The bathtubs filled with flowers, the retro sign announcing Chattaway's Drive-In, the funky down home look of the place, had always intrigued us--we expected to find soul food within. It's in our neighborhood, described as "bad," by one blogger. (Please!) When we finally ventured in, past the inspired vegetation, and signage, we were greeted by a chirpy Brit, and our eyes were diverted from the menu she proffered by the "Go, Rays!" inscription in white paint on the roof. (FYI Tampa Bay Rays baseball team.)
Fine. Much to see in this joint!
We ordered cole slaw, lobster/corn chowder, a blackened grouper sandwich, and unsweetened ice tea. The burgers, said to be fabled, did look terrific. A German guy next to us on the brightly painted wood picnic tables was waxing Wagneresquely over them. The chowder was fair, too heavily saged up, but ok. Fresh, fine cole slaw. The fish was not fresh. Definitely not. We noticed onion rings on the menu, and began our usual interrogation of the wait person--were they made here? Fresh cut? Flaky batter?
"You will love them," she pronounced. Reader, we did not, and they were not. Flaky, that is. Oily they were.
We began to wonder if there were an indoors to Chattaways, as we saw only the outdoor picnic tables from where we perched. After a trip to the wildly colorful loo, we wandered around the outside of the place and peered in windows, thus discovering an actual dining room as unexpected as a snowstorm in Tampa. It was blue and white, furnished with erstaz antiques, its walls covered with British Royals-abilia, the late lamented Queen Mum in particular on display.
Apparently Chattaway's began as a grocery store in the 1920's, then was a Drive-In in the 1930's, and from 1951 until now has been evolving into a burger Mecca/tea room, with Bob Marley-inspired bar, and the original barstools from the drive-in days. The Brit flavor derives from Jillian Lund Frers, the current owner, who became involved in the business when she married Everett Lund, son of the woman who took over in 1951.
But--through all this--there has been one primary cook, a local woman named Juanita Mincey who has been with Chattaway's 50 years. Hers is the fabled Chattaburger, which manager Debbie Kitto once described this way: “It’s not a specific size of the patty or spices that make the burger. It’s the quality of beef and freshness of our ingredients that make it taste so great.”
Juanita's photo hangs right outside the entrance to the kitchen--though I have not yet been able to interview her directly, I did learn that she recalls a time in St. Petersburg, when blacks, and no others, were under a curfew. Her co-hort in the kitchen for decades has been Bonnie Morris.
The place has a vibe, history, greenery, good burgers, evidently, but essentially, this is not where you come to eat well, or to eat food served up with imagination. This is where you come to hang out, to soak up the atmosphere, and to be nicely treated by your hosts.
Push a cart down a supermarket aisle, and you’ll pass a kaleidoscope of color. The use of artificial dyes by foodmakers is up by half since 1990, and it’s not limited to candy. The list of foods made pretty by chemicals now includes pickles, bagels and port wine cheese balls.
Many years ago, on a visit to Hawaii, our 4 year-old was given a blue shaved ice treat, one of the favorites of the people in that region. Minutes later, from the backseat, he erupted in wild crying and agitation, and we tossed the blue monstrosity out, and gave him water, and possibly ginger ale. When he was older, after another odd incident I cannot recall, it was determined by some doc that he was “allergic” to red dyes.
Maybe everyone is allergic to chemical food additives!
Shave ice was a Japanese notion dating back centuries, and at first was a specialty only for those wealthy enough to have access to snow/ice, etc. When Japanese immigrants arrived to work the big sugar plantations of Hawaii, they brought the shave ice concept with them. Hawaii Shaved Ice has the full story.
(Photo is from Matsumoto Shave Ice, a 60 year-old business in Haleiwa, on Oahu's north shore. A food heritage site, for sure. It’s likely that esoteric shave(d) ice joints are using naturally colored flavorings today, but back in the 1980’s, not so much.)
Nothing mars the vista ( had to! ) from this toes-almost-in-the water restaurant, the Mar Vista, where the food is fine but the ambiance is finest. Large black birds overhead in the oak--were they ravens?--amusingly and consistently gave vocal thumbs down to one's menu choices, as in "Nuh, uh, Nuh, uh."
( At left--you can arrive by boat, or simply pretend you did...)
We ambled around the old timey Fl wood building to the al fresco area at once, eschewing the stale beer charms of the bar. The original Jordan House, made of stone, and dating back to 1912, still stands as part of the little complex. Rufus Jordan was the earliest developer of Longboat Key, a barrier island roughly between Bradenton and Sarasota. During the Hurricane of 1921 that caused damage along the West Coast, the house stood strong.
From the late 1890's into the early 1900's, Mar Vista's old pier was a stopping off point for a steamboat named Mistletoe, that dropped off and picked up passengers and mail, and ferried crops grown on the Key--tomatoes, avocados, guava and citrus-- to Tampa. The 1921 hurricane, incidentally the last one to affect the Tampa Bay region, and resultant flooding effectively ended farming on the Key. ( For a look at more Key history, explore the Longboat Key Historical Society.)
Lunch? Tasty, fine, nothing terribly out of the ordinary. The grilled blackened grouper sandwich was moist, the roll toasted. The crabcake, ditto. The Key Lime pie, shared, was authentic. Yum.
The FOOD Museum folks tend to seek out postcards that capture a slice of time--showing people growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating food, as well as restaurants, and so on. A few cards convey the history of the time in words, as well.
This place in Illinois was started by Walt Williamson in 1936 as a coffee shop and hamburger joint attached to a gas station. It grew into a 300 acre resort and "entertainment complex." Then, after Walt's death in 1975, the enterprise began to slide downhill, ultimately burning down, and then, due to wrangling over the land, sat in its burned out state until finally authorities pulled everything down in 2004.
It had a decent almost 40 year-run. The card? Published in 1946, with the following write-up.
"Only women are employed in the kitchen of the Wagon Wheel because women, through their innate sense of taste and daintiness, excell in the fine arts of cookery."
So there you have it! We excell in cookery, dainty all the way.
A "real" onion ring is a thing of beauty and a joy forever, eh? After two tries at local joints, finally, the fanatical fresh onion ring maven ( moi) found some, right around the corner at Munch's, rhymes with lunches, a neighborhood beacon since 1952.
This place has funky stuff on the walls, like class photos of local elementary school kids from the 1960's, a counter with fishing mags, specials for each day of the week--yesterday, Shepherd's Pie--and a bustling waitstaff that favors the term "Hon," as in "OK, Hon, I'll bring a side of slaw." They do fresh fish--mullet was hoped for--and the grouper sandwich is a local legend, but I have yet to try either.
True Munchkins adore the creamed chipped beef, fried chicken, meat loaf, pulled pork, the grits and biscuits, and on, and on. The comfort of American foods.
Back to those rings! Flaky, thin, oniony, too many in a serving, etc etc. Fantastic. The right stuff. If you really need to eat anything else, the catfish sandwich is fine, though I am not a fan of that bottom dwelling, mud sucking creature.
ps Munch's apparently will be featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives sometime soon, via the Food Network, not that I asked the owner about this--I was too busy examining Laura's Brownies on the counter, baked by his wife. Maybe next time.
Built in the Green Revival style in 1830, Pomegranate Hall was the home of an attorney and judge originally from New Jersey, Nathan Sayre. Scholars today note this was the place where Sayre and his free woman-of-color partner, Susan Hunt, raised three children, possibly behind false walls.
Pomegranate Hall originally was situated on several acres, where Sayre had vineyards and pomegranate trees planted, and apparently (with slave help, no doubt) made his own wine. While relatively exotic to the natives of Sparta, Georgia, the pomegranate, a native of Persia, would have been highly familiar to the natives of Sparta, Greece and environs.
Burned in recent years, Pom Hall is in need of repair and restoration. A website devoted to that task is here.
FYI If you fancy native American-made Southwest "squash blossom" necklaces, be warned. The blossoms are actually modeled after those of pomegranates, a popular motif on Spanish buttons...
( There is a Pomegranate Council, based in Sonoma, CA, ready to answer all your pomegranatenacious inquiries.)
If you can find this place, Linger Lodge, nominally in Bradenton, Florida, you'll be glad you brought the entire family, kids, aging Aunties and all. There truly is something for everyone, even laundry nuts. Since this is a campground/RV park, you can toss your scummies in a machine while you wait for your order of frogs' legs.
The Lodge is set on the Braden River, alive with fowl and gators--they had not yet woken up from winter when we were there--and the kayaking is dandy. You can rent a log cabin, sheets provided, or park your RV. Or simply eat at the restaurant, and then stroll past assorted dead animals, preserved lovingly by a former owner, the taxidermist.
I know, messing with the Fah Noth accent, but I'm allowed, as a descendant of many such folk, my mothah bawn in Springfield, MA, which is not as Fah Noth, but, oh well.
Chez nous we love extra sharp cheddar, period. But when Cabot Cheese--"owned by dairy farmers since 1919"--markets Seriously Cheddar, along with all the others, Private Stock ( extra sharp,) and Extra Sharp, and NY Extra Sharp, well, one wonders. Apparently "Seriously" can be sharper than Extra, in a mistakey kind of way..."It's a cult thing," says the website. Hmmm...1200 dairy farmers working together.
The farmers of Cabot co-op worked together from 1919, but it wasn't until 1930...
In fact, in 1930 cows outnumbered people, 421,000 to 359,000. It was at this time that the company hired its first cheesemaker and cheddar cheese entered the product line for the first time.
If you are in Cabot, you can take a factory tour, sample cheese, demand to be taken seriously.
BTW This co-op's full fat Greek-style yogurt is...Fabulous!
For those with a fascination with names, read on:
"As far as can be discovered, Cabot is the only town in Vermont to have been named as a result of a romantic attachment. Major Lyman Hitchcock of Connecticut and Miss Sophia Cabot fell in love while Lyman was still in the Continental Army. Sophia's father refused to let his daughter marry a soldier, and the lovers were thwarted. Then Lyman got in on a Vermont grant in which he was the next-to-largest land buyer. Sophia's father went north with a survey crew to inspect the holdings of his would-be son-in-law and liked what he saw. He gave the couple his blessing, and the other grantees of Lyman's Vermont town agreed to let him name it for his fiancee. After the Revolution, the young couple settled on their Vermont land, and the 1790 Census (actually taken for Vermont in 1791) listed Lyman Hitchcock as head of a household of four people."
If yesterday your sweetheart gave you Sweethearts--the little heart-shaped wafers with writing on them-- then you have partaken of a still made-in-America original. Stamped with sillinesses such as "game on," "race me," and "hold hands," Sweethearts could soon be marked with your own pithy statement. "Tweet me," apparently has been done.
Each year we add a few new sayings to our Sweethearts. We are happy to accept suggestions for sayings from our consumers. Each saying can be no longer than two lines of four letters on the small hearts and two lines of six letters on the large motto hearts. You can either e-mail your suggestion or mail it to Sweethearts, NECCO, 135 American Legion Highway, Revere, MA 02151
NECCO wafers were standard in my youth--at least they ring a distant bell--but I recall not liking their chalky-ness all that much. Incredibly, until today I had no clue the name derived from New England Confectionary Company, based in Revere, Massachusetts, home of this nation's oldest public beach.
From the company history:
1847 "Oliver R. Chase of Boston invents and patents the first American candy machine, a lozenge cutter. This marks the founding of the nation's candy industry, the beginning of commercial manufacture. With his brother, Silas Edwin, he founds Chase and Company, the pioneer member of the NECCO family."
NB Containing artificial flavors, colors, corn syrup et al, nonetheless, Sweethearts are "lovingly made in the USA."
Archaeologists in Rome--both women, one French---have discovered a rotating dining room in Emperor Nero's Golden Palace. Written up in reports 60 years after Nero dispatched himself, and long sought, apparently the room actually exists. According to this report from the Telegraph,
"The leader of the four month dig, Françoise Villedieu, said her team discovered part of a circular room which was supported by a pillar with a diameter of more than 13 feet...The hall is said to have had a revolving wooden floor which allowed guests to survey a ceiling painted with stars and equipped with panels from which flower petals and perfume would shower onto the tables below."
No word as to the food, alas.
Further details here.
I can imagine that there were folks quaffing hootch in 900 AD, but I doubt there was any licensing involved whatsoever. Still, both are handsome spots, and one imagines a Guinness would go down well in either.
Named by British voyager Bartholomew Gosnold after his mother, Martha, in 1602 the island of Martha's Vineyard apparently was rich in luxuriant grapevines. As rich in grape, as the Cape nearby was rich in cod. Gosnold named Cape Cod, as well. Such an observer of food, our little-remembered Gosnold, and food available in such abundance in the not-yet-even colony of Massachusetts.
Gosnold, an attorney with a bent for sea exploration, returned to England intent on recruiting stout souls to help found the Virginia Colony. Five years after his New England sojourn he died in or near Jamestown in 1607, a swampy site he thought rightly to be unsuitable for habitation. Most of the original Jamestown settlers died of famine, and its accompanying scurvy and dysentery.
The tale of why settlers in a land filled with vegetation, game and fish died of hunger even in the summertime is fodder for many books, including Jamestown, the Buried Truth, in which we learn that dogs and cats were eaten by the afflicted Jamestonians.
The Obamas ( and Bo) need not fear hunger during their stay on the Vineyard, however. 35 year-old West Tisbury Farmers Market is right down the lane from their lodgings.
A far-flung food history finder friend has alerted me to this ancient food heritage site, already recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. It's in Alberta, Canada, in the foothills of the Rockies, and is apparently the largest, oldest--dating back 5500 years--and best preserved of the buffalo killing sites in North America. Its name derives from a hapless young brave who hung out under the cliff to watch the carnage and got caught in a pile of diving buffalo.
Our reporter writes:
They were hunter/gatherers,
living on inhospitable land, frozen much of the year, unreceptive to growing
edible crops. The only
they had was the dog, and they did not know about the
But they somehow managed to
psyche out the buffalo, analyze the terrain, and spend weeks gently coaxing
the herd towards its ultimate doom.
Once they had their crop of buffalo, they would use every bit of the beasts—eating the fresh meat and drying the rest in strips for future consumption. The pelts they used for clothes, the skins for tents, the sinews for thread, etc. Without this meat, these people would have not survived.
Barbara Melera of Landreth Seeds ( January 14 entry) spoke with us this morning and said that Comstock, Ferre and Co., of Wethersfield, CT, claims to be the "oldest continuously operated seed company " in the USA. Established in 1820, Comstock, Ferre began as the Wethersfield Seed Company. According to its website, " Customers who visit our store will find rows of old oak rocker bins and tin lined oak drawers which to this day hold our seed stock." This implies the company has been in the same building--food heritage site!--since the start.
That still makes Landreth "the oldest seed house in America." Bloomsdale, the Landreth home, which burned down about 1902, used to be part of a spread of 550 acres along the Delaware River. It claimed the biggest barn in North America at one time, built in 1810, and bought by the family in the 1840's.
As is often the case, the farmland was sold to developers over the years.
Which is why we at The FOOD Museum are dedicated to the entire topic of food heritage. Visit some relevant areas of the website here.
( Photo is of Comstock, Ferre and Co.)
Even though many seed catalogs are now available on-line, I still feel the need to clutch them in my hands, dogear the pages, spill coffee on them, rip out certain bits. Maybe I should plant a few trees each spring to replace those that went into creating my beloved catalogs.
As I was meandering among them on line, placing my orders for catalogs, I discovered that Landreth Seed is , in fact, a food heritage company. Established in 1784 in Philadelphia by a Brit named David Landreth, the business flourished quickly.
As the History section of the company website states, "...( Landreth's) reputation grew steadily and soon he numbered George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Joseph Bonaparte (Napoleon’s brother) among his customers. In 1798, he introduced the Zinnia into the United States from Mexico. In 1811, he introduced the first truly white potato. Prior to this introduction, potatoes had been yellow. In 1820, he introduced the tomato, known then as The Love Apple, and later perfected the first variety of yellow tomato.
"...the D. Landreth Seed Company is the fifth oldest corporation in America. Among its many historic claims is the fact that the company sold seed to every American president from George Washington to Franklin D. Roosevelt."
And we trust that soon Landreth will resume its commerce with Presidents of the United States and become involved in the establishment of a kitchen garden on the White House grounds for Mr. Obama and his family, guests, and staff. We have just emailed Landreth on this issue.
ps Go on. Check your dog's ears to see if they truly express the action "to dog-ear" a page. My terrier's do. So there!
(Freezonian peas from the on-line Landreth catalog.)
Out for an evening swim in the Gulf, we wandered into an older nifty strip of beach called Pass-A-Grille, described by some as an" artsy, bohemian community"---after a fine half hour of bobbing and floating, we saw the monstrous black clouds rolling in for their usual summer afternoon lightning show and soon buckets of rain were billowing down as we headed back to St. Petersburg.
Google then quickly informed us that P-A-G Beach was most likely dubbed that in quasi English by fishermen who stopped there to grill and eat some of their catch before heading on.
Food history is all around us, children, if we but pay attention. Remember The FOOD Museum's motto, courtesy of M.F.K.Fisher? "First we eat, then we do everything else."
Ain't it the truth!
( Thanks to this site for P-A-G postcard: http://www.rootsweb.com/~usgenweb/fl/pinellas/postcards/ppcs-pinellas.html)
Republican candidate Mitt Romney came up against an actual American asking tough questions at the Red Arrow diner in Manchester, NH recently. The questions about health care came from Michelle Griffin, a Red Arrow employee for 12 years. As the Washington Post reported it, Griffin was "in no mood for platitudes."
About the Red Arrow--it's a food heritage site, in business since 1922, tra la. ( Its history page says the joint opened in October 1921...and also "since 1922." ..) Open 24 hours, The Red Arrow was voted among the top 10 American diners by USA Today at one point.
The boom days of dinerdom were in the 1950's and then fast food joints began edging out the old silver-sides. But there's a resurgence in affection for diners these days, thankfully. To find the real thing one must get off major highways and look along sideroads for places stuffed with cars at 6:30 am--at least that's how we choose where to stop for breakfast--apple pie a la mode and coffee, please. Plus--are those home fries made fresh?
As for the "no mood for platitudes," many of us are feeling that way these days, and sometimes the gorge rises. You can read Ms. Griffin's questions via the WPost link above.