When ribs meet kale

Savannah Morning News column

Sun., Dec. 14, 2014

Was it the cleanse? (Oy, is it over already? yes, it’s over except for the lemon juice and the water and the green shakes and the almond butter instead of peanut butter). Or was it was the wintry weather? (In Savannah that means 45 degrees, leaves instead of snow, hands tucked up in sweatshirts, but just in the morning, with two or three light layers underneath). Perhaps in the end, it was the challenge. We all like a challenge.

Whatever. Three times I tried to buy ribs from Randy’s Bar BQ. Three times I was rebuffed. Once, at the Pin Point Seafood Festival, not far from the home of our very own Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, when, on a Saturday in September, I waited for a good 15 minutes, but I didn’t care. N’importe. There was music. There were people. There were those undulating live oak trees. There was the smell, slightly mustardy, my favorite condiment, sweet but charred, and the promise. There was talk of the Pin Point Museum that I had just visited, which sits down a lovely dirt road, tucked away on the Moon River, and it’s something to see (especially video of the voluble, loveable and late Jim Bitler talking of Ossabaw Island) if you (or the museum) can get the hours worked out. Be patient with figuring out the hours.

Like me, standing in line. I was patient waiting for the ribs because the cleanse was over and there was that smell and the promise and I knew it would be worth waiting for. Except as soon as I got to the head of the line I watched someone tape a sign to the window: sold out. What? Impossible. But then someone handed me a card with an address and a phone number and I thought, “OK, I can buy a crab cake instead and later I can go to Randy’s on Wheaton Street.” I know Wheaton. It’s that weird curvy street near the Catholic Cemetery, past my vet on Ash Street, down from the first place I used to buy plants (now for sale), across from a monolith of a building known as the Department of Children and Family Services, near a bunch of schools.

So I went. It’s not hard to find. A little blue shack with nothing much around it. No cars, either. Not a good sign. But Randy, just about to pull off, was there. “Sold out,” he said from his car.

A week later on a Monday, tired of greens, tired of green shakes, tired of kale salads, bok choy, hard-boiled eggs and fruit salad, I drove over in mid-afternoon, 2-ish. Closed. Errgh. The next day I went at noon. Good thing I did. By 1, he was sold out. I got the small $5 order of ribs and thought I’d take it home to share but not before eating a few in my cars. Not eating. That would be incorrect. It’s more like inhaling. What is it about ribs when they’re hot and all you’ve had for days is kale?

That’s the day I met Randy Frazier who told me to text him the next time I came to make sure he was open. The restaurant starts off slowly on Monday when Randy and team cook up 10 cases with 90 ribs per case. By Wednesday he’ll prepare 12 cases. On Friday and Saturday he’ll up the ante to 15 cases each day. He used to work at Tricks, another hot spot for barbecue on Bull Street just north of Victory Drive. Look for the smoke. You can’t miss it. Then, seven years ago, he decided to open his own spot with “an old family secret sauce.” His place didn’t get in the way with the owner at Tricks. “We’re like brothers,” Randy said.

Next time I think I’ll try Jo Jo’s seafood salad. Three dollars for a cup of shrimp, crabmeat and pickled relish. Jo Jo is Joanne Young, Randy’s cashier.

Before he got into barbecuing Randy, who played ball for Cuyler middle school and Beach High School, sold cars and drove for Adams Funeral Home, which he still does. He also referees basketball and football games. That afternoon, after ordering and regrouping, he was off to a 4:30 basketball game at Savannah Christian.

But if he sells out by 12:45 or 1 most afternoons, why not prepare more food and stay open longer?

He paused for about a half second before saying, “Nah, you gotta have something else to do beside this.”

He had a point. It’s just up to the rest of us to get there on time, when we get tired of kale and green drinks.



A Eureka thanksgiving

Sun., Dec. 7, 2014

Savannah Morning News column

You know you are in Walmart country – northwest Arkansas – when the clerk at the airport in Fayetteville pooh-poohs Black Friday in the rest of the world and says, “That’s nothing compared to our Black Friday – when Walmart has its annual shareholder’s meeting.”

You know you’re visiting old friends – old as in circa 1976, when I moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas and met up with a crew of misfits and outsiders I like to call my second family – when conversations circle around to what the grandchildren are calling you. My favorite? Glammy. I’m sure Marci wouldn’t mind if you wanted to appropriate this moniker.

It’s good to know sarcasm can transcend the decades, like the morning before Thanksgiving when a bunch of us, age seven to 73, were hanging around Rae’s kitchen table on Vaughn Street, drinking coffee, talking politics, talking life, debating gluten, thinking of new businesses like a tattoo-removal parlor for elders, and maybe somewhere in the process letting a few “F” words fly when the seven-year-old pops up and says, “Hey, I’m standing right here, you know.”

Sorry, Lily.

Little pitchers have big ears.

And small towns have big eyes. During the post-Thanksgiving grazing period when fingers replaced forks and Becca brought out her killer chocolate flourless cake, when everyone had traded seats about three times to make sure to talk to everyone and we’re all standing around, saying how much better we see signs on the highway after our cataract procedures, when we’re taking turns doing the dishes, debating whether or not silver forks and spoons can go in the dishwasher, well, that’s when an outlier confesses she went to a generic stop-and-go “on the highway” to buy Captain Crunch cornflakes for her potato casserole dressing because she didn’t bring everything she needed for her dish and who would know the difference, anyway, right?

“I saw that!” said Alex from Austin who thought he recognized Elaine from Little Rock’s look-alike sister. “You are busted!”

It’s hard to be pure in a small town, but it’s possible. The afternoon after I toss back a shot of freshly squeezed wheatgrass from Lucilla’s Hurom (a slow juicer) – the greenest drink you’ll ever have – I move my gear to Billy and John’s house in the country and say, “Got any chocolate?” Sure do. Green and Black’s organic dark chocolate, 85 percent, bought by the carton. Good chocolate: it’s everywhere.

They live off Rock House Road down from Dominic’s “shedteau” and near the neighbor’s fenced-in grape arbor where two white Great Pyrenees earn their keep by sleeping outside and fending off deer and raccoon. It seems to be working. Who knew? Deer: they’re everywhere.

It’s nice to have old friends but at the same time it’s hard to conceal things from them and even harder to reconstruct the past in their presence. They don’t let anything slip by. The good thing is we have a lot to remember and a lot of people helping us to remember.

“Yup,” I was saying to someone. “I moved away from here 20 years ago and we’re all still friends.”

“Um, it’s more like 30,” said Dina, who like the rest of us marks time by personal milestones. “You moved here the same month Susan did. You left after Lynda, before Manny and Vernon died, before Elizabeth became Booker and before we got Favio.”

I guess that about says it.

The most shocked Thanksgiving guest of all was Jerry, Susan’s brother.

“My whole team is here,” he beamed, kvelling at the sight of us. Jerry was the coach of our ragtag, somewhat over-the-hill, drama-prone, women’s softball team. We were a very popular team to play back then because Eureka Springs had bars (!) like the Wagon Wheel that sold alcohol (!), unlike the rest of Arkansas, which at the time was 99.5 percent dry.

“You had a good arm, Jane,” Jerry said.

I loved that.