Thursday is "chicken-n-dumplings" day at the Coffee N Cream cafe in downtown Micanopy, Florida.
I knew that.
Thursday is also the day for the weekly Texas Hold 'Em game held out on the cafe's front porch.
I didn't know that.
I was there to meet Cliff, the cafe's owner. We met. We talked. I had some chicken-n-dumplings along with an Aunt Sherry's chicken salad sandwich.
Then Cliff--who plays poker 3 to 4 times a week--asked if I wanted to join the game.
I laid down my Jackson. I was in.
I was a little nervous. On my first deal, I dealt everyone except me a card. They were gentlemen about it, though. No snickers. And soon I was calling, raising, bluffing, and flopping right alongside Cliff, Dwight, Lars, Layton, Juice, and Pops.
It took an hour for my stack to shrink, dwindle, then finally peter out.
I only won two hands.
(Listen above to one of my winning hands--two pair; 10s & 4s. Notice the dumplings commentary.)
I heard some gossip, a lot of ribbing, and a few insults, the worst of which being when Lars called Juice a 'bibliophile.' (Juice owns O. Brisky Books across the street.)
It was a light blue and foam green Ford Falcon with busted tires permanently parked in a bed of gravel.
Five people sat inside the vehicle, hunched over wooden tables, pizza slices flopping from their hands.
I didn't draw the van. It wasn't my lot. The hostess--with a black left eye, cut-off jeans, and a calf tattoo of a skull & crossbones encased in a heart--sat me at a wonderfully pleasant concrete table outside lit by a panoply (Yeah. I used the word. Deal.) of Christmas lights.
Turned out to be the perfect place to enjoy my Satchel's ricotta calzone, some jazz from the band in the Lightin' Salvage building in the back, and a pint of Swamp Head IPA at one of Gainesville's classic pizza joints.
The tiny, way-western-Oklahoma town of Erick was brim-full of celebrity before Harley and Annabelle Russell ever set up shop.
Erick was home to Roger Miller (he wrote "King of the Road" and the musical Big River) and Sheb Wooley (known for "Purple People Eater" and his rolls in High Noon and the TV show Rawhide).
That's about all a Route 66 town of 1,076 would ever be expected to handle.
But a few blocks down from the intersection of Roger Miller Boulevard and Sheb Wooley Avenue, you'll find what currently keeps Erick highlighted on the map: Harley and Annabelle, the self-proclaimed Mediocre Music Makers, performing at their Sandhills Curiosity Shop.
The Russell's business venture in this spot began as a health food store, morphed into a music store, then an antique store.
"From 1986 until 1999, two or three people a year walked into this building," says Harley. "And that included me and Annabelle."
One day in '99, the Russells were in the shop playing their guitars, and a guy walked up and asked if a tour could come in and watch.
"I said, 'Hell yeah!'" screams Harley. "Before we got the next song finished, the building was full of people. They were shaking and playing tambourines and maracas; jumping up and down hollerin' and kickin' and screamin' and having the dadgummin-est time you ever seen."
According to Harley, that group was with the biggest tour company in the UK, and they were crisscrossing America. Today over 100 overseas tours visit the shop.
I'm a big fan of Chef Tarver King. His food is transportational.
The scent of the slightly smoldering leaf beneath the bowl of his apple cider chestnut soup can conjure childhood memories of when you sat on the ground holding a magnifying glass steadily concentrating the sun's hot, white circle onto a dry oak leaf until thin tendrils of smoke began to rise.
Yeah. That's where he can take you.
He masterfully engages all your senses--bright colors, crunchy textures, indelible smells--with his menu at the Ashby Inn and Restaurant in Paris, Virginia.
But I'm also a fan because of Tarver's pure food enthusiasm. Listen to the above clip, and you'll get a quick glimpse into his head that's always buzzing with ideas.
Here, he winds up and runs through something as seemingly benign as the the possibilities of a tomato.
Wanna make yourself really hungry? Check out some killer shots of Tarver's food on Jennifer Davick's blog, The Dish on Photography.
(Sean, a mixologist at pdt; the pdt jackalope; tater tots, a necessity at pdt; red wine in juice glass at Motortino; billiards at Mona's; Guiness half price and half gone at Mona's; Mona at Mona's; Mona on bus duty at Mona's; the bartender's shot at Sophie's)
Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien Hotel is inconspicuously tucked behind a curtain in the back corner of the lobby. You wouldn't find it unless you are looking. And you probably won't get a table unless you're there super early. We got our burgers. We ate them in the lobby.
Know Thy Farmer Profiling 30+ Alabama farmers and artisans who work with Birmingham's The Market at Pepper Place.
Authentic Us Podcast
Click to Hear the Podcast Authentic Us is a sound-rich, storytelling platform that explores our culture through food, art, music, land, literature and characters. The nationally-distributed platform first launched in the Spring of 2013 as Authentic South.