A.J. Liebling is a Friend of Mine
I must venture north of I-10 for a couple of weeks this month, and I’m almost glad. If I stay much longer here beneath the Beignet Line, I won’t be able to fit into any of my clothes and already I’m working from the fat end of the closet.
On the coast, culinary temptations abound. Up north, where Mississippi bumps on Tennessee, it’s impossible even to find a loaf of good bread. All bread is white. White bread is obligatory for tomato sandwiches — if for the color combination alone — but if you crave rye or a baguette you’re in trouble.
Across the Bridge
Here, well, there are choices. I begin each week with the red beans and amazing fried chicken at Miss Ann’s on North Beach. I look forward to it the way forty-niners dreamed of gold. As counterintuitive as it may sound, it’s no longer easy to find good fried chicken in the South.
While touring a New York friend across Mississippi last summer, I drove from Memphis down Highway 61 looking for the exceptional fried chicken he expected, bless his heart. If you don’t count the KFC in Vicksburg, it was a wash. I was somewhat embarrassed. I wish we’d made it to 200 North Beach on a Monday.
Other great civilizations have fallen for less egregious lapses than fear of frying. I feel a moral imperative to support chicken fried correctly. And so the week begins…
Monday night there are the pork chops at Bacchus on the Beach in the Pass, though often I prefer the Oysters Rockefeller, the best I’ve ever tasted. Something about looking out at the oyster beds is reassuring and appetizing, akin to eating a gargantuan steak at the Kansas City stockyards.
Tuesday is seafood taco night at Hook’s in the Pass, though often I order the tacos on other days so as to avoid the rush. I used to think seafood tacos were a culinary oxymoron — like putting barbecue on pizza — but I’ve been disabused of that wrong-headed notion.
By Wednesday I’m ready for an enchilada from El Mexicano in Gulfport, the hotter the better because you can wash it down with a real margarita, not one made from a chalky mix.
You see the dangerous pattern. A week planned around caloric food and drink is a recipe for disaster. And while it worked for a journalism hero of mine, A. J. Liebling, he had more talent to balance the pounds.
Liebling, as you no doubt know, wrote a book about eating and writing in Paris called “Between Meals.” At least on a par with that literary gift, he gave all of us newspaper hacks a motto to live by: “I can write better than anybody who can write faster, and I can write faster than anybody who can write better.”
He was not a small man, Mister Liebling, and he wrote to eat rather than eating to write. While I admire tremendously his wit, I don’t want to match his waistline.
If I spent the entire year on the coast, I could teeter-totter with A.J. and he’d never hit the ground.
For a dinner with fine wine, one would have to travel from little Iuka to Memphis or the lofty Oxford, a town known for its high-falutin’ asparagus finger sandwich culture. You don’t gain weight on pretensions. As Buffett wrote: Give me oysters and beer, every day of the year….”
I think I may have invented a new kind of eating disorder: bingeing on the coast and starving in the Hills. Or, you might call it a yo-yo diet plan with a long string.
Rheta's new book, "Dogs Buried Over the Bridge," officially hit the shelves on April 1st! You'll find it at your favorite local bookstore. Pass Christian Books (300 East Scenic Drive, Pass Christian) has signed copies!