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124. Fried Crab Claws, Mighty Fine Finger Food

5 Mar

352913848_a52a025c75_mOf all the Southern delicacies I miss here in the Pacific Northwest, top honors may just go to fried crab claws. I occasionally encounter pretty good hushpuppies, fried chicken, and pulled pork. I’ve tasted some delicious grits and biscuits. I’ve even located a reliable source for beignets. But I can count on one finger the number of times I’ve run across a fried crab claw of any kind here–oh, and have one finger left over.

Yes, one of Seattle’s most celebrated chefs serves up some dee-li-cious crab cakes, but what on earth is he doing with all the claws? I beg of you, Tom Douglas, fry those suckers up!

Yes, but are they fried?

Yes, but are they fried?

Whenever I’m back in Mississippi, I make it a point to try and get myself some fried crab claws. In September, my sister and I drove nearly an hour to this joint in Vicksburg that has the best ones around. Unfortunately, nobody told us that half the town–including Rusty’s–shuts down on Monday. Still, after much searching, we managed to locate a tasty plate of them at a place called Monsour’s at the Biscuit Company. However, we were disappointed to learn that the “biscuit company” in the name had long since vacated the space. Apparently, the building once housed the National Biscuit Company or as they’re now called, Nabisco. Sure, I get the historic significance, but I think they ought to at least have a biscuit on the menu. Don’t get a girl’s hopes up like that!

As an appetizer that goes for around $14.95 a plate, fried crab claws are a little spendy. You might be tempted to split one order for the whole table. Don’t. Each claw offers up only one delectable morsel of meat, so you’ll want to share with one person max. Unless that person is greedy, in which case order your own.

If eating meat that still resembles the animal it came from creeps you out, then fried crab claws aren’t for you. They are what they are: claws, dipped in batter and fried. There’s only one way to eat them: position your teeth with the cartilage between them, bite down and scrape the meat off. No utensils will do. You’ve got to go caveman on them. Provided your cave is near the ocean, I mean.

Hmm...y'all might want to reword that.

Hmm…y’all might want to reword that.

Even in the South, menus featuring fried crab claws can be few and far between, so I suggest ordering them whenever you can. My sister just told me that we have to go to Walker’s Drive-In next time I’m in MS, seeing as they serve up a Super Size portion of them. She guesstimated 60 claws in one order, then backpeddled to “at least 50.” I am dubious. But also, hungry.

Know of any good places to get good fried crab claws? Any of them within driving distance of Seattle?

Photo credits: Plate ‘o claws by chez pim, Flickr Creative Commons; neon crab sign by Naser Risk, Flickr Creative Commons; we have crabs sign by tsmyther, Flickr Creative Commons.

62. Krispy Kreme–Kalories Be Damned!

31 Jan

Photo by Anne Brink
Flickr Creative Commons

Donut eaters tend to fall into two camps: those who like the cake variety and those who prefer the glazed kind. Guess which ones Southerners tend to prefer. Hint: glazed. And where’s the best place to get a glazed donut? Krispy Kreme.

When I was growing up, the closest Krispy Kreme was on the Gulf Coast, three hours away. I wouldn’t say we traveled there just for the pastries, but if you’ve seen the “beaches” in Gulfport, you’d know we weren’t there to frolic in the non-existent surf. Looking back, I can’t recall why we ever went to the coast. It’s not like we couldn’t get tacky souvenirs and sunburns at home. But I digress.

I can’t remember eating my first Krispy Kreme, but I’m pretty sure the heavens parted and angels sang in chorus. Biting into that melt-in-the-mouth confection of fat, sugar, and dough, I may well have swooned. After that, all other donuts might as well have been rice cakes. Ok, not really. But I sure did love Krispy Kreme.

Photo by Lori Federico
Flickr Creative Commons

The best thing about Krispy Kreme is their neon “Hot Now” sign, when it’s on. Seeing as donuts are typically made long before sunrise, where else am I ever going to get a hot, fresh one? Ok, yes, I could make one myself, if I could ever figure out how to dispose of used cooking oil.

After I left Mississippi, they opened a Krispy Kreme in Jackson, where you can not only get donuts hot and fresh, you can watch them being made. The donuts float along a little river of oil, travel through a waterfall of icing, and ride a conveyor toward a Krispy Kreme worker ready to box them up. If I recall correctly, they’ll even let you pluck your own donut off the conveyor. It’s like a low-rent version of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Sadly, no oompa loompas.

Photo by Scott Ableman
Flickr Creative Commons

Fast forward to 1999 when Krispy Kreme infiltrated Hollywood. Everybody on every TV show or movie was eating Krispy Kremes. It was driving me mad because I was living in Seattle with nary a Krispy Kreme in sight. I even went so far as to send an email to KK’s headquarters asking them when they would: A. Build a Krispy Kreme in Seattle or B. Lay off the product placement already. They sent me a courteous reply saying they had no plans to open a franchise in my area anytime soon. ACK!

So I left Seattle (not solely over the Krispy Kreme issue, but it did factor in…). When I came back in 2002, lo and behold there was a Krispy Kreme within driving distance. Hallelujah.

I now live just a few miles from a Krispy Kreme, and while I will occasionally swing by for an original glaze, I have to say my infatuation with them has been steadily eroding over the last few years. I’m now inching closer and closer into cake donut territory.

Sadly, the nearest Top Pot is fifteen minutes away…

What’s your favorite Krispy Kreme variety?

56. Waffle House (Kind of Like IHOP without the Pancakes)

15 Jan

Photo by gingher, flickr creative commons

On the ride home from the airport to my dad’s house, I’m always astounded by the number of dining establishments that have cropped up over the years. When I was growing up, you could count the nearby restaurants on one hand (and have fingers left over.) If I recall correctly, there were three: Sonic, the locally owned Chuck Wagon, and Waffle House. For some reason, we never went to Sonic. Perhaps Baptists are offended by girls delivering food wearing roller skates, seeing as roller skating could be a gateway to dancing.

On many a Sunday evening after church, the congregation would re-congregate at the Waffle House. I reckon Baptists are in favor of breakfast for dinner, but who isn’t?

Don’t let the name fool you: the menu at Waffle House isn’t limited to waffles. But in general, my advice is to order whatever food the restaurant’s named after. That’s probably your best chance for a decent entrée. But, hey, you’re a grown up. Order whatever you like. I’m not the boss of you.

The cool thing about Waffle House was that it was the first place I ever encountered a jukebox. To this day, I still get a little goosebumpy when I happen upon a working jukebox. Unless said jukebox is in a 50’s themed establishment, because I have a hate-hate relationship with 50’s music. Hello! I’m nostalgic for the 80’s! Hint, hint, restauranteurs.

Waffle House was an occasional treat as a kid, but when I hit college, I developed a deeper relationship with the place. Two reasons: it was cheap, and it was close by. Also, did I mention it was cheap?

Yep, pretty much how I remember it... Photo by Angela Layana, Flickr Creative Commons

When “dining” at Waffle House, I always enjoyed hearing the ancient waitresses hollering out orders for hashbrowns that were “scattered, smothered and covered.” I’m going to have to look up what that means. Ok, according to the Waffle House site, the options have expanded from the original “scattered” (spread on the grill), “smothered” (with onions) and “covered” (with cheese) to include: “chunked” (with ham), “diced” (with tomatoes), “peppered” (with jalapeño peppers), “capped” (with mushrooms), “topped” (with chili) and “country” (with sausage gravy). You can even order them “all the way” (with all available toppings) though I imagine that would have you running all the way to the bathroom.

I seem to recall ordering chicken fried steak and eggs, but sadly that’s not on their current menu. You can still get t-bone, rib-eye or NY strip, but really, what’s the point of steak if you’re not going to deep fry it? Just kidding. Sort of.

One other distinguishing feature of Waffle House is that they used to offer a slice of pecan pie topped with your choice of A. cheddar cheese or B. a scoop of butter. Do y’all remember that? Or was it a nightmare induced by watching Paula Deen before falling asleep?

52. Beauty Parlors–Curl Up and Dye

5 Nov

By S. Myers: Flickr Creative Commons

It’s no wonder beauty parlors are such popular spots, seeing as they combine two of a Southern lady’s greatest loves, gossip and perms. Oh, and don’t forget pampering. Any belle worth her sugar loves a good pampering.

When you get to the beauty parlor, don’t bother picking up People or US Weekly. Wouldn’t you rather pass the time finding out who’s done what to whom? It doesn’t even matter if you know the “who” or “whom” in question. Some stories are just that juicy.

Back in the day, Southern ladies had standing weekly appointments for hair-do maintenance. I imagine many still do. You can spot them quite easily; they’re the ones whose hair simply DOES NOT MOVE. Ever.

How do they keep the hair in place overnight? Some swear by satin pillowcases, but my aunt Juanita relied on trusty toilet paper. Every night before she went to bed, she wrapped the back of her head with t.p. and secured it with bobby pins. I’m not sure about the science behind this, but her hair always had that smooth, shellacked look popular among women of a certain era.

Hairstyles of a certain era.

I, myself, have spent a fair amount of time in beauty parlors. When I was growing up, my mom’s best friend, LaRue, was our hair dresser. (I have no idea if that’s how her name is actually spelled, seeing as I’ve never had occasion to use it till now.) Anyhoo, as I recall, LaRue’s magazine selection was rather slim, so I spent many an hour perusing the J.C. Penney catalog. The thing I liked best about the beauty parlor was the jar with combs floating in blue liquid. Why modern salons have done away with them, I do not know.

When I was a kid in church, I scanned the hair-dos of the ladies in the choir, and I dreaded the day that I’d be required to sport the helmet-head look. Thankfully, I’ve realized that day will never come. Though each visit to my local beauty parlor finds me with shorter and shorter hair, my curls will never be considered ruly. And if you ever see me reaching for a can of Aqua Net, feel free to snatch me baldheaded. If you know what that means…

What are your favorite beauty parlor memories?

50. Drive-thru Beer Barns–Libations for Lazy Folks

4 Nov

What? You thought burgers, tacos and donuts had the drive-thru market cornered? Oh no. They can’t compete with kegs, cigarettes and wine coolers. Not in the South anyway.

I can’t say how the drive-thru beer barn got started, but I suspect it was the brainchild of someone whose six-year-old flat out refused to go into the tote-sum for momma’s Marlboro Lights. See, if I was making a list of Stuff Southern People DON’T Like, number four would be “Getting Out of the Car” (or more likely, the truck).

A beer barn isn’t necessarily in an actual barn, but “beer building” just doesn’t sound festive at all. The cool thing about beer barns is that minors are allowed in. Craving a bag of pork rinds and a coke? Need a pack of gum? M & Ms? Just drive on through!

You might think the idea of a drive-thru alcohol purveyor is counterintuitive. Wouldn’t this promote drinking and driving? That’s like saying drive-thru restaurants promote eating and driving. Who wants to eat in the car when there’s a big screen TV and a coffee table waiting at home?

I reckon beer barns might have been outlawed by some zealous Baptists, seeing as the one on Lakeland Drive was closed eons ago. Now, that, my friends is counterintuitive, seeing as Baptists are the ideal demographic for the drive-thru beer barn: no chance of being spotted in public toting a six-pack of Bud.

When I was in high school, Mississippi changed the drinking age to 21, but Louisiana had yet to jump on the bandwagon. Folks would drive across the river at Vicksburg to this place called Daiquiri World where you could get a ginormous Styrofoam cup of daiquiri TO GO. There might have even been a drive thru. And what’s better than a drive through beer barn? A drive-thru LIQUOR joint.

Beats the heck out of the drive-thru espresso stands that multiply faster than rabbits – or Starbucks – around here.

Ever been to a beer barn? Do they still exist?

43. Cracker Barrel: Putting the Kitsch in Kitchen

25 Jun

"Cracker Barrel" by keithlam

You’d think the novelty of nostalgia would have worn off by now, but judging from the ever-crowded parking lot, I reckon not. But then Cracker Barrel combines two of Southern women’s greatest loves: eating and shopping. Also, you can get in quite a bit of gossiping, too, depending on who you run into and how long you have to wait for a table.

I’m not going to extol the virtues of Cracker Barrel’s food, because I fail to see any. Ok, I’ll admit, they do have some good pecan pancakes that come with wee bottles of maple syrup. I know this because whenever I’d come home to visit, Mom would wake me up WAAAAY early the next day (like around 9:00) to go get some pancakes.

"Sweet Treats" by Lorianne DiSabato

What Cracker Barrel lacks in culinary skills, they make up for in kitsch. Where else are you going to find cornbread pans, patriotic clocks, wooden toys, and old-timey candy all in one place? Ok, maybe your grandmother’s house. But the candy will likely be not so much old-timey as just plain old.

"Peg Leg" by JasonChamberlain

There’s plenty to look at while you wait, and the fun doesn’t stop after you’re seated. Who’s up for a challenging round of the peg game? You know the one with a triangle-shaped piece of wood featuring pegs filled with golf tees? The object is to “jump” and remove the other tees, leaving only one tee standing. It sounds more exciting than it is. But then, maybe I’m just bitter because I’ve yet to win.

I’ve only ever been to Cracker Barrel for breakfast because from what I hear, that’s the only meal worth eating. However, I can’t imagine the food would be any worse than the short-lived “Po Folks” that we used to patronize frequently in college. Because, hey, we WERE po folks, and most anything beats Kraft Macaroni and Cheese.

Though I do enjoy poking around in the general store, I haven’t eaten at Cracker Barrel in the last three years. My mom loved those pancakes enough to endure breakfast with a grumpy, jetlagged daughter, and it wouldn’t feel right eating them without her.

What’s your favorite part of the Cracker Barrel experience?

41. Stuckey’s: Home of Pee Breaks and Pecan Log Rolls

19 Jun

Stuckey's, Coffee County, Tennessee by naslrogues

Every road trip I ever suffered through as a child included at least one stop at Stuckey’s. Which was often the highlight of the whole ordeal. How to describe Stuckey’s to the uninitiated? Hmm…a gas station, restaurant, souvenir shop, ice cream parlor, and candy store all in one. Kind of a low-rent version of Disneyland, sans rides, dorky hats, and teenagers sweltering in Disney character costumes.

Anybody who’s ever been to Stuckey’s knows I’m building it up way too much, but y’all have to admit that to a road-weary kid, Stuckey’s is pretty awesome. Except for the bathrooms. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a clean bathroom in a Stuckey’s. But, hey, look! There’s a figurine made out of a clam shell! A rubber alligator! Peanut brittle!

What I remember most about Stuckey’s is that they used to sell their own brand of melt-in-your-mouth peppermint balls. I remember this because I’ve spent the rest of my life (so far) trying to find a decent substitute. If y’all know of any, please let me know.

My sister and I never left Stuckey’s without new “Yes and Know” books in hand. These were filled with trivia questions or word games, and you revealed the “invisibly printed” answers with a “magic pen.” As I got older (or perhaps my eyesight improved), I realized you could read the “invisibly printed” answers without the use of the “magic pen” AKA yellow highlighter. However, until I Googled them just now, some thirty-odd years later, I didn’t catch anything odd about the tagline “Hours and hours of by-yourself enjoyment.” Hmm.

My mom always had to have a box of sesame sticks (which were WAY exotic back in the day) and the ever-popular Pecan Log. This is not as gross as it sounds, but almost. I don’t remember anything my dad enjoyed about Stuckey’s other than getting the hell out of there and back on the road. Of course, we didn’t often get to-go drinks because a pit stop was to “empty” not “fill up.”

Anytime I happen to be on a road trip in the South, I can never pass up a Stuckey’s. They’re harder to find these days, but if you’re on the road from Jackson, MS to Memphis, there’s one in Vaiden. Last time I checked.

Alas, while they do still sell a bunch of Stuckey’s brand food-like substances, the peppermint balls are long gone. However, I’m happy to report that the bathrooms are just as nasty as ever.

What do y’all remember about Stuckey’s?

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