Some of Huntsville’s Best: New Market BBQ

New Market JeffersonOne of the barbecue spots in my sights has been the north of Huntsville joint, New Market BBQ. I was set to go a few months ago but discovered its limited hours, only open each week Friday-Sunday. With my time remaining in Alabama short, I put a trip to the small village of New Market high on my list of things to do before I left. My friend Sean, who had been once before, was a willing accomplice. New Market white church The trip to New Market is a pleasant one, and the town has more than its share of interest. There are lovely churches and old homes. The Presbyterians and Methodists have done well in maintaining their historic buildings. (And it looks like New Market architecture is well prepared if Thomas Jefferson ever comes to visit.) The very small downtown row is ripe for renovation. Perhaps New Market BBQ will help lead to a renaissance there. New Market woodArriving at New Market BBQ, wood was piled high outside, always an encouraging sign. The fire inside confirmed real wood smoke is used at New Market. Accept no substitutes for your barbecue. New Market fire

New Market menu board

The menu options are wide, but I opted for a standard sampler for me, ribs and chicken with beans. Brunswick stew is a common offering locally, and with a chill in the air I was happy to try it as my second side. Both turned out to be reliable choices. New Market chow

The smoked meat was very good, the ribs were flavorful and meaty, tender, but firm enough to stay on the bone. Likewise, the chicken was spot on, not dry, which can often happen. I always try the meat without any sauce. It’s only then you really know what you’re getting.

New Market offers three sauces, a vinegar sauce, a thicker red sauce, and Alabama white sauce (for chicken). I rank their sauces highly, although a notch below my Alabama favorites (Dreamland for vinegar, Saw’s for red, and Big Bob Gibson for white). This is by no means a knock. Across the board New Market is doing barbecue the right way, the best I’ve had in Madison County.

New Market meat New Market pb pieIt was hard to resist the dessert offerings at New Market. Most places will offer banana pudding, and it’s usually very good. New Market BBQ clearly prides itself in going above and beyond with a rotating offering of different pies. I opted for a slice of the day’s peanut butter pie, and was surprised to find a very light pie rather than the often dense and heavy peanut butter pie one frequently encounters. And it was good, clearly homemade, a satisfying ending to a rewarding visit.

This weekend if you find yourself hungry, and with a little time for a drive, head on up to New Market BBQ. Drive around town a little to see the sites. You’ll enjoy the barbecue. New Market home

New Market BBQ
5601 Winchester Rd
New Market, AL 35761
Hours: Friday-Saturday, 11 AM – 7 PM; Sunday 11 AM – 4 PM

Douglas Southall Freeman & Lost TIME

BSB stickerMy friend Michael Courtney at Lexington’s Black Swan Books has been touting his new promotional stickers, and recognizing it’s a rare day indeed when you can get something free from Michael, I figured I had to acquire a couple.

You also never know what you’ll find setting on Michael’s counter. There amidst the old volumes and miscellaneous papers was an old TIME magazine from October 18, 1948. The cover caught my eye,. It featured revered Southern historian Douglas Southall Freeman. Freeman was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his multi-volume biographies of George Washington and Robert E. Lee (don’t miss Dr. Sean Busick’s thought’s on Freeman’s Lee). Freeman also wrote a multi-volume companion series to the Lee biography, Lee’s Lieutenants, a set of which I picked up years ago for a pittance at a library sale. It’s the rare historian who makes the cover of TIME magazine, and the rarer historian who ought to. If any historian should ever be on the cover, Freeman was the man.

Freeman Lee's LieutenantsOld magazines are paper time capsules. Not only are the articles valuable to the historian, but the advertisements often give an even clearer window into the society that would produce such a magazine. The cars, the movies, the clothes, even the shoes, speak of a far different level of taste and manners. If I could drive an Austin car, wear old American made Florsheims, dress in a Timely coat, and go to the theater to watch Jimmy Stewart in Rope, then I would be well equipped, indeed.

I tried to get Michael to sell me the magazine to no avail, but I did leave with some stickers. While he was talking I snapped some shaky pictures. Enjoy the time capsule.

Freeman cover

British Walkers ad

Florsheim

Hanan Shoes

Wright

Timely Clothes

Pontiac

Austin of England

Boeing

Grumman

Rope

A Visit to Birmingham’s The Alabama Biscuit Company

Alabama Biscuit front

Since I first read of the impending opening of Birmingham’s The Alabama Biscuit Company I couldn’t imagine a better name for a business. I was eager to visit, and the opportunity finally came for me to stop by.

Alabama Biscuit is nestled in a row of shops in Cahaba Heights over the hill behind The Summit from 280. I admit, it was tough to ignore the smell of barbecue from the joint a few doors down. But biscuits were my goal, and biscuits I would have.

The restaurant is a minimalist mix of wood and steel industrialism. Old Try prints decorate the walls. There were only a couple of other customers when I arrived around 11:30, but the hours are geared toward the breakfast crowd. A young lady was by the window working on her MacBook, and I can see how Alabama Biscuit could be a welcome alternative to the standard Starbucks.

Alabama Biscuit CubanI was prepared to order The Alabama, and was particularly encouraged when told that I could only eat it in (they won’t package it to go), when another customer’s Cuban biscuit was just coming out of the kitchen. As a known lover of Cuban sandwiches, I couldn’t pass up such a concoction–brilliant, I thought.

The Cuban was an off-menu special that came with sweet tea and a bag of chips for $10. The tea was not quite as sweet as I might have liked, but I understand they are going for a more subtle taste.

There was a several minute wait for the sandwich, but I had no complaints when it arrived. It was a well chosen option for a light lunch. The special came together as a restrained, but filling meal.

The biscuit sandwich certainly wouldn’t be confused with a Tampa pressed Cuban, but it was a well done variation on the theme. Quibbling, I might say it was a little too heavy on the mustard. And Alabama Biscuit has chosen to go with a more crumbly biscuit than I make myself, but it’s clearly what they’ve decided is best for their purposes.

I left somewhat sorry that I didn’t try one of the sweet biscuit options like The Alabama of my original intent, but I was not disappointed at all with the Cuban. It only means I need to go back again.

Give The Alabama Biscuit Company a try if you’re in Birmingham. The well appointed shop comes with plenty of Southern hospitality. It seems to me that these are folks who are trying to do good work, and they ought to be supported.

Review: Decatur’s The Brick Deli & Tavern

Brick signMy friend Seth wanted to meet for lunch this week and suggested Decatur as a meet-up point. Locally based food guru Christy Jordan plugged Decatur’s The Brick, particularly its Banjo Picker sandwich, awhile back on her Southern Plate website. Our destination was set.

Downtown Decatur is a pleasant place with old brick buildings and clean streets. The Brick occupies one of the–yes, you guessed it–brick buildings, with exposed brick and ductwork on the interior. A stage sat idle in the corner awaiting their live music nights. For early lunch it was already busy; we grabbed a table by the large windows.

I went with Jordan’s recommended Five Finger Banjo Picker sandwich with Polish sausage, Swiss cheese, and kraut on toasted rye. At Seth’s suggestion I substituted the standard side for a cup of their Wisconsin beer cheese soup. We also couldn’t resist trying the banana pudding.

Brick Banjo Picker

They were all solid choices. The sandwich was flavorful and tangy, the soup creamy and tasty–an excellent choice on a cooler day. Banana pudding is a standard for the area. The Brick’s version, although not spectacular, won’t leave you disappointed. The serving is not large so is a nice dessert option when you don’t want anything too heavy.

If you find yourself in Decatur give The Brick a try. Their menu offers plenty of options for explorations. It will be worth your time.

Review: Wallace Station & the Inside Out Hot Brown

WS building

There’s no drive more enjoyable than Old Frankfort Pike, which connects Lexington and Frankfort, Kentucky. The rolling hills, horse farms, and stone fences are quintessentially Bluegrass. But I had a new destination on this trip: Wallace Station.

WS stepsWallace Station is a sandwich shop in an old former country store in essentially the middle of nowhere (it seems that way, but it’s actually quite accessible, and a joy to drive to). I had come in search of their Inside Out Hot Brown, a sandwich take on the Kentucky classic. I have documented my favorite hot brown from Ramsey’s in Lexington. Would Wallace Station live up to high expectations?

I arrived a little past peak lunch time on a Saturday, but the line was still out the door and down the stairs. The line moved quickly, though, and I spotted my target on the menu board.

WS menu board

Also calling to me was the pie and pastry display. Wallace Station brings in baked goods from its nearby sister shop the Midway School Bakery. I resisted as much as I could, but allowed myself a Woodford cookie, named after the county the restaurant is in. As a former resident of Woodford County myself I couldn’t really pass that up. And while I’m still not exactly sure what the Woodford cookie is, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

WS pies

Cookie collage

After placing your order at the counter, you can find your seat and wait for the food to be brought out to you. Inside seating is limited; most dining is on the back deck and at picnic tables in the yard. The weather was wonderful that day, the scene idyllic, so I didn’t mind the wait for my Inside Out Hot Brown.

WS backyard

And, indeed, it was worth the wait. The Inside Out Hot Brown is just that. While a traditional hot brown is a baked open faced sandwich with bread, turkey, ham, tomato, bacon, and mornay sauce that you need to eat with a fork, the Wallace Station version puts everything inside the bread like a traditional sandwich. The fresh Wallace Station bread from their Midway bakery really takes the sandwich to the next level. This is a serious sandwich that competes on its own terms with the best traditional hot browns. The size is large enough to split with a friend. I ate half and packed up the other for later.

Hot Brown

While the menu at Wallace Station is deep, it will be hard to order anything else. And there’s that pie and cookie display to explore. I look forward to driving down Old Frankfort Pike again.

Back to Lexington: Parkette Drive-In

Parkette signFor my entire life I have been in and out of Lexington, Kentucky. I went to college there. I worked there. During all those decades I have driven by Lexington landmark Parkette Drive In innumerable times. And I never once stopped despite the classic sign beckoning me in.

This trip, I decided, would be different. Vowing to break out of my ritualistic visit to Ramsey’s Diner (don’t get me wrong, you should go to Ramsey’s), I decided to spread my culinary wings. Parkette Drive In it was.

Parkette is a true 1950s era drive in straight out of American Graffiti (yes, I know it was set in 1962, but you get the point). It’s the kind of place after which a modern chain like Sonic is modeled. Parkette plugged along for over 50 years before finally closing, only to be purchased and reopened a decade ago.

Parkette garageThe newly revitalized Parkette has proved to be so popular a new Eat-In Garage was added. An open air building with garage doors all around and ceiling fans to keep things cool, it blends well with the traditional drive-in vibe. They’ve played on the garage theme with old signs (and replicas) covering the walls.

I arrived right at lunch time, and the Parkette was busy but without wait. I decided to go for their Big Lex Burger with onion rings. Faced with Pepsi products, I chose the strawberry shake, a drive-in staple.

Water arrived, then the milkshake, both in Pepsi cups. (A nice touch would be for Parkette to have their own cups, particularly for non-Pepsi items.) The burger basket followed after a reasonable wait.

The Big Lex is a bacon cheeseburger with barbecue sauce on Texas toast. It is a great burger, a definite step up from chain fare. The meat was juicy, the toast gave it a different spin from the standard bun. My regret was not springing for the extra bacon.

Parkette Big Lex

The onion rings were good, about what you would expect them to be. And that strawberry shake was quite tasty, although not out of the ballpark good. There is room for improvement with both, but don’t hesitate to order either one. And while I’m at it, a switch to Coke products would be nice, but unlikely to happen.

Authentic drive-ins are few and far between these days, and the ones that remain deserve our support. I’ll do my part to help keep the Parkette going when I can.

Off the Shelf: Allen Tate, Wendell Berry, & Sewanee’s Discarded ‘The Hidden Wound’

Hidden Wound cover

Years ago, perhaps when I was still in graduate school, I stopped at a Chattanooga used bookshop when passing through. One has a mental list of authors to check, and I happened to find an uncommon thing: a hardcover first edition of Wendell Berry’s 1970 book on race and the South, The Hidden Wound. The disappointment was that it clearly was an ex-library copy. An ex-library copy can be the ultimate disappointment–a rare book that is worthless to the collector.

Hidden Wound discardBut this first edition was different. It had been discarded by the nearby prestigious Sewanee: The University of the South, and on the front pastedown was a donor’s bookplate. It read: “This Book is placed in The Library of the University of the South by Allen Tate.” I paid whatever small price they were asking, thrilled at this unique association copy.

Allen Tate was a Kentuckian by birth, and one of the Fugitive Poets who attended Vanderbilt University in the 1920s. Several of them were later part of the The Nashville Agrarians who wrote the classic I’ll Take My Stand, a book that has had a great deal of influence on me.

During the 1940s, Tate, and his friend I’ll Take My Stand contributor Andrew Lytle, transformed the small literary journal The Sewanee Review into a national powerhouse. After a time away from the South teaching at the University of Minnesota, Tate returned to live in Sewanee, Tennessee during the 1960s.

Hidden Wound bookplateIt was during the ’60s that another Kentucky novelist, poet and essayist was rising to prominence. Wendell Berry was an authentic agrarian in a way the Nashville Agrarians had never been. Tate took favorable notice of Berry, and the two eventually began a correspondence.

I had long intended to show Wendell Berry my book as I felt like having it signed by him would bring its association full circle. But I was unsure how Berry might react. I can’t imagine one would relish finding one’s book discarded from a prominent university library. But it was the donor I thought Berry would be interested to see.

And indeed he was. When I showed the volume to Berry recently at his home he was visibly moved that Tate had seen fit to attach his name to it. Berry spoke of how he had once made a public quip about how few of the Southern Agrarians had seen fit to stay in the South. Tate, Warren, and John Crowe Ransom had all taken positions in the North. Tate had shown great patience with him, Berry said, writing to explain that they had had no choice: no university in the South had wanted them.

Berry told that Tate had felt that The Hidden Wound had been too apologetic on the race issue, although he pointed to Tate’s poem “The Swimmers” as an example of Tate himself wrestling with race and the South. In the poem, Tate tells the story of stumbling across a lynching as a young boy in Winchester, Kentucky when he and friends were on their way for a summer swim.

Hidden Wound InscriptionBerry happily inscribed the book, expressing his appreciation for Allen Tate:
“I am proud of this copy/of this book for I greatly/respect the memory and/the work of Allen Tate./Wendell Berry/9/23/13”

Of all the different Wendell Berry volumes I own, this one is now the most special to me. Not only does it have such wonderful personal association value, but because of it I have the memory of the book giving Wendell such great pleasure at seeing it.

Hidden Wound endpapers

Off the Shelf: Walker Percy’s ‘The Moviegoer’

Percy pb stack

Universally hailed as one of the great novels of the 20th century, Walker Percy’s National Book Award winning The Moviegoer is a Southern classic and a highly sought after collectible first edition. True firsts from its 1961 publication can run well into four figures. I have seen estimates of 1500-3000 copies printed, which isn’t surprising considering it was Percy’s first novel. I won’t be buying one any time soon.

Percy Moviegoer spine

My copy of The Moviegoer is a recent trade paperback, which was fine for reading last year. I’m always on the lookout to upgrade to a hardcover, of course (you can read about the upgrade process with Go, Down Moses).

Moviegoer coverAs book buying fate would have it, I came across an unexpected edition of The Moviegoer at a used bookshop while browsing through the leather books. Leather editions can be nice, particularly as eye candy on the shelf, but they generally aren’t collectible in the same way a first edition might be (personally, I find Folio Society editions more interesting than the leather bound Franklin Press). This Franklin Library edition was different, however, because it was signed by Walker Percy.

This is where your smartphone comes in handy as I did a quick search on the always useful (and also dangerous) Bookfinder.com. The bookstore price, while not cheap, was relatively inexpensive to the going price. I bit. The time to buy a signed Walker Percy is when you find a signed Walker Percy. I would never see one again at that price.

Percy signature

A little research shows that this was part of a series from Franklin called the Signed 60, which was issued between 1977-1982, and is one of the most sought after Franklin series. The volumes were not only beautifully bound and signed, but also were newly illustrated.

Moviegoer illustrationHow many were printed? I can’t imagine too many as they had to have an author’s signature for each one. There are only so many that Walker Percy is going to sit down and sign.

For someone who will never have the free cash to drop on a true first edition of The Moviegoer, this Signed 60 edition gives me a chance to own a beautiful and signed “first thus” edition. It’s worth checking to see if your favorite author or novel has a similar edition that might be much more accessible than an out of reach true first.

 

If you’re interested in Walker Percy, Rod Dreher is planning a Walker Percy Weekend in St. Francisville, Louisiana in 2014. Also see Dreher’s recent article on Walker Percy and place.

Moviegoer title page

Back to Florence: Billy Reid Warehouse Sale & Trowbridge’s Ice Cream

BR Warehouse SaleThe semi-annual Billy Reid sale heralds the change of seasons and also draws my friend Sean and me off to Florence. I love Billy Reid’s goods, but at full price it’s too dear for my budget. The warehouse sale is a great way to pick up a few odds and ends and still be able to eat at the end of the day.

Past sales have been in the back room behind the regular Billy Reid store. This year the sale goods were in a separate storefront next door. The sale seemed to have more items available than in the past.

BR sale door

Racks, boxes, & piles of sale clothes:

BR row

BR shirt boxes

BR t-shirts

Possibly my favorite item was this quilted vest, which wasn’t available in my size or I would have left with one.

BR vest

There were many ties, both four-in-hand and bows (confession: Billy Reid bow ties are my favorite, and at sale price I can indulge):

BR ties

BR bows

And some shoes. I like them, but the elongated toe box is just too much for me:

BR Savannah

Restraint and budget limited me to these two purchases, both of which I like very much, an indigo sweatshirt and batwing wool bow tie:

Billy Reid sale purchases

Next door, the new fall Billy Reid gear was out, and browsing is always fun.

BR window

BR hats

The Billy Reid ‘James Bond’ peacoat was available (note leather detailing):

BR Bond coat

BR Bond detail

There is a large display of Billy Reid K-Swiss models:

BR K-Swiss

And the Billy Reid double-monk with asymmetrical toe cap:

BR double monks

Billy Reid excels with his tote and bag designs:

BR tote

BR bags

BR bag

We moved down Court Street and stopped by another favorite destination in Florence, one more in keeping with my budget.

Salvation Army

I was not disappointed, as I left with a Brooks Brothers button down (USA made), ties from Zegna (wool blend), Ben Silver, and H. Stockton Atlanta. Oh, and a vintage LP.

SA haul

Fatigued from shopping, Sean and I moseyed down to historic diner Trowbridge’s.

Trowbridge's sign

Trowbridge’s is a genuine throwback, maintaining an unselfconscious mid-20th century vibe. The food is standard, but tasty, diner fare. Prices are low.

Trowbridge's menu

The ice cream is the highlight. Don’t leave without trying one of their flavors like the signature orange pineapple. That day I went with the red velvet–again, restraint: only one scoop.

Trowbridges - Red Velvet ice cream

 

Atlanta Road Trip: Hankook Taqueria Korean Tacos

Hankook front

Korean tacos was my suggestion, and my family–in Atlanta for a long weekend–actually embraced the idea, or at least didn’t refuse. So to Hankook Taqueria we went, because nothing says Atlanta like Korean barbecue tacos.

Andrew Zimmern was there before us.

Andrew Zimmern was there before us.

I had heard of Hankook through either a feature on TV or perhaps an online reference a couple of years ago. But from the strong recommendation they received, I knew I wanted to eat there. With our trip to Atlanta I finally had the chance.

Hankook is located in an industrial area. You’re somewhat surprised when you find it. We arrived after the lunch rush, so there was no wait to order. But while there was no crowd, even off-peak there was a steady stream of customers, from hipsters to businessmen to blue collar guys. Korean tacos have widespread appeal, apparently, and after I tried the food I understood why.

The pork tacos were calling me (I’m always drawn to barbecue pork), but since I wanted the pork sliders I opted for the beef instead. My lovely wife did go for the pork taco and added the Man-doo pork dumplings. We shared an order of sesame fries (the serving was generous), and I recommend doing just this.

Sesame Fries

Hankook is not for the non-adventurous palate. The flavors are strong, both spicy and hot. The pork, particularly, is also mildly sweet. If you’re new to it the tastes can be overwhelming. But, oh, is it good.

The beef taco.

The beef taco.

Their tacos serve as the anchor for the meal, and both the beef and the pork tacos are excellent. My seven year old ordered the fish taco, and clamored for a second one after she scarfed it down. That’s a pretty strong endorsement, although I didn’t get a chance to try it myself. Next time the fish taco is certainly on my list.

The pork sliders are also wonderful. An order comes with two, but the sliders are big, so you may want to get an order to split with someone so you can try other things. My favorite, though, were the pork dumplings that my wife ordered. She wasn’t as enthusiastic about them as I was, but I say absolutely give them a try.

Sliders pork

There’s nothing negative to say about Hankook. The staff was friendly and attentive. Bubbly college girls took our order. And on the way out, I enjoyed a chat with one of the cooks (the owner?) who has relatives in Kentucky (well, Louisville, but that’s close). He said we had missed Drew Barrymore by a few days. Apparently there is a movie studio nearby, which brings Hollywood types in from time to time. I guess they know good food when they find it.

If you find yourself in Atlanta run, don’t walk, to Hankook Taqueria. That’s my plan next time I’m in Atlanta. It’s Asian street fusion at its finest.