Saturday, June 29, 2013

Elegy for Cosmo

Interior Design, Cosmo's-style  fig. a:  Tony & co. 1

There's a void in Montreal at the moment, and it has nothing to do with the city's mayoral woes.  We lost a great one last weekend, and in the most tragic of ways.  Tony Koulakis, the legendary founder of Cosmo Snack Bar, Montreal's most legendary greasy spoon, was stabbed to death last week at the age of 86 years old.

inside Cosmo's fig. b:  Tony & co. 2

Already, that was enough of a shock.  Then came the news that the suspect was Koulakis' 40-year-old son, Johnny, who lived downstairs from Tony.  The circumstances remain unclear, but the word is that the suspect had a history of disturbed behaviour.

We've been enormous fans of Cosmo around here for years.  I had my first taste of Cosmo over 25 years ago, and it forever redefined my understanding of Montreal.  It was like happening upon the Northwest Passage and discovering a New World--in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, of all places.  The breakfasts, the banter, the style of the place, the scene.

There was never any place like it, even after Tony retired around 2002.  Tony's two Nikis--his son Niko and his daughter Niki--kept the Cosmo tradition running strong.  After that, Tony was only around infrequently, but the breakfasts and the repartee remained just as memorable as ever, and the place had character to burn.  We were lucky enough to see Tony there on a couple of occasions, and he hadn't lost any of the old charm.

The last time we tried to go to Cosmo was just a few weeks ago, but it was a Monday, and we'd forgotten that it was their traditional day of rest.  We haven't had the courage to pass by since the news broke, but we understand that Niko was manning the griddle again last weekend--after the tragedy--out of some kind of compulsion to work.  The storefront has reportedly been closed for the last few days, though, and it's unclear when, or even if, Cosmo will reopen.  It's hard to imagine how it could.

We'll miss Tony greatly, here at " endless banquet"--there really was an aura that surrounded him, and it wasn't just the patina of all those supremely greasy greasy-spoon breakfasts.  I mean the man was a true Montreal original, a man who arrived here from his native Crete in 1954, and who helped change the city's food culture when he founded Cosmo in the epochal year of 1967.  If he'd only invented the Mish Mash--a famously gargantuan 4-egg omelette that came stuffed with four different types of meat, plus tomatoes, onions, and cheese (widely imitated, never equalled)--his place in the culinary firmament would have been secure.  But he also concocted The Creation--our personal favourite--a breakfast sandwich whose combination of egg, salami, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and cheese was a true work of art, especially if you chose the right bread for it.  It was--it is--a sandwich so great, it once inspired me to come up with a commemorative t-shirt idea:  an image of The Creation, in all its glory, proudly emblazoned on the front, along with the caption "I'm a Creationist."  I never got around to making that shirt, but I promise I will.

We send love and strength to the entire Koulakis family.

We feel quite certain that Tony is proudly manning the grill in heaven somewhere, turning all his fellow angels onto the unholy pleasures of his own brand of Cosmo-logy (quite possibly to the tune of, "I am the god from the potatoes!"), and simultaneously enjoying a cherished cigarette.

For more testimonials, check out this one in yesterday's Globe & Mail, or this one by Ezra Soiferman, who made a very touching (and highly recommended) documentary about Tony in 2000 called Man of Grease.



Friday, June 28, 2013

On the Road 8: VA & NC, Pt. 2

In our last instalment of On the Road, we began in the Ham Belt and quickly made our into an overlapping, but not entirely identical, region known as the Barbecue Belt.  As we headed east, we soon entered one of the most famous parts of the Peanut Belt.


boiled p-nuts 1 fig. a:  peanuts & driftwood

In fact, at Mackey's Ferry Peanuts in Jamesville, NC, I found a little slice of peanut heaven positioned adjacent to a pretty nifty collection of driftwood.  I was on the lookout for peanuts--real ones:  jumbo, expertly roasted, and grown-in-the-USA--and that BOILED PEANUTS sign definitely caught my eye.  I quickly made a U-turn and found everything I was looking for inside:  salted roasted peanuts, unsalted roasted peanuts, peanut butter, peanut brittle, and boiled peanuts.  Actually, in spite of that eye-catching sign, I wasn't sure that I was looking for boiled peanuts until I asked the counterperson for a sample.  It almost sounds shameful, but I'd never, ever had boiled peanuts until that moment.  When she came back out with a Dixie cup's worth of piping hot peanuts I was pretty excited.  Then I tried one.  "Hmm, I like that.  Those are good," I told her, but I wasn't immediately bowled over, so I continued to take a look around the store.  After about a minute, though, I realized I was doing so distractedly.  Those boiled peanuts had gotten to me.  They were sneaky like that.  I had boiled peanuts on the brain.

What, exactly, is a boiled peanut?  Well, it's just a raw peanut that's been boiled in salted water.  You can make them with fresh, green peanuts during the mid-summer harvest, but typically they're made with peanuts that are unroasted, but that have been sun-dried.  And if you've never had the pleasure, the taste sensation is something akin to having edamame in a Japanese restaurant.  In fact, as the Lee Bros. recount in their Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, a friend of theirs once approached with the idea of marketing boiled peanuts as "redneck edamame."  They're both served hot and steamy, they're both salty, and they're both highly addictive and great as a snack food, and having them boiled really emphasizes the fact that peanuts are legumes and not "nuts."

Anyway, after a couple of minutes, I realized those boiled peanuts were much better than just "good"--they were "great" and that I was already hooked.  I ordered a small portion, and I received a sizeable ziplock bag stuffed full of them.  They arrived hot and steamy--straight out of the cauldron.

Now I just needed a place to sit and enjoy them, preferably with a beer.  They tasted pretty amazing right there in the car, but I was pretty sure I could find a more scenic location to enjoy the rest of them.  Which is where the Outer Banks came in handy.

under the rainbow, NC fig. b:  under the rainbow

Those boiled peanuts were still hot by the time I'd set up my campsite, and the light and the temperature were just perfect for my beer and peanuts appetizer.

boiled p-nuts 2 fig. c:  boiled peanut appetizer

Little Layer Cakes

Across parts of the South, you find a number of areas where the ages-old tradition of little layer cakes--lovely homemade layer cakes that are notable for the thinness of their layers and the number of layers involved (usually 12 or more)--still runs strong.  It's a region known as the Little Layer Cake Archipelago, and it extends at least as far south as Alabama, but some of its most famous islands of activity--perhaps even the most famous--can be found in an area that stretches from coastal North Carolina, up into the Eastern Shore of both Maryland and Virginia, including the Chesapeake Bay islands.  I don't think there's any question that Smith Island Cake, which became the Official Dessert of the State of Maryland in 2008, is the most widely known variation on the little layer cake, and one of the most beloved.  But, like I said, you can find little layer cakes throughout coastal North Carolina and Virginia.

12-layer cakes, NC fig. d:  layer cakes & biscuits

In fact, you can even find them in gas station concessions in North Carolina--like Cindy's Kitchen & Katering in Barco, NC--alongside homemade country ham & egg biscuits.  They're right there on the shelf, freshly made, ready to take home with you (or to some friends of yours in New York), for $19.95 (!).*  Don't even hesitate.  There aren't tons of bakeries in the region that make little layer cakes--the field is dominated by expert home cooks--but those that do often make you order them well in advance.


All through coastal North Carolina and Virginia you also find a whole lot of good seafood, including blue crabs, shrimp, fish, and oysters.  There are signs of it everywhere.

oyster shack signs, VA fig. e:  signs of life

And when you see makeshift signs like these announcing a seafood shack, it pays to make a pit stop.  What you're likely to find are fried fish platters and fried sandwiches of all kinds, sometimes even cooked to order.  Like this freshly fried Chesapeake oyster sandwich, topped with tartar sauce and smothered in hot sauce.

oyster sandwich, VA fig. f:  fried oyster sandwich

Here, the seafood shack in question was a ramshackle two-man husband & wife affair that consisted of a storefront (wife) and a tiny fry kitchen (husband).  The place was a real hotspot for the local blue-collar lunch crowd, and the Southern charm was in full effect.  In fact, the accents and the storefront banter were just as delicious as the sandwich.


southern loot fig. g:  the haul

When I arrived back in Montreal, I arrived bearing trophies and gifts, most of them edible.

Not surprisingly, I've been cooking a lot of Southern food since I returned home.  My Southern sojourn only served to whet my appetite for Southern fare, and, plus, I came back with all kinds of useful ingredients.  So I've been making a lot of barbecue, and cornbread, and grits, and I've been eating a lot of peanuts.

Last week I had a hankering for a fresh fried oyster sandwich, so I went ahead and made some.

oyster shucking fig. h:  shucking

There are parts of the South where freshly harvested pre-shucked oysters are commonplace.  Here,  in the North, you pretty much have to shuck your own, and our oysters are delicious, but they're not exactly inexpensive. Even oysters at wholesale prices cost a pretty penny.  So it's a little cost-prohibitive to make an oyster sandwich as plentiful as you'd find in the South, but it sure tastes great, and you can make it to your specifications.

My fried oyster sandwiches were based on the recipe you find in the Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook, and once Michelle had shucked our oysters, they were cooked up and assembled in a flash.

oyster rich-boy fig. i:  assembly required

Fried Oyster No' Boys 
a bare minimum of 12 plump, freshly-shucked oysters**
1/2 cup All-Purpose Fry Dredge (recipe follows)
2-3 cups peanut oil or canola oil for frying
Spicy Tartar Sauce (recipe follows)
Bibb lettuce
fresh avocado slices
2 Portuguese buns hot sauce
Pour the oil in a cast-iron skillet to a depth of about 1/2 inch.  Heat over medium-high to high heat until a thermometer reads 365º F.   
Scatter the dredge on a plate and gently toss the oysters in the dredge.  When your oil has reached temperature, carefully transfer the oysters into the oil, making sure not to splatter the oil, and turn down the temperature to medium.  Agitate the oysters in the oil gently until they're golden brown, about 30 to 45 seconds
Transfer the oysters to a plate lined with paper towel (double thick). 
Assemble your sandwiches, dividing the oysters between the sandwiches evenly.  Devour. 
[makes two sandwiches] 
Lee Bros. All-Purpose Dredge 
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
3 tbsp stone-ground cornmeal
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
a sprinkling of bread crumbs for quick browning, if you're dredging fish or oysters (which you are) 
Mix thoroughly.  Keep in a jar. 
Spicy Tartar Sauce 
1/2 cup Pickled Corn (or Chowchow, or Jerusalem Artichoke Relish)
1/2 cup high-quality store-bought mayonnaise
1/2 tbsp chipotle purée
1 scallion, diced
Mix together.  Adjust seasoning, if necessary. 
The fried oyster sandwich--sometimes called a fried oyster po' boy, and here designated the Fried Oyster No' Boy to indicate that this sandwich was a) made in the North, where oysters are b) rarely the food of po' folks--is one of the great classics of sandwichery.

We've got the oysters.  Don't you owe it to yourself?


* If math isn't your strong suit, that works out to about $1.66 a layer.

** Again, if you're not that strong in mathematics, that works out to about 6 oysters per sandwich.  12 would be ideal, but six plump oysters will do, again, as a bare minimum.  It definitely won't take long to fry them--you can do them all in one batch.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

St-Jean Strawberry/BBQ Social Wrap-up

strawberry social fig. a:  street-level view

Thank you!  Thank you!  Thank you!

Yes, thank you so much for making our St-Jean event such a success!

It was a beautiful summer day (a real one!) and everything proceeded swimmingly.  We sold out of smoky NC-style chopped pork barbecue (two big shoulders' worth!) by about 3:00 PM.  We sold out of Savouré's delicious strawberry soda by about 4:00 PM.  And we sold our very last portion of strawberry shortcake at about 4:45 PM, just minutes before closing time.

Even better:  the wonderful folks at Mile End Community Mission were thrilled to get a sizeable (and completely unexpected) donation on Tuesday morning.  Happy St-Jean, indeed!

We saw a lot of old friends, and met a lot of new ones.  People ate inside, out on the steps, or took their portions to go.  One patron set a new Strawberry Social record:  one BBQ sandwich and four portions of strawberry shortcake!  We painted the fire hydrant strawberry red for the occasion.  We hired a little girl to ride back and forth on her scooter in a strawberry-red top.*  Even the CBC showed up to interview Michelle for the afternoon show.  It was perfect.  We couldn't have been happier with the results.

God bless Strawberry Shortcake and ole-time BBQ!


* Michelle had demoed an awesome strawberry-themed outfit for herself a few days earlier,

strawberry outfit fig. b:  red on red on red...

but it ended up being a little too steamy for this particular get-up.  Too bad.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

On the Horizon 3: The Return of the Strawberry Social! (now with more BBQ!)

strawberry by MS fig. a:  Strawberry Shortcake was here

St. Jean Strawberry Social, featuring Mile End/St. Louis BBQ #1

" endless banquet" is kicking off the Fruit Social Season for 2013 with a special St. Jean Strawberry Social.  This time we'll setting up a pop-up at Espace Pop, at 5587 avenue du Parc, just north of St-Viateur, and we'll be doing so on "la Fête de la St. Jean," Monday, June 24, between 1:00 and 5:00 PM.

strawberry shortcake fig. b:  strawberry socialism

We'll have unbelievably delicious strawberry shortcake (with fresh Quebec strawberries, fresh whipped cream, and Michelle's nonpareil shortcake) on offer, as well as Savouré strawberry soda, and our own homemade iced tea.  And we'll also be teaming up with Mile End/St. Louis BBQ #1 to bring you some honest-to-goodness, Carolina-style, hickory-smoked, chopped pork sandwiches, with all the fixin's you might need to reach Hog Heaven.

early Lexington BBQ fig. c:  ole time BBQ

We'll be raising money to support one of our favourite local charities, Mile End Community Mission, a.k.a. Mile End Mission, who've been a fixture of the neighbourhood for years, helping out the most at-risk members of the local community with "practical, emotional, and spiritual" assistance, including a Food Bank that serves the needs of over 100 people each and every week.  All proceeds from our Strawberry Social / BBQ will go directly to the Mile End Community Mission.

god bless strawberry shortcake fig. d:  ole time strawberry short cake

So drop on by to grab a sandwich, a drink, and/or a strawberry shortcake, to make a donation to the Mile End Mission, or to just say "hey, y'all."

who:  AEB + Mile End/St-Louis BBQ #1
what:  an afternoon of tasty treats and positive action
where:  Espace Pop, 5587 avenue du Parc (just above St-Viateur), in Mile End.
when:  Monday, June 24th, 1:00 to 5:00 pm.
why:  because you love barbecue and strawberry shortcake and you want to make a difference.
how:  just drop on by.

See you soon, God Bless Strawberry Shortcake, God Bless Ole Time BBQ, and vive le do-good-isme!


Sunday, June 16, 2013

On the Horizon 2: Yelp Helps!

 fig. a:  throw your hands in the air!

Yelp Helps!

Montrealers are becoming more and more aware of Yelp and its commitment to mapping out the best of the best across this fair city of ours.  You've probably also begun to notice Yelp's presence at a wide variety of cultural events over the last couple of years.  But what you may not know about (yet) is Yelp Montreal's commitment to building a certain kind of community--one that moves well beyond its online community.  And part of this mission involves giving back to the community in a real way.

Take Yelp Helps!, for instance.  Not only is Yelp helping to sponsor this year's St. Ambroise Montreal Fringe Festival, but they're hosting a food, drink & music bonanza to benefit a wide array of local charities on June 18th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm.  There'll be free food (from the likes of Café Boris, Tourtière Australienne, Mr. Puffs, Le Pourvoyer, and Pâtisserie Almond Butterfly), free drinks (from McAuslan, Tito's Handmade Vodka, and others), and a totally free, totally acoustic jamboree (featuring the talents of Mia Verko, Ronley Tepper, Ben Herrmann, and Saxsyndrum).  The only condition is that you must RSVP by Monday, June 17 (that's tomorrow, people!) to get in on the action.

A wide variety of local non-profit organizations will be in attendance to distribute information about their causes, sign up volunteers, and gratefully accept donations.  These include Head & Hands / À deux mains, a local institution that's been aiding and supporting the physical and mental health of Montreal's youth since 1970 (!).  You may know Head & Hands as the fine people who throw Serve, that wicked charity volleyball tournament that takes place every year in Parc Jeanne-Mance (this year's edition takes place on July 28), but there's a lot more to Head & Hands than super-fun summer volleyball jams.  Head & Hands runs a whole slew of programs and services for youth between the ages of 12 and 25, including all kinds of health services (drug counselling, pregnancy counselling and contraception, nutrition advice, etc.), legal services, a young parents program, and even an emergency food pantry.  And all the programs at Head & Hands are conducted in a manner that's meant to actually connect with youths and their needs--as they themselves put it, "[their] approach is harm-reductive, holistic, and non-judgmental."

"What are some of the other featured non-profits at Yelp Helps!?"  Well, I'm happy you asked.  We're talking everyone from the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, the Canadian Liver Foundation, and the Native Women's Shelter of Montreal, to the Distroboto Project and Rock Camp for Girls.

who:  Yelp Montreal, a number of tasty local food & drink interests, and a whole bunch of worthy Montreal-based non-profits
what:  an evening of merriment and positive action
where:  Parc des Ameriques (corner of St-Laurent & Rachel), Montreal Fringe Festival (or, in case of inclement weather, Bistro Les Deux Gamins, 170 Prince Arthur East).
when:  Tuesday, June 18th, 6:00 to 8:00 pm.
why:  because you like nice people, great non-profits, free food & drink and you want to make a difference.
how:  again, this event is FREE, but you must RSVP in order to attend.

For more information about Head & Hands, check out their website.


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

On the Horizon 1: The Return of Kaffeeklatsch!

flower power

petit fours plate figs. a & b:  flower power + flour power

Yes, that's correct.

Kaffeeklatsch is back!  Now with Flower Power!

Years and years ago, the Monterey Pop Festival dedicated itself to "Music, Love, and Flowers."  This event might not feature the musical heroics of Janis, Jimi, and Ravi, but it will feature better food & drinks than Monterey Pop.  It will be more like Music, Love, Flowers, Pastries, and Coffee.  It'll be a Kaffee und Blumen Klatsch.

What's the occasion?  Well, Michelle is teaming up with her friend Caroline Boyce at Floralia, a Hemmingford-based, totally sustainable, flower farm, who regularly beautifies our city with her lovely arrangements.  Together they're producing an afternoon of flowers and friandises, including plenty of gorgeous blooms from Floralia, a flower-arranging workshop for all those who'd like a tutorial from Caroline herself, and a selection of Michelle's favourite springtime pastries, including rhubarb petits fours and a strawberry cream torte.  There will also be an assortment of artisanal sodas from Savouré and some savoury tarts, for those who'd like a light lunch before dessert and coffee.

Having trouble imagining it?  Well, it'll look something like this,

blumenklatsch fig. c:  blumen und kuchen

only better (if you can believe it), with more flowers, more coffee, and more of the treats you see in the photograph up top.

who:  Foodlab + Floralia
what:  Kaffee und Blumen Klatsch
where:  SAT, 1201 St-Laurent Blvd., Montreal
when:  Saturday, June 15, 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM

If you'd like more information about Caroline's flower arranging workshop, send her an email at


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Mighty Lawrence...

...just got mightier.

sign of the pig fig. a:  at the sign of the pig

The good, good people at Lawrence (the restaurant) have now opened a "boucherie de quartier" (a neighbourhood butcher shop) and they've hit the ground running.  The space is airy, minimal, and tastefully appointed, the coolers are fully stocked (with the usual--chicken, pork, beef, lamb--plus sausages, pâtés and other charcuterie, and smoked fish), the walk-in features a huge, full-length window so you can check out their lovely stock in all its glory, the prep area is open and brightly lit, and they're offering sandwiches that are already among the very best in all of Mile End (if not beyond).  

Bouch Law.001 fig. b:  panoramic view

Today's choices included smoked ham, roast beef, and porchetta, and they all came fully loaded on house-baked bread or rolls.  

Other pluses include house-made yogurt, free-range eggs, preserves by Preservation Society, and one of my absolute favourite Canadian cheeses:  PEI's Avonlea cloth-bound cheddar.  Good coffee, too.  

And all of this is on Day 1.  I can't wait to see what the future holds!

Boucherie Lawrence, 5237 St-Laurent (Mile End), 277-8880


Thursday, June 06, 2013

On the Road 7: VA & NC, Pt. 1

shenandoah 1 fig. a:  Blue Ridge view

Sometimes the Mason-Dixon Line, and points south, can seem like worlds away--and, in a sense, they are.  But it only takes the better part of a day to drive down from Lower Canada into Virginia, which means it only takes the better part of a day to make it to the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah Valley.  And once you've made it to the Shenandoah Valley, you've officially entered a region of the United States of America that I like to call the Ham Belt, a region that encompasses Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, and beyond, where the ages-old tradition of smoked and aged country hams is still very much alive and well.

A case in point:  Fulks Run Grocery, in Fulks Run, VA, right in the heart of the Shenandoah Valley and just minutes from interstate 81, home of the Turner Ham House and Turner sugar-cured country hams.

Fulks Run Grocery/Turner Ham House, Inc.

Times have changed since the photograph on this postcard was first taken, but the Fulks Run Grocery sure hasn't changed much.

Fulks Run Grocery fig. b:  that was then

This is the way it looks today.  They no longer have a filling station, and guns & ammo aren't nearly as big a part of their trade, but country hams still are, and the grocery's just as charming as ever.

fulks run store fig. c:  this is now

You can get a whole range of Turner Ham House products there, including full sugar-cured hams, ham trimmings, sugar-cured bacon, and the cutest, tastiest little freshly made ham sandwiches.  I happened to catch them at a time when they were out of whole hams--they had a batch ready, but the inspector hadn't been by to approve them yet.  But I loaded up on every other kind of ham product I could get my hands on, including several ham sandwiches.  I bought a block of aged cheddar to further enhance my sandwiches, a bag of delicious Route 11 kettle-cooked, "unhurried," potato chips (the pride of Mount Jackson, VA), and a Boylan soda, and had myself a little tailgate picnic.

turner ham lunch fig. d:  tailgate party

Those Turner Ham House people were friendly, too.  We talked about everything from ham, to new-batch maple syrup (from West Virginia), to growing up in Northern Virginia, to Volkswagens (!), and they had some great tips for me, too, like Wade's Mill stone-ground flours and grits.  As Peggie Turner told me, "If you like grits, you're going to love Wade's Mill's."  Lord knows, I do love grits.

Wade's Mill

wade's mill 1 fig. e:  mill & buggy

Wade's Mill of Raphine, VA, has been a fully functioning flour mill since the late 19th century (1882, to be exact), but in recent years it's become something of a foodie destination.

wade's mill 2 fig. f:  Wade's Mill

They continue to mill superior flours and grits just as they always have, but the Kennedy-Wade family has also branched out a bit.  They host cooking classes and receptions on the grounds that surround the historic old mill, and they stock a wide variety of specialty food products, cookware, and dinnerware in their shop, alongside their own Wade's Mill line.

I was pretty single-mindedly focused on their grits and their cornmeal, though.  That's all I was really looking for, and Peggie Turner was right:  their grits truly are superior.  Their grains are sourced locally, their grind is ideal, and their corn products are bursting with flavour.  And, if you live in the States, they'd be happy to ship some to you.

When in Asheville...

...have yourself a good-ole time.  This town's built for them.

I mean they've got music, arts, culture, food, and beer in spades, and it's a real pretty town, too.

My favourite cultural landmark was the Thomas Wolfe Memorial, located next to, and including, Old Kentucky Home, the boarding house owned and operated by Wolfe's mother, Julia, in the early 20th century.  I've been interested in Mr. Wolfe ever since I tore through Look Homeward, Angel back in high school, and I had a true Southern Gentleman for a tour guide, with the sweetest Florida drawl and the saltiest sense of humour, like Tupelo honey with country ham and biscuits on a cool spring morning.  But one of my favourite parts of the tour was our visit to Julia's bright, roomy, and highly functional kitchen.

wolfe 1

wolfe 2 figs. g & h:  Julia's kitchen

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center is a tiny shopfront space in downtown Asheville, but it's one of the last tangible traces of Black Mountain College and its impact on 20th century art, design, and pedagogy.  You can watch a video detailing the history of Black Mountain College and check out shows devoted to its legacy, and you can purchase Black Mountain College books and paraphernalia in their tiny shop area.

You can even pick up a copy of Ernest Matthew Mickler's phenomenal (and fascinating) White Trash Cooking (1986), a true treasure trove of Southern vernacular cuisine, because it appeared as a co-production of The Jargon Society, the "high-falutin'-cum-demotic writer's press" founded by Jonathan Williams way back in 1951on the grounds of Black Mountain College.

White Trash 1

White Trash 2 fig. i & j:  trash culture

I knew Mickler's book was awesome--part William Eggleston, part Harry Crews, part good, ole-fashioned, Southern, spiral-bound community cookbook, it was an instant classic when it appeared in the mid-1980s--but I'd never made the Black Mountain connection until I visited the museum + arts center.

Beer-wise:  this town's motto ought to be "Don't Worry, Be Hoppy," because it's become a major hub in the American craft beer scene--something akin to the Portland, OR, of the Southeast.  I mean, this town's got such a vibrant beer culture that it operates craft brewery bus tours.  We're talking more breweries per capita than any other city in America.  I didn't have the time, the funds, or the suds-swilling capacity to conduct a comprehensive survey, but local favourites included the Asheville Brewing Company's Shiva I.P.A. and Rocket Girl lager and the Pisgah Brewing Company's I.P.A. and Tripel.

Food-wise:  there's all kinds of tasty grub to be had, from international to contemporary, but what I had my heart set on was Southern and New Southern, and that was exactly what I found.  I had exceptionally good food at Early Girl Eatery (pan-fried trout with pecan butter, German walnut cake, etc.), Tupelo Honey (New South sautéed greens, fried green tomatoes, biscuits, etc.), the Sunny Point Café (asparagus & country ham scramble, chipotle-cheese grits, etc.), and a definitive mint julep at Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder* on the day of the running of the 139th Kentucky Derby, but my favourite meal was some new-fangled barbecue at 12 Bones.

As their name suggests, 12 Bones have wisely made ribs their focus.  Ribs aren't a major part of the North Carolina tradition, but who in their right mind could fault a place for serving smoky baby backs, here, there, or anywhere?  In fact, 12 Bones are new-fangled in the best possible sense:  not hidebound by tradition, but still deeply respectful of Southern foodways.  "These ain't your pappy's ribs," a sign on the wall reads, but that's because they make them right--slow-smoked over real hardwood--not because they reinvented the rack.

12 bones 2 fig. k:  wood pile

Their prices were right, too:  order "6 bones" (a half-rack) and you get two sides and cornbread for $11.50; order "12 bones" (you got it:  a full rack) and you get the same two sides and cornbread for a mere $19.50.  Especially because, not only were their ribs great, but so were the mac & cheese, the sweet vinegar cole slaw, and the baked beans I had as sides.

12 bones 1 fig. l:  6 bones @ 12 Bones

To top things off, 12 Bones doubles as craft beer haven.  They've always got a nice selection of local brews on tap, and they're priced to move.

Not surprisingly, 12 Bones is a very popular place.  If we had one around here, I'd be there once a week.  Line-ups are inevitable, but they move fairly quickly and the crowd and the service is friendly.  Their River location (in central Asheville) is only open Monday through Friday, but if you happen to be in Asheville on the weekend (like I was), just head south along Sweeten Creek Rd., past the Mormons, the Scientologists, and the Jazzercise studio, and you'll find that their South location in nearby Arden, NC, is open on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., with carry-out available until 6 p.m.


Fulks Run Grocery/Turner Ham House, Inc., 11441 Brocks Gap Rd., Fulks Run, VA

Wade's Mill, 55 Kennedy-Wade's Mill, Raphine, VA

Thomas Wolfe Memorial, 52 North Market St., Asheville, NC

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, 56 Broadway St., Asheville, NC

Early Girl Eatery, 8 Wall St., Asheville, NC

Tupelo Honey, 12 College St., Asheville, NC

Sunny Point Café, 626 Haywood Dr., Asheville, NC

Seven Sows Bourbon & Larder, 77 Biltmore Ave., Asheville, NC

12 Bones, 5 Riverside Dr., Asheville, NC and 3578 Sweeten Creek Rd. in nearby Arden, NC


* Speaking of the Ham Belt, Seven Sows carries a pretty impressive range of country smokehouse products, including whole hams (some of them heirloom varieties) that you can take home with you (!).