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Roman Chewing Candy – A Longstanding New Orleans Tradition Rolls On

2 Mar

Image

The Roman Chewing Candy cart has made its rounds in New Orleans since 1915. Yes, I said 1915! NOLA is an old city (at least in US terms) and this is one of the city’s oldest culinary traditions. The cart, as you can see above, has seen its share of wear and tear. But like most things New Orleans, the cart’s worn and weathered look makes one more than a bit nostalgic for the “good old days.” And yes, this is the original cart fashioned by New Orleans wheelwright Tom Brinker in 1915. Amazing. Many cities bulldoze or bury their past. New Orleans celebrates theirs. God bless ‘em for that.

roman candy 3

We recently encountered the cart at the Crescent City’s wonderful Audubon Zoo. Eileen and the boys promptly called me with the good news. I urged them to take a few pics and bring back an assortment of the gourmet taffy. The price of the taffy has gone up a bit since it was first offered for 5 cents per stick by the Cortese family back in the day.

roman candy wraps

 You can now purchase three basic taffy flavors (Vanilla, Chocolate, and Strawberry) for $1 per wax paper wrapped stick, 6 sticks for $5, or $10 for a full dozen sticks. The candies are handmade on the cart each day and they are not, like many of today’s confections, overly sweet. Personally, I prefer the vanilla.

You can now track the Roman Candy cart’s day to day location via Facebook.

You can also purchase by mail by ordering at http://www.romancandy.gourmetfoodmall.com

In the immortal words of Jackie Gleason, “How sweet it is!”

Roman Candy Company – 5510 Constance St., New Orleans, LA 70115 

(504) 897-3937; romancdy@bellsouth.net

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Roman-Chewing-Candy-Co/124215977625950

A Weekday Lunch at Sprayberry’s BBQ in Newnan, Georgia

2 Feb

sb menu cover

Sprayberry’s is a longtime stalwart of Southern BBQ. They have been around since 1926, so staying power is one of their strong suits. Country music star Alan Jackson once waited tables at Sprayberry’s. There are 2 locations now (both in Newnan, GA). We hit the Jackson Street location several years back and enjoyed it. This time we were traveling from Atlanta back to Mobile, Alabama and our timing was just right. We arrived just before noon — beating the lunch rush.  

sb lg

We were promptly seated in the spacious dining room and handed large tan menus (see the 2 images above). I immediately noticed the Lewis Grizzard Special (details shown on photo above). The late Grizzard was a popular Southern humorist who is still something of a folk hero in these parts. I owned a couple of his comedy tapes and sometimes read his column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution. He was a funny man with a hearty appetite for Dixie-style chow, so this BBQ combo is a fitting tribute.

sb plate

I wasn’t feeling up to onion rings, so I ordered the Chopped Pork Sandwich with a side of Brunswick Stew and a Sweet Tea with Lemon. My sandwich came with fresh chopped slaw (lacking the usual heavy mayo), a few pickle slices, and a small cup of Sprayberry’s singular BBQ sauce. It’s kind of a thin, vinegar-based condiment — not too different than sauces you find in Eastern North Carolina. The sandwich was quite tasty — lean, smokey swine paired with crunchy grated cabbage and the peppery tang of the sauce.

sb stew

I consider myself a bit of a Brunswick Stew aficionado, so I braced myself to be disappointed when I first viewed Sprayberry’s mushy concoction (see above). Virginians and Georgians have long debated about which state bubbled up the very first Brunswick Stew. I am not here to argue that point at this time. I will say that I am more accustomed to a stew with more texture. Kernals of sweet yellow corn, visible strands of meat (most often chicken), tiny green butter beans, etc. Sprayberry’s Stew looks more like baby food, but I am pleased to report that it is suitably flavorful. I added just a sprinkle of salt and a tiny splash of Tabasco. You could drink this stuff through a straw. I elected to utilize the more traditional spoon.

Sprayberry’s has stood the test of time for a reason. The food is good. The pricing fair. The service swift. Convenient access from the interstate. All in all a positive Dixie Dining experience. So if you find yourself motoring between Auburn, Alabama and Atlanta, Georgia, please do give ‘em a try. It’s right on the beaten path, but worthy of your time and palate even if it was not. Skip the fast food options and treat yourself to a taste of Georgia culinary history.

sb postcard

Sprayberry’s BBQ –

Hwy. 34 @ I-85, Newnan, GA (770) 253-5080

229 Jackson Street, Newnan, GA (770) 253-4421

www.sprayberrysbbq.com

For more reviews of Southern food, please visit our web site at www.DixieDining.com

The Bluegill’s “Flaming Oysters” – Easily One of Mobile’s Best Bites

10 Nov

The causeway over the Mobile Bay has many dining options. All of them focusing on seafood. One of our favorites is the Bluegill Restaurant. They have been around since 1958, although they have had a few different owners over that long period of time. The Bluegill is now operated by the Cooper Restaurant Group … the same folks who run the wildly successful Felix’s Fish Camp (also on the causeway) and Mobile’s own version of Ruth’s Chris Steak House.

The Coopers have done a fine job in retaining much of the Bluegill’s original rustic charm. The whimsical exterior is adorned with antique advertising and humorous declarations such as “No Curb Service Since 1958!” Yes, they have long been known for their fried, locally sourced oysters, but there is a relatively new menu item that has totally captured our fancy.

The Fish Tacos are good, but our mind was on something else

You can dine inside or out at the Bluegill. I would encourage you to sit outside whenever the weather allows. Such a relaxing atmosphere overlooking the bay and watching the occasional boat (or gator) chug by. The open air deck is pretty much fully covered and clear plastic flaps can be lowered if rains or windy conditions should arise. They frequently feature live local entertainment on the deck here. That only adds to the whole “Margaritaville” vibe. A Kenny Chesney tune played over the sound system as I was being seated this late Friday morning. My server (a young man named Buck) did a great job of taking care of me. Fast, friendly service has long been a trademark of all the Cooper-owned restaurants here in the Mobile Bay area.

Please DO NOT make the mistake of not ordering the Flaming Oysters at the Bluegill. They have only been offered for a short time, but they have quickly earned (and rightfully so) a large and loyal following. I crave them — and apparenty I’m not the only one. I’ve heard that someone on the inside at Cooper Restaurants was a longtime fan of Drago’s in New Orleans. That famed eatery has long been known as THE place to get your flame grilled oyster fix in NOLA. I have dined there and can attest to its glory. Magnificent. The Cooper’s recipe is equally sublime — matching Drago’s slurp for slurp.

An order of a full dozen is just about right for me. Each half shell comes complete with fresh local oyster, butter, garlic, and lots of Parmesan cheese. They are placed over an open flame, which can viewed from the inside dining room. A bit of show biz never hurts and the Bluegill gets that. And just when you think this recipe can’t be topped, they go and throw in a couple of large pieces of flame kissed, authentic New Orleans-style Po-Boy bread. It’s legit bread, for sure — straight from some Big Easy bakery. You’ll need it to sop up all the remaining butter and garlic mixture once your oysters are history. Trust me, leftovers don’t happen here.

This makes sense, because the Flaming Oysters are truly UNREAL!

Bluegill Restaurant – 3775 Battleship Parkway, Spanish Fort, AL 36527

(251) 625-1998; www.bluegillrestaurant.com

“Having Fun At The Bluegill!”

The Pumpkin Milkshake is Smashing at Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream

6 Nov

Cammie’s is a pretty cool spot (pun totally intended). Every town should have a little scoop shop like this one. Looks a bit like an old filling station from the outside. They make their own ice cream too. Cammie’s doesn’t offer a gazillion flavors — this place is more about quality, not quantity. That being said, the flavors they do offer change on a semi-regular basis and do provide local ice cream junkies like yours truly with plenty of choices – both traditional and daring.

Seasonal flavors  are always popular here. And their Pumpkin milkshake, sold only during the Fall months, is a personal favorite of mine. Now, Chick Fil A has carved out a nice little niche with their specialty shakes. Their Peppermint, Banana Pudding, and Peach shakes are always welcome in my belly. But most fast food shakes tend to leave me cold. And I do mean that in a bad way. They are often far too sweet, artificially colored, and they taste, well, very unnatural. Cammie’s Pumpkin shake is exactly the opposite — and I would expect nothing less from them. Let’s just be thankful they don’t offer a Candy Corn shake (gross!).

The Pumpkin shake (above) I sucked down today was not too sweet. It wasn’t a hideous bright orange color either. You might say it had something of a light tan/peachy hue. The obviously natural pumpkin flavor was enhanced with the addition of nutmeg and perhaps a few other seasonal spices.  It was a special mid-afternoon treat that I attempted to savor. The problem was it was simply too good. And it was gone in a flash.

The atmosphere at Cammie’s is quaint — sort of a Pennsylvania Dutch theme. Makes sense given the name. They were obviously going for a bit of a retro vibe inside. That meshes perfectly with the whole “making our own ice cream in small batches” theme.

Tips??? Try the Creole Praline and the Rum Raisin

The weather here in Mobile is just starting to turn a little more Winter-like and I’ll be returning to Cammie’s before too long. Not necessarily for a holiday-themed (egg nog?) shake — but more likely for a crunchy cone topped off with a heaping scoop of Cammie’s fine Coconut ice cream. Come to think of it, I guess that is holiday-themed — Caribbean holiday, that is. My kind of vacation … even if it only lasts a few brief yet glorious moments.

And I’ll get 50 cents off next time too — smashing, baby!

Cammie’s Old Dutch Ice Cream – 2511 Old Shell Road, Mobile, AL 36607

(251) 471-1710; http://www.facebook.com/pages/Cammies-Old-Dutch-Ice-Cream-Shoppe/109587249076821

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.”

Two Cookbook Discoveries for the Southern Chef or Home Cook

12 Feb

The Lodge Cast Iron Cookbook

“A Treasury of Timeless, Delicious American Dishes”

“Cast iron cookery IS American cuisine, and Lodge IS cast iron. Therefore, Lodge IS American cuisine.”  These are the wise words indeed from Food Network’s culinary brainiac, Alton Brown. Esquire magazine listed Lodge Cast Iron Cookware in their 2009 list of “Things a Man Should Own.” And, honestly, who are we to argue with that kind of sage advice? I would like to add that if Lodge knows how to create world-class cookware, then surely they must know a great deal about cooking in the dark, heavy vessels they have created for many, many decades. Right??? Of course!

Some of the recipes unveiled here are contributed by the likes of Southern writer and humorist Julia Reed and noted Oxford, MS chef John Currence, but most come from home cooks and Lodge family members/employees. All in all, you will find over 200 recipes in this must-have volume. Joseph Lodge, who founded the company in South Pittsburg, TN way back in 1896, would truly be proud.

I especially appreciated the Cast Iron 101 chapter — this addresses the intimidation factor for newcomers to this style of rustic cooking. There’s also a chapter devoted just to cornbread (South Pittsburg hosts a Cornbread Fest each year) and another focusing entirely on outdoor cooking. Notable recipes included here are Hannah’s Apple Pancake, Southern Greens Soup, McNew’s Okra Stew, Brunswick Stew, and Savannah Red Rice. Lands outside of Dixie are also represented with Lyonnaise Potatoes, Shepherd’s Pie, Shrimp Tacos with Mango Salsa, and many more.

My favorite recipe name in the book?

That’s easy.

It is the “This Ain’t No Yankee Cornbread.”  

***Inside the book you will find***

  • Over 200 delicious, classic recipes all made in cast-iron
  • Over 200 big, beautiful four-color photos
  • Cast Iron Memories—historical and allegorical sidebars highlighting cast-iron recipe memories from cooks around the country
  • Crazy for Cast Iron—covers all things cast-iron from the history of Lodge Manufacturing to types of pots and pans, care of cast-iron, basics of outdoor cookery, what NOT to cook in cast-iron, and how to renew neglected hand-me-down pan
  • Stand-alone sidebars such as How to Make a Roux and Basics of Campfire Cooking

GLASS ONION CLASSICS – “RECIPES FROM A SOUTHERN RESTAURANT”

The Glass Onion is a popular eatery in Charleston, SC. Their simple, yet delicious Lowcountry cuisine has generated a good deal of buzz and a faithful following in that amazing part of the world. The restaurant opened in 2008, but it took them until 2011 to publish a compilation of some of their most popular recipes. The theme here is “delicious Southern food inspired by local, all-natural ingredients.” A great concept, for certain. Yet it is a concept that is rarely executed with the consistency or the care delivered by the hard-working staff of the Glass Onion.

The Beatles’ song “Glass Onion” was said to be about the handle on a coffin. And you’ll be dying to dine at the Glass Onion after getting a load of these tasty, yet simple to prepare recipes. Jennie Ruth’s Deviled Eggs, Papa’s Oyster Stew, Anne’s Grillades and Grits, Sea Island Red Peas, Sarah’s Red Velvet Pound Cake. It all sounds terrific — and terrifically Southern. But just when you think you can pidgeonhole these guys, they toss a recipe like Chuck’s Italian Sausage Ragout at ya. Most of the recipes have only a handful of fresh, easily sourced ingredients. That simply means that you will not pull your hair out while shopping for or executing these winning, cook friendly recipes.

This cookbook is a self-published effort and it has a nice, church cookbook kind of DIY charm to it. We also enjoyed the short vignettes about the Glass Onion’s vendors including old compadres like Anson Mills’ grains and Benton’s Country Hams & Bacon. So when in Charleston, join them for a memorable meal. Until then, enjoy this thoughtful cookbook.

Lodge Manufacturing Co. – South Pittsburg, TN;  www.lodgemfg.com

Glass Onion – 1219 Savannah Hwy., Charleston, SC; www.ilovetheglassonion.com

Oh Brother, This Is One Mighty Fine CD, Y’all!

4 Feb

JON DEE GRAHAM, FREEDY JOHNSTON
AND
SUSAN COWSILL
ARE THE HOBART BROTHERS & LIL’ SIS HOBART

Itinerant singer-songwriters unite to record album,
At Least We Have Each Other, due for late February 28 release

The moment I first heard about this collaboration I knew we were in for a major treat. And I’m happy it does not disappoint. In fact, it would be safe to say that this will become known as one of the best Americana releases of 2012. Certainly the critics will love it. All three contributors are highly accomplished in their own right. And each brings something unique to this highly enjoyable party.

Jon Dee Graham is perhaps the least well-known of the group. But he boasts an impressive resume and a loyal Texas following – most notably in the Austin area. Graham has played in bands like The Skunks and the True Believers and sports one of the most well-worn singing voices this side of Tom Waits. Freedy Johnston is an talented singer-songwriter who has released about a dozen CDs thru the years. You may recall his 1994 hit single, Bad Reputation. Susan Cowsill grew up in the music business as a member of the real life Partridge Family, The Cowsills. Their hits included everything from the sublime The Rain, The Park and Other Things to the ridiculously fun Hair. Susan has much more recently made some beautiful music with The Continental Drifters.

The opening track is a cracking number intitled Baby, Didn’t I Love You. Cowsill takes the lead vocal on this one and really shines as she pleads, “How could you leave me here on the track?” This is the obvious “single” on the CD, but the rest of the collection is hardly filler, trust me. Jon Dee follows with a swampy take on Why I Don’t Hunt. It has a a “Wooly Bully” chug to it with Cowsill providing some vocal sweetness to Graham’s down & dirty delivery.  The next track, Sweet Senorita, begins with a Neko Case-like wistfulness. Freedy gives this Latin-tinged piece the meloncholy treatment and succeeds. Susan again jumps in on harmony vocals — she is the glue here.

The 4th number, I Never Knew There Would Be You, is certainly one of the disc’s standout tracks. It is likely the most pop-oriented song included here. Cowsill’s lead vocal soars — at times reminding me of the clear as a  bell tones of the late Mama Cass Elliott. Yes, Susan is a child of the 6os and that influence is clear. The twin-guitar break is really sweet — only wish there was more of it. Track 6, Almost Dinnertime,  features Jon Dee doing his best Tom Waits’ growl, which is followed up by the dreamy Johnston vocal, I am Sorry.  

My First Day On The Job is catchy and humorous, but get the earmuffs out for the kids — some salty language on this one. It’s all about toiling in the not always glamorous restaurant industry, which all 3 of the band members have experienced at one time or another. Soda Pop Tree is just what you’d expect — sweet and cool. The disc closes with Jon Dee Graham singing over the slow yet steady jangle of The Dishwasher, another ode to his former food service career.  

Not a bad track can be found here, friends. What a terrific collection of songs and performances. As I mentioned, don’t be surprised if this CD turns up on many Best of 2012 lists. Let’s just hope this is not the last we hear from this trio. It is rare that 3 such diverse talents come together in such a winning way. Maybe they aren’t really blood relatives, but when they throw on the recording switch, they sure do sound like it.  

AUSTIN, Texas — Jon Dee Graham , Freedy Johnston and Susan Cowsill, united as the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart , will release their long-threatened debut album, At Least We Have Each Other, on Freedom Records in CD, LP and digital download formats, with a street date of February 28, 2012. A limited tour is planned for spring.

The ten-song LP/CD/download release comprises seven songs from the most recent band recording sessions, plus three from the first, drumless, demo sessions. With every purchase of any format of At Least We Have Each Other comes a free download of the entire demo-session set.

The three singer-songwriters got together in an Austin backyard one afternoon in 2010 to write songs about their early days (yes, even Sue) working in restaurants. They took the family name Hobart, after the dishwasher found in nearly every commercial kitchen, and began to reminisce.

Over the next couple of months, they put together ten songs about cooks and waitresses and dishwashers, but also songs about Mexican-American truck-drivers, pleasant dreams had while living in your car, the collapse of the Texas cotton market, despair on a pay phone, unread letters and, of course, love.

The Hobarts recruited Andrew DuPlantis, bassist from Jon Dee’s band the Fighting Cocks, and drummer Russ Broussard, husband and band-mate of Ms. Cowsill, and played SXSW 2011 to a tremendous response. The band then pursued a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund the recording of At Least We Have Each Other at Top Hat Studios in Austin.

The finished album provides a rare glimpse of what three unique and talented artists might come up with when they think no one else is listening. The songs were recorded live with one or two takes, and there is a resonant honesty and completeness to them.

About the Hobart Brothers & Lil’ Sis Hobart:

Jon Dee Graham was named Austin Musician of the Year at SXSW in 2006. He was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame three times: as a solo artist in 2000, in 2008 as a member of the Skunks, and in 2009 as a member of the True Believers. Graham has released seven albums and was the subject of a DVD called Big Sweet Life: The Songs of Jon Dee Graham. In August 2008, Graham underwent emergency surgery after being injured in a one-car accident. His current album is aptly titled It’s Not As Bad As It Looks.

The New Yorker cited Freedy Johnston’s “finely wrought, melancholy character studies” as one of the calling cards of 2010’s critically acclaimed Rain on the City album, his twelfth. According to SPIN, “Johnston’s characters always make a deep impression.” He has been recording since 1990’s debut The Trouble Tree on Bar/None. In 1994 he hit with “Bad Reputation” from his Elektra album This Perfect World, and Rolling Stone named him “Songwriter of the Year.”

Susan Cowsill was born into show business as a member of the Cowsills, who hit with “The Rain, The Park & Other Things” and “Hair” in the late ’60s. In the ’90s, she joined forces with Peter Holsapple and Vicki Peterson to form the Continental Drifters, and migrated from Los Angeles to New Orleans. In 2005 she released her first solo album, Just Believe It, concurrent with losing her brother Barry and her house to Hurricane Katrina. Her current album Lighthouse, called “an earthy, often crunchy folk-pop gem” by Rolling Stone, reflects upon these experiences and features guest spots from Peterson, Jackson Browne, and former Cowsills session player Waddy Wachtel.

# # #

 

Pan Am Soundtrack Jets You Back To A More Glamorous Era For Air Travel

14 Jan

Pan Am — yes, I have flown on the airline — it’s been a long while though. Pan Am the TV show? Haven’t seen it yet. Pan Am the Soundtrack? It sends me. I admit it is a quirky mix of songs and artists. But that is what the early to mid-sixties were all about. Take a look at the Billboard charts during that time and you’ll see that I am right. So don’t get all uptight. Recline your seat, ask your attendant for a strong cocktail, and enjoy the flight.

Your ears will encounter very little turbulence as your musical journey cruises from Buddy Greco to Grace Potter or from Brenda Lee to Nikki Jean. Some tracks are pretty well-traveled, while others just might be new destinations for you and flying companions. You can’t go wrong with Bobby Darin’s Call Me Irresponsible, Getz and Gilberto’s Girl from Ipanema, or Count Basie’s swinging groove on an instrumental I Can’t Stop Loving You. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 injects even more Latin spice to the cabin with Mas Que Nada and Nikki Jean turns in an impressive twist on Do You Want To Know A Secret?

My top pick of all is Dinah Washington’s Destination Moon.

Bang! Zoom! It is a complete and total gas.

So get your ticket and take a trip back in time.

Travel was far more classy then – and so was the music.  

***I prefer Engelbert Humperdinck’s version of Quando, Quando, Quando

Pan Am: Music From and Inspired By the Original Series, a collection of music from and inspired by the ABC television drama, slated for January 17, 2012 CD release from Verve Music Group, is a non-stop flight back to the early ’60s. The collection features 14 songs by Buddy Greco, Bobby Darin, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz & João Gilberto with Antonio Carlos Jobim, Peggy Lee, Shirley Horn, Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis and Dinah Washington, plus new artists Grace Potter and Nikki Jean.

According to the Verve Music Group’s SVP of A&R Jay Landers, “The Pan Am series goes to great lengths to capture the dawn of the jet age with accuracy, and music plays a vital role. Many of the artists of the era are found in the classic Verve catalog so it was a great synergistic opportunity.” Also, S-Curve/Universal recording artist Nikki Jean sings the Lennon & McCartney classic “Do You Want To Know a Secret.”

The TV series Pan Am follows the travels of a young flight crew as they set off on international adventures at the dawn of the Jet Age in the 1960s. The show captures a time when only a few could experience a global adventure or gain a front-row seat to history. Those lucky enough flew Pan Am, the largest, most prestigious airline in the world. More than Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley or the transistor radio, Pan Am exported American culture to the world abroad and brought that world back to American shores. The crew travels to intoxicating cities such as Paris, Berlin, Monte Carlo and Rome and bumps into history along the way. Through their eyes, Pan Am revisits an era nearly half a century ago. So, buckle up . . . adventure calls . . . and thank you for choosing Pan Am.

Track List:
1. Buddy Greco – “Around The World”
2. Grace Potter – “Fly Me To The Moon”
3. Bobby Darin – “Call Me Irresponsible”
4. Ella Fitzgerald – “Blue Skies”
5. Stan Getz & João Gilberto w/Astrud Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim – “The Girl From Ipanema”
6. Peggy Lee – “New York City Blues”
7. Shirley Horn – “The Best Is Yet To Come”
8. Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – “Mais Que Nada”
9. Billie Holiday – “Just One More Chance”
10. Count Basie – “I Can’t Stop Loving You”
11. Brenda Lee – “Break It To Me Gently”
12. Nikki Jean – “Do You Want To Know A Secret”
13. Connie Francis – “Quando Quando Quando (Tell Me When)”
14. Dinah Washington – “Destination Moon”

Two New Southern Books Worthy of Your Attention This Holiday Season

18 Dec

THE STORY OF THE NU WAY

by Ed Grisamore (Mercer University Press)

We dined at the Nu-Way a few years back. This is truly one of the South’s most iconic eateries. I have always loved the look of their historic neon sign, yet I knew very little about this hot dog stand’s history. Pick up a copy of this new book and expand your knowledge — we think you’ll dig their dog. They may have spelling issues, but they have the whole hot dog thing down to a science.

For almost seventy-five years, one of Macon’s most famous eating establishments, Nu-Way, has intentionally misspelled the word W-E-I-N-E-R on its marquee. Thanks to a sign-maker misplacing those vowels in 1937, the restaurant has had a conversation piece on the plate along with its legendary hot dogs. James Mallis immigrated to Macon from Greece and opened the city’s first fast-food restaurant on historic Cotton Avenue in 1916. Nu-Way is now the second-oldest hot dog stand in America, just a month shy of Nathan’s on Coney Island in New York.

In his eighth book, There Is More than One Way to Spell Wiener, Macon newspaper columnist Ed Grisamore tells the amazing story of how Nu-Way has become a cultural and culinary icon. Nu-Way is part of the fabric of Macon, Georgia. Nearly everyone in town has a Nu-Way story. When people move away, Nu-Way is one of the first places they visit when they come back home. One woman drove almost 500 miles and ordered 150 to go. But it’s not just about the food. It’s nostalgic. It’s a melting pot of Macon. To go downtown for a hot dog at noon is to see the common denominator of businessmen in three-piece suits sharing the same lunch counter with blue-collar workers and street people.

The book covers the generations of Macon families that have worked at Nu-Way, captures the passion of its loyal customers and tells the story of how the Norman Rockwell-like logo was painted by a former Macon fire chief. Even Oprah Winfrey dropped by for a chili dog and a Diet Coke on a visit to Macon in 2007 . Grisamore has been known to satisfy his cravings for slaw dogs (voted No. 1 in the nation by The New York Times) several times each week.

www.mupress.org

THE GORILLA MAN & THE EMPRESS OF STEAK

by Randy Fertel (University Press of Mississippi) 

The name Ruth’s Chris Steak House was always something of an oddity to me. Who was this Ruth? Who was Chris? Exactly how did this unusual name come about? Sure, their steaks were really good. And yes, the brand is well known throughout the world. But who knew there was such an interesting and colorful back story? Their saga is fascinating and provides a rare glimpse into the culture and restaurant industry of old New Orleans. You’re familiar with their steaks, so now take some time and learn more about the characters who created the sizzle.  

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is the story of two larger-than-life characters and the son whom their lives helped to shape. Ruth Fertel was a petite, smart, tough-as-nails blonde with a weakness for rogues, who founded the Ruth’s Chris Steak House empire almost by accident. Rodney Fertel was a gold-plated, one-of-a-kind personality, a railbird-heir to wealth from a pawnshop of dubious repute just around the corner from where the teenage Louis Armstrong and his trumpet were discovered. When Fertel ran for mayor of New Orleans on a single campaign promise–buying a pair of gorillas for the zoo– he garnered a paltry 308 votes. Then he purchased the gorillas anyway!

These colorful figures yoked together two worlds not often connected–lazy rice farms in the bayous and swinging urban streets where ethnicities jazzily collided. A trip downriver to the hamlet of Happy Jack focuses on its French-Alsatian roots, bountiful tables, and self-reliant lifestyle that inspired a restaurant legend. The story also offers a close-up of life in the Old Jewish Quarter on Rampart Street–and how it intersected with the denizens of “Back a’ Town,” just a few blocks away, who brought jazz from New Orleans to the world.

The Gorilla Man and the Empress of Steak is a New Orleans story, featuring the distinctive characters, color, food, and history of that city–before Hurricane Katrina and after. But it also is the universal story of family and the full magnitude of outsize follies leavened with equal measures of humor, rage, and rue.

Randy Fertel, New Orleans, Louisiana, and New York, New York, is a writer and president of both the Fertel Foundation and the Ruth U. Fertel Foundation. He has taught English at Harvard, Tulane, LeMoyne College, the University of New Orleans, and the New School for Social Research.

www.upress.state.ms.us 

Ray Charles’ “Singular Genius” Shines Through on New 5-CD Box

6 Nov
 
This, in my humble opinion, is a long-overdue release. Florida native Ray Charles’ output while with the ABC-Paramount label was pretty extraordinary. And while his earlier Atlantic recordings placed him on our collective radar for the first time, his ABC singles allowed him to stretch out and reach for the stars. Country, soul, pop, R & B … it’s all here. And laid down in a way only Brother Ray could. In fact, I can think of no one else who could have pulled this kind of mix together in such a cohesive, effortless manner. 53 singles, 11 #1 hits. You call yourself a true fan of American Popular Music and Culture? Then you simply must own this historic collection.

 

RAY CHARLES’ SINGULAR GENIUS: THE COMPLETE ABC SINGLES,
AVAILABLE NOVEMBER 15 ON CONCORD RECORDS, COMPILES
HITS AND B-SIDES — MANY NEVER PREVIOUSLY ON ALBUM

106 recordings on five compact discs totaling 53 singles
are housed in handsome linen-textured collectors’ box

LOS ANGELES, Calif. — With the release of Ray Charles’ Singular Genius: The Complete ABC Singles, on November 15, 2011, Concord Records will make available for the first time the artist’s collection of ABC-Paramount singles during this prolific period (1960-1972).

The digitally remastered deluxe 106-song collection presents the A and B sides of 53 singles, including 11 #1 hits, such Grammy Award winners “Hit the Road Jack,” “Busted,” “Georgia on My Mind,” “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” “Crying Time,” “America the Beautiful,” and many more.

 

Twenty-one of the songs are making their digital debut, and 30 have never previously been available on CD. Liner notes were written by R&B recording artist and music historian Billy Vera and rare photographs are included.

According to Valerie Ervin, president of the Ray Charles Foundation, “This compilation provides an opportunity to hear Ray’s evolution into a full-fledged artist and creative force. The song selection was based upon the interpretation he could bring to the music and not the genre. The ABC singles comprise an epoch of essential Ray Charles music and a window into how his genius evolved.”

John Burk, Concord Music Group’s Chief Creative Officer stated, “Ray Charles is one of America’s most iconic and treasured voices. We are fortunate to have the opportunity to present Ray’s historic ABC singles with the reverence and respect they deserve and continue our dynamic partnership and acclaimed reissue program with Valerie Ervin and everyone at the Ray Charles Foundation.”

By the time the singer released his first single for his new label affiliation, ABC-Paramount, in January 1960, he had crossed over into the stardom that show biz insiders had long known was his due. After several years of R&B hits on his previous label, Atlantic Records, he’d finally reached the coveted white teen market with his smash, “What’d I Say,” the simplest, most basic song of his career.

 

Charles’ contract was coming up for renewal and the Atlantic brass expected an easy negotiation. After all, most entertainers took a passive approach to their business, especially when things were going well. However, his agency, Shaw Artists, wanted to bring Charles to a broader audience, which they felt could be better delivered by a major record company.

One such company was ABC-Paramount, a newer major that had found success with teen idols Paul Anka, Frankie Avalon, and Fabian, while crossing Lloyd Price over into pop. ABC’s Larry Newton convinced label president Sam Clark that Ray Charles was the ideal artist to not only make hits but to attract other black acts to the fold. Charles was granted a magnanimous contract that included ownership of his masters after five years. Even Frank Sinatra, as Vera points out, did not have a deal like this.

 

Sid Feller became Charles’ A&R man and producer. Though as Atlantic’s Jerry Wexler once said, “You don’t produce Ray Charles; you just get out of the way and let him do his thing.”

After striking a rich deal, the Ray Charles/ABC relationship had a momentary setback when the first ABC single, “Who You Gonna Love” b/w “My Baby,” sold disappointingly. The second single, “Sticks and Stones,” a “What’d I Say” knockoff, went to #2 R&B and #540 pop. Finally, the third ABC single, “Georgia on My Mind,” culled from the album The Genius Hits the Road, reached #1 on the pop charts. With the overwhelming popularity of “Georgia on My Mind,” Charles was at last a full-fledged mainstream star, right up there with the Nat Coles and Peggy Lees. The company’s strategy was to cater to his new market while still releasing singles to serve his R&B base.

Charles in the meantime launched a publishing arm, Tangerine Music, signing one of the greats of West Coast blues, Percy Mayfield. Mayfield brought with him a song he’d pitched to Specialty Records without success, “Hit the Road, Jack.” Ray’s version rose to #1 on both the pop and R&B charts. It was followed by “Unchain My Heart.”

ABC-Paramount celebrated his grand success by giving Charles his own label, Tangerine, which he used to record some of his personal R&B heroes including Mayfield, Louis Jordan, and Little Jimmy Scott. At the same point in time, Charles became enamored of country music and recorded several country sides: “Take These Chains From My heart,” “Busted,” “That Old Lucky Sun,” and from Buck Owens, “Crying Time” and “Together Again.”

 

1966 saw the opening of Ray Charles’ own RPM Studios on Washington Blvd. in Los Angeles. The first song he recorded at the facility was “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” a Coasters cover penned by Nick Ashford, Valerie Simpson, and Jo Armistead.

The ABC-Paramount recordings continued into the late ’60s and early ’70s. In 1972 Charles cut a version of the New Seekers hit, “Look What They’ve Done to My Song, Ma,” but it was the B-side, “America the Beautiful,” that became a runaway hit, Grammy Award winner (one of five on this collection) and to a younger generation unfamiliar with his earlier major works, his signature song.

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