Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Fried fried and more fried

No, I’m not fried, but a good portion of my dinner this evening was. Oish. Not used to that. But I’m also not used to perusing a menu with Fried Okra, Brunswick Stew, Hoppin’ John, Mudbugs and Pot Likker* with cornbread. If you recognize these food items you must be familiar with southern cooking. Amazing! Now don’t get me wrong: there is no way I could possibly eat like this on a regular basis. But experiencing a culture through their food is pretty cool, and since I’m in the south at the moment, I wanted to experience southern cooking.

Mint Julips are pretty good, though they’re really sweet. Made with muddled mint and a sweet syrup, they feature bourbon, and phew, that stuff is strong. The spicy deep fried mudbugs (Louisiana crawfish) were like any other small battered and fried item. I liked to think I was eating something called a mudbug. But the sweet potato soufflé was amazing. Next time I’m going to try collard greens and cracklin’. No idea what that is but I want to try it. Whatever cracklin’ may be.

And the really cool thing was the atmosphere. At Mary Mac’s Tea Room , they continue to serve traditional southern food like they have been since 1945.

But the creme de la crème is the goodwill ambassador . An incredibly charming, retired woman meets and greets and visits with every table, talkin’ away ‘bout everything, all the while rubbing your back. Yes, vigorously rubbing your back.

I was caught off guard at first. It’s not like she’s in a uniform or has a nametag. All of a sudden she showed up, and was chit chattin’ with my colleague while rubbin’ away. I’m a pretty strong supporter of personal boundary lines, and I was a little wary. But then it was my turn. And it was so sweet. And it felt good. And here we were in the bastion of comfort food, having our backs rubbed.

We visited with her at the door, waiting for our cab. She’s a self described people person, and loves her job. She intrigued me. She doesn’t like managing, but she loves greeting. And I’d say she’s pretty darn good at it. She told me of the famous people she’s met while working at Mary Macs, including Richard Gere, the Dalai Lama, Hilary Clinton. Impressive.

Some history of Mary Mac’s:
Back in 1945, Mary McKinsey opened Mary Mac’s Tea Room. In those tough days right after the end of the World War, enterprising women in search of a living, some of them mothers widowed by the war, were establishing restaurants all over Atlanta. Calling their establishments “tea rooms” was a polite way of elevating their endeavor.
I don’t think I would be a very good goodwill ambassador. And I don’t think I’d respond very well to one in a restaurant in Portland, Oregon. But it sure is a sweet thing to encounter, and now I can say I ate mudbugs and drank a traditional mint julip. Cheers!

*pot likker is the broth the turnips are cooked in. You can dunk your bread in it. Who knew?!


bemused said...

I was pretty sure I knew what cracklin was but I double-checked with I was right. Here for your edification is the definition of cracklin: The crisp bits that remain after rendering fat from meat or frying or roasting the skin, especially of a pig or a goose.

Wow, how do Southerners eat that stuff all the time? It makes my gut ache just thinking about it.

LeLo said...

As my colleague said, it's no wonder diabetes rates are so high in the south...I think I'll have to pass on the cracklin's bemused. My gut is achin' just about now...

sttropezbutler said...

Ah...the joys of fried food. I left them behind about 25 years ago!


Kathryn said...

Oh, it sounds fun Lelo!!!! Glad you're expanding your horizons. Just one question? Was the fried Okra organic????

Rozanne said...

If I'm ever make it to Atlanta (highly improbable), I will absolutely have to go to Mary Macs. It sounds great--I just love your description of it.

Mudbugs!!!! Greens!!!! Hush Puppies!!!!

I'm going to Roux on Sunday. I wonder how it will stack up to Mary Macs. I *know* they won't have a goodwill ambassador.

Anonymous said...

Sweet Jesus, I'm lost. Are you in "HotLanta"?

LeLo said...

Yessirree, was in Hotlanta. But now am in North Carolina. Keep up Mikey! Keep up!

Blogzie said...

You sure do get around.

I love fried okra. My Dad's an Okie, so I've been eating it since I was a wee lass.

But I've never eaten it while getting a back rub.

I'm jealous.