CHEAP EATS So happens that Hedgehog's birthday coincided with Mardi Gras weekend this year. And she had just finished filming her first ever co-wrote TV show. And Isabella Rossellini, into whose beautiful mouth Hedgehog had "put words," gave her a hug when it was done.
Meaning: by the transitive property of hugging, I hugged Isabella Rossellini!
To celebrate all of the above without being distracted by parades, parties, and drunken mayhem, we decided to get the hell out of New Orleans and do what we, as a couple, do best: drive around the country playing catch and eating barbecue. And barbecue. And barbecue.
Hedgehog's cowriter, who very literally wrote the book on barbecue, got us a reservation at City Grocery in Oxford, Mississippi. Which was the one thing we ate that wasn't barbecue. On the other hand, as serendipity would have it, exactly as we were being served complementary glasses of champagne, thanks to said cowriter and important personage, he was accepting an NAACP Image Award in L.A. — so we had even more things to toast.
But speaking of toast, City Grocery made the best gnocchi I have ever eaten. They might have been fried in butter. The outside of each dumpling was pleasantly crusty, and inside, my tongue found potatoey fluffs of heaven.
I've got a 10-pound sack of russets in my pantry, and a brick of good butter, and I might just devote the rest of my life to replicating this feat.
Next day we drove all over the place looking for — and finally finding — this off-off the beaten path barbecue joint called Betty Davis hiding out near Waterford. That was lunch: pulled pork and spareribs. And for dinner we went to Memphis and had spareribs and pulled pork and barbecued spaghetti at The Bar-B-Q Shack.
In-between, we got to see Memphis get crushed by Oklahoma at roller derby, and for her birthday Hedgehog bought me some red athletic socks that are going to go great with my pink football uniform. They say BACON on them.
But getting back to barbecued spaghetti: you ask me, it works. Like Cincinnati chili or kimchi burritos, it's just one of those things. Chopped barbecued pork on top of spaghetti and smothered in tomato-based barbecue sauce ... count me in. In fact, I liked it better than the barbecue barbecue that we had there, in Memphis.
Next day we woke up and drove down the Mississippi Blues Trail to Abe's Bar-B-Q at the Crossroads in Clarksdale, where Bessie Smith died and Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil. Slightly more to the point, for our purposes, it's where people put barbecue sauce on potato chips, by way of an appetizer.
This does not work as well, in my opinion, as barbecued spaghetti. In fact, it doesn't work as well as barbecue potato chips. But, on the plus side, the meats were great. Again: ribs, pulled pork, and tenderer and flavorfuller than the other ones we ate. Plus, points for no-mayo slaw.
All of these Mississippi-ish barbecues, for the record, were recommended to us by Sal, my beloved Secret Literary Agent or Whatever (SLAW).
Sal the Pork Chop apparently spends a lot of time in Mississippi, and now I'm going to, too. In fact, it might be my new favorite state. In fact, it is. Because on our way back to New Orleans, almost as an afterthought, we dropped in for lunch at Taylor Grocery, which had the best fried chicken I've had since the Gravy days. Seriously, I almost cried.
The charm alone — with its middle-of-nowhere graffiti plastered walls and general down-home rustickness — makes this my new favorite restaurant in the world.
But nobody lives in Taylor, Mississippi — not even you. So until you get there, here's who I like in San Fran: Morning Due Café, in the Castro. Its free-range chickens are brined for 24 hours, then marinated, then rotisseried.