I called my friend Rick Bragg today to chat.
He teaches writing at the University of Alabama.
But that's just a cover.
It's my firm belief that his full time job is eating and writing about eating.
Rick is a man who thinks that white gravy is a vegetable.
Today Rick told me that he had just turned in a piece about mayonnaise for Gourmet Magazine's website.
We wake and drive five miles, to eat pancakes. With any luck, that will be the only meal of the day at which we will not have mayonnaise. We like L.L. Bean catalogs, too, but only because they offer most of their clothes in XXL, and we like their running shoes, which we wear to Popeye’s, and the mailbox–if it is not too far.Rick's written a bunch of best-selling books and he's won a Pulitzer Prize for his newspaper writing.
We would not get near a canoe even if it was the only thing we could hide under during a lightning storm. We like to vacation in New Orleans, where you have to go uphill to drown, where every flat, easy street seems to dead end into a platter of shrimp rémoulade, fried eggplant drizzled with béarnaise, or fried oyster po’ boys slathered in … well, you know.
At home, we like any fish that comes with a side of tartar sauce, and if we are going to have a sandwich it will likely be roast beef and cheddar on an onion roll, with mustard and mayo, and we do not even mind some lettuce, tomato and hot Spanish onion, as long as the whole thing is buried under an avalanche of Zapp’s Hotter ‘n Hot Jalapeno potato chips, and served with a quart of Barq’s Root Beer or sweet iced tea.
But his stories about food always make my mouth water.
Rick is from Alabama and is as Southern as anyone I know.
But he also loves Miami and its food.
When he passes through town, I always know that we'll end up at the Versailles if he has the time.
When he was here a few months ago, we had dinner at the Versailles. While we were there, suspected terrorist Luis Posada Carriles walked in the door and right by our table. The maitre d' calmly explained to us that Posada Carriles had blown up some airplanes and killed a bunch of people. As calmly as if he was explaining that the man had invented the Princess telephone. You always see interesting things at the Versailles.
Anyway, if you liked Rick's story about mayonnaise, here are some other Bragg stories about food.
Here's a story he wrote about the Cuban sandwich for a magazine called Garden and Gun.
Fidel dies every day at the corner of Calle Ocho and 36th Avenue, rubbed out one table, one diatribe at a time at Versailles, the sprawling restaurant and bakery that is a living history of the exile community here. Old men pound his bones to dust, scattering it with the bread crumbs at what has become a kind of House of Lords for these old men. They have been killing Castro in cafés and bakeries like this since ’59, and killing him over Cuban sandwiches much of the time. They take his life (and maybe his brother Raul’s), return democracy to Cuba, have a fine sandwich, and go home to their beds in Little Havana, Hialeah, Coral Gables, and South Miami, only to get up in the morning and go kill him all over again.And here's one he wrote for the New York Times on Atlanta's chicken and biscuit scene.
Thelma's, named for the owner, Thelma Grundy, used to be within walking distance of the downtown city center, and everyone from sanitation workers to big-shot lawyers went there.And if after reading those stories, you're hungry for more of Rick's writing, head on over to Amazon.com and pick up one of his books. But make sure you leave room for dessert.
But the Olympic Park loomed, and they moved Thelma's out, way out, west of downtown. With pre-Olympic traffic, it takes about 30 minutes to get now from downtown (with Olympic traffic, it should be no more than a day trip). But people still come, to peer into the steam table and point to the buttery mashed potatoes -- Mrs. Grundy is not afraid of the salt shaker -- and the macaroni and cheese, and sweet potato souffle, and savory collard greens, and the chicken, better than the Colonnade's only because it is seasoned better.
Some people complain that the food is too greasy, but no one born south of Richmond complains. Grease is an integral part of Southern food, not some evil byproduct. If you do not like grease, do not visit Thelma's.