Dispatch from the Deep (fried) South
I just peed in a bathroom with a 2006 Ronald Reagan calendar.
There's only one place this could be if I am conscious, but not a hostage: my beloved yet right-wing grandmother's house. Yes, after missing our flight from Oakland this morning at 8 a.m. -- turns out they close baggage check now 30 minutes before the flight takes off, and they couldn't care less that it's 29 minutes before, or that you already checked in and printed your boarding passes from the Internet -- and having to shuttle to SFO with a loquacious 67-year-old Christian hippie driver, we are finally here.
Pensacola, Florida. So close to Alabama you could spit a watermelon seed across the border.
Just to give you an idea of how far off the Ethicurean map I am, when I Googled "organic and Pensacola" in the hope of finding some restaurant recommendations last week, I got two pages of Superfund-cleanup sites. Because what Pensacola is famous for is not food, but its Naval Air Station, home to the Blue Angels and quite a lot of toxic waste, apparently, in addition to mountains of iceberg lettuce.
There is good food here. Most of it is to be found at my aunt's house, who just may be the only person in all of the Florida Panhandle to have a stash of grassfed beef for barbecues in her freezer. OK, she buys it from the co-op in town, so I guess she can't be the only one. But outside her house, the pickings are slim, and not slimming. We just came back from a very nice meal at the recently reopened Oyster Bar (destroyed during Hurricane Ivan, as was most of Pensacola), where the entrees were in the $15-$25 range, but were accompanied by FAKE BUTTER. And I'm not just talking the whipped stuff in the little ramekin, this was corn-oil spread piped into little square plastic to-go packages.
The Husband Formerly Known As Faux Gras Who Now Wishes to Be Called Potato Non Grata asked the server if the restaurant had any real butter for our baked potatoes. The poor guy, who I had already whined at about my vodka gimlet (the bartender put 7-Up in it! to "kill the bitter taste"!), said he would ask. He came back with little plastic packages of real (well, Land 'o' Lakes) butter on a plate, which he joked were just for us VIPs.
What can I say... you can take the food snob out of the Bay Area, but you can't take the Bay Area out of the food snob. However: my soft-shell crab was very tasty, and so was the grilled tuna with crab Hollandaise I shared with my aunt. I didn't get the oysters Rockefeller, even though I normally would have. This time I knew in advance that eating raw Gulf oysters in June would be like playing Russian roulette with my liver, and since I prefer to torture my liver slowly, over time, rather than risking poisoning it all at once, I passed. Oh, but the hush puppies were fabulous: deep-fried fluffy nuggets of cornmeal-and-scallion-and-egg perfection. I could eat them all week long, and I just might.
I have a couple of posts about all the oh-so-healthful and tasty things we made with our first CSA box that are backed up, kind of like my digestion after the long day of air transportation, but I'll get to those for later. I'm excitedly piggybacking on the wireless network I think belongs to my grandmother's ham-radio-operating neighbor, so I may be in a food wasteland, but at least I still have Internet access.
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