in Brooklyn.

Seasoning meat is really just the thick trimmings band-sawed from the top or bottom of a country ham. Some people call it sweet meat, others just call it smoked ham.

But in the backs of a handful of trucks that park in East New York, Canarsie and Bedford-Stuyvesant, it’s called seasoning meat and it will set you back about $4 a pound. You don’t need very much to make a batch of Hoppin’ John or some greens. Maybe a quarter-pound, especially if the meat is sharing the job with a ham hock or two.

“Put some of this in your pot and the neighbors will come fast, I promise you that,” said Mr. Graham, who works out of a truck parked near the intersection of Flatlands and Pennsylvania Avenues in Brooklyn.

Seasoning meat is just one item he sells. He also has compact ham hocks, giant smoked turkey wings and a kind of white cornmeal that’s hard to find at the local Key Food. He has collard greens and okra, too. And bags of peanuts and pecans still in the shell.

Most of it had been driven north from Georgia and the Carolinas, following a trail that began generations earlier with the great migration of black Southerners to industrial cities like Chicago, Philadelphia and New York during the Jim Crow era.

Once people arrived, the tastes of home made the transition easier, said Marci Cohen Ferris, an associate professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who specializes in the meaning of food in American culture.

“The Southern ham hocks and field peas you see in Brooklyn today are rooted in that history, especially at holiday time, when the Southern diaspora of New York really longs for home,” she said.

As far as the sellers and their customers can recall, the trucks appeared on the scene more than 40 years ago. That’s when people like George Huston and George Lee figured there was a market for country food in Brooklyn’s growing African-American community.

It’s likely, though, that similar enterprises in both Brooklyn and Harlem go back much further. Ms. Ferris points out that in Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man,” the main character buys and eats a baked South Carolina yam on a Harlem street in the 1930s and is “overcome by an intense feeling of freedom.”

The trucks were once plentiful on Brooklyn streets. Mr. Huston owned 15 tractor trailers that he and his extended family would use to haul produce and smoked meat from the South.

The import business was so good for Mr. Lee that he opened the North Carolina Country Store on Atlantic Avenue in 1973. His daughter, Patricia, ran it until a year ago, when she sold it.

The store is one of the few places to get seasoning meat in Brooklyn.

“Everybody comes here if they can’t go to the trucks,” said Gloria Miles, a truant officer and a member of the Greater Bright Light Missionary Baptist Church. On a recent December afternoon, she was shopping at the store instead of at her favorite truck for two reasons. One, it was freezing outside, and two, she prefers pig tails to seasoning meat for her greens, and the trucks don’t usually have it.

Across the street, Jule Huston, 70, waited for customers. He’s in the moving business, but about 15 years ago he followed in his Uncle George’s footsteps and started selling smoked meats, pungent sage sausages and Southern pantry staples along the roadside.

He has watermelon and other produce for a short time during the summer, but relies on the last three months of the year to make serious money. That’s when people seek hams, the last of the fresh black-eyed peas and jars of chow-chow and honey to offer as Christmas gifts.

And of course, everyone needs supplies for Hoppin’ John and greens, two simple dishes that are required eating each New Year’s Day for Southerners (or anyone else, one imagines) who want to bring luck and prosperity.

Jessica Harris, an African-food scholar who divides her time between New Orleans and Brooklyn, was once a regular customer of the trucks.

“When I first moved to Brooklyn, there was a guy selling yams in winter, grapes in fall and watermelon out of the back of his car in the summer,” she said. But that was 20 years ago.

“They’re all disappearing,” she said.

Mr. Huston can count just two other truck vendors — his relatives who work the one in Canarsie and another man with a small operation who sometimes parks near him on Atlantic Avenue.

As recently as November, Michelle V. Agins, a New York Times photographer, bought fresh black-eyed peas and ham hocks from a man she knows as W. C. Ms. Agins, who has been buying from him since 1989, said he usually parks near the corner of Lafayette and Classon Avenues on the border between Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. But he hasn’t been around much for Christmas or New Year’s shoppers.

Mr. Huston wonders how long any of them will keep going. Business at his truck is just that bad.

“Used to be I’d have a line out the door all day long,” he said.

Some of the Southern ingredients once found only on the trucks can now be bought at places like Costco or Pathmark. Many of his older customers, Mr. Huston said, have moved back to the South. The younger people are too far removed from their Southern roots. Most of them, he said, don’t cook that much anyway.

“They’re going to McDonald’s and Burger King,” he said.

There is hope. He still has a few loyal customers. And business at the North Carolina Country Store across the street is nice and steady.

Because to some cooks, buying ham hocks from a supermarket or a warehouse store isn’t the same. At the trucks, somebody will ask you where your people are from. They will tell you how long to soak the black-eyed peas and when to start simmering the seasoning meat.

“You don’t have those conversations when you go and buy your pecans at Costco,” Ms. Ferris said.

Here’s One Use for Leftover Turkey

27 Nov



SERVES 8 – 10

The lexicon of African-American foodways of the South was created, according to food historian Tracy N. Poe, through the combining of the foodstuffs and methods of African and Anglo-American cuisines. Collard greens boiled with cured meat products, whether turkey wings and necks or pork feet and hocks, is a direct offspring of that merging. This recipe is an adaptation of one in Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook by Sylvia Woods (William Morrow, 1999).

2 smoked turkey wings (about 2 1⁄2 lbs.)
3 lbs. collard greens (about 3 bunches), stemmed and
   chopped into 1″ pieces
1⁄4 cup vegetable oil
2 tbsp. sugar
1⁄2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
White distilled vinegar
Corn bread

1. Put turkey wings and 6 cups water into a large tall pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Add collard greens, oil, sugar, pepper flakes, and salt and pepper to taste and stir well. Return to a boil over high heat, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, until greens are tender, about 2 1⁄2 hours.
2. Remove turkey wings from pot, pull meat and skin from bones, and chop into small pieces (discard bones). Return meat and skin to the pot of collard greens and season with salt, pepper, vinegar, and Tabasco to taste. Scoop collard greens and their liquid into bowls and serve with corn bread on the side to soak up the “pot likker”, if you like.

Sylvia’s Collards are the Next Best Thing

13 Sep

My friend Todd Morton of Morton’s Market in Sarasota recently dined at Sylvia’s Soul Food Restaurant in Harlem. He came back raving about the food — he also said Sylvia was a sweet old lady. One result of that trip came as a pleasant surprise for us. Morton’s decided to add Sylvia’s canned Collard Greens to their product line. I happily visited the market last week and picked up a can to give it a try.

The greens were pretty darn good, I must admit. I’m a huge proponent of freshly picked collards, but this canned variety is perhaps the next best thing. All I had to do was open the can, add a splash of white vinegar, some red pepper flakes, and a pinch of sugar. The result was delicious — even the kids enjoyed them!

Learn more about Sylvia’s at www.sylviassoulfood.com — and keep it soulful, y’all!