Friday, June 22, 2012

Eating Out in the South

It's probably not news to most that Southerners are fiercely protective of our reputation as fine, if provincial, cooks. I say provincial just because most of us gag at the thought of fois gras, but we have wars over cobbler or meatloaf. I myself have major reservations about giving up my great-grandmother's recipe for cornbread. So rather than reaching for new heights of culinary imagination, we take what we know and make it better, ad infinitum. No matter what part of the country (possibly the world?) you're from, it's fairly common knowledge that we know what we're doing in the kitchen. Just ask us (but be sure you have a comfy seat and have recently visited the john). So what I'm about to say maaaayyy get me murdered. But please, hear me out before you organize the torches and pitchforks. Ok, here we go:

We have a lot of really, embarrassingly, crappy restaurants.

It's not that there aren't a few decent restaurants around here that I patronize with relative frequency. It's that of these, there are none that sell really good food. Most tend to capitalize on their patrons' lack of cultivated palate and weakness for bargains, and as a result sell the same New Orleans/MS hybrid-style fare, with very little imagination and very much heavy cream and butter. And God help you if you're watching weight, cholesterol, blood pressure...

Please don't get me wrong. I would have little use for this world without heavy cream and butter.

But it is an abuse to these such delicate and rewarding indulgences to use them and other shortcuts as masks for otherwise dull, flavorless, out of season food. Boo, chefskies. For shame.

I won't be naming any names on account of my mama taught me better than that. But if, by one in one-millionth chance, an owner or chef happen to pass by, I do hope they are inexplicably inspired to step it up a notch. I hope somebody takes the risk that we are more than our hushpuppies and crawfish etouffee. Because Lord do we need a good restaurant.

Now, it's probable that I'm being horribly unfair, but off the top of my head I can't think of anywhere that I'd call a good eat (copyright Alton Brown?). So, fellow Coast Trash, any recommendations? I'm begging you to make a fool of me.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Just a li'l Somethin'-Somethin'

I remember from my childhood that Paul Harvey's "The Rest of the Story" was a daily event. Much in the same way that the morning news (no negative story, please and thanks) kicked off the day, Paul Harvey helped to close it. He had the most interesting stories - always, of course, with a twist at the end. This is one of his broadcasts that I missed as a kid, but perhaps that's best. I don't think the message would have truly resonated until I had a couple of decades of localized social injustice. By now, my readers should know what my position is on my home state of Mississippi. (For a refresher, please refer to About Me and The One With No Pictures.) So I guess it goes without saying that I agree whole-heartedly with everything Mr. Harvey has to say here. Do you?

Paul Harvey:
Mississippi is still burning. Times have changed, but the incendiaries won’t quit. Mississippi, statistically, could shame most of our states with its minimal per-capita crime, its cultural maturity and its distinguished alumni. But Mississippi has enough residual gentility of the Old South not to rub our noses in our own comparative inadequacy.

The pack-media could not wait to remake the movie MISSISSIPPI BURNING, into a TV version called, MURDER IN MISSISSIPPI. Thus yet another generation of Americans is indoctrinated with indelible snapshots which are half a century out of date. The very idea that anybody from New York, D.C., Chicago or L. A. could launch stones from those shabby glass houses toward anybody else is patently absurd. Lilliputians have a psychological need to make everybody else appear small and Mississippi, too nice to fight back, is such an easy target.
The International Ballet Competition regularly rotates among four citadels where there is a sufficiency of sophisticated art appreciation: Vama, Bulgaria; Helsinki, Finland; Moscow, Russia and Jackson, Mississippi.
Only Mississippi has a satellite art program in which the State Museum of Art sends exhibits around the state for the enjoyment of smaller communities. No state can point to a richer per capita contribution to arts and letters. William Faulkner, Richard Wright, Walker Percy, Ellen Douglas, Willie Morris, Margaret Walker Alexander, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Harris (Silence of the Lambs) and John Grisham are Mississippians.
As are Leontyne Price, Elvis Presley, Tammy Wynette, B. B. King, Jimmy Rogers, Oprah Winfrey, and Jimmy Buffett.
Scenery? The Nachez Trace is the second most traveled parkway in our nation. With magnolia and dogwood, stately pines and moss-draped oaks, Mississippi is in bloom all year ’round. And the state stays busy—manufacturing more upholstered furniture than any state; testing space shuttle engines for NASA; and building rocket motors.
Much of our nation’s most monumental medical progress has roots in Mississippi. The first heart transplant in 1964. The first lung transplant in 1963. The most widely used medical textbook in the world, THE TEXTBOOK OF MEDICAL PHYSIOLOGY, reprinted in ten languages, was authored by Dr. Arthur Guyton of the University of Mississippi.
The “Case Method” of practicing law, the basis of the United States legal system, was developed at the University of Mississippi.
Nationally, educators are chewing their fingernails up past the second knuckle anxious about the disgraceful rate of dropouts and illiterate graduates. In Mississippi, the state government and two philanthropic organizations have teamed up to put a computer-based literacy program in every elementary school in the state. Maybe Mississippi is right to downplay its opportunities, advantages and refinement. The ill-mannered rest of us, converging, would surely mess it up.
This is Paul Harvey…Good Day.