Much of the Southern experience revolves around food. The gathering of it, preparing it and the consumption of it. It isn’t a solitary endeavor. From the talking over family dramas in the kitchen to the playing of them out at the table, Southerners consider food to be an important social activity second only to football.
Capturing a great drink picture is all about the light. Unless the drink is served in a paper bag. Then it’s all about the paper bag. Because. So Southern.
Music to my ears is when I hear, “Julia, feel free to go into the kitchen.” It is a privilege for me to be allowed into restaurant kitchens. Every part of a restaurant must work together for a successful experience for customers, but what happens in the kitchen is the foundation and if things go wrong here, there’s only one way to go thereafter.
There’s an interesting rhythm that exists in restaurants. Morning prep is busy but laid back in the way that there is work that needs to be done but the urgency is missing. That all changes as soon as the first customer walks in the door, music on phones is turned off, food is finished and it’s time to really get to work. The pace changes through out the day but every stage is fascinating in it’s own way.
I first had Zipitios in the alley behind Celis Produce. Until Ricky and Niria opened up at Grandview Public Market, I would chase these tacos from Elizabeth Avenue Station to Tacos and Hip Hop.
I should have brought a wedge of brie with me when I went to Bread by Johnny. Absolutely amazing bread.
Located in the revitalized Mid City section of Baton Rouge, White Star Market is fast becoming a fixture on the local food scene.
Located in the White Star Market, Chow Yum Phat has already moved on from this location to a larger space within the Market.
With the zeal of the newly converted I encourage you to get to Reve Coffee Roasters as soon as possible.
there will be tacos.
South Florida doesn’t really “do” Fall. Someone told me the other day “I haven’t been cold since 1977”. But, we can still celebrate the season. Creatives in the community got together to put on a Fall inspired dinner.
Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to replicate the bread that is made locally in the Abacos. Even with a little help from an expert baker I’m still working on it (I think his words were “no,no,no” when I showed him my recipe). According to the lady who makes the bread in Elbow Cay the secret is to use flour from Canada. I’d still prefer to buy it there but I’m trying to come up with an acceptable substitute.
Danny learned to be a cobbler from his father in his family shoe repair shop, F&C Repair in Brooklyn. The second to last child out of a family of nine kids (“I’m the only one left”), he spent three years in Korea before moving to South Florida in 1961. He met his wife while he was on furlough and married her 17 days after they first met. She passed away 11 years ago. He told me that his priest said that God must be keeping him around so that he can keep aggravating people.
Even though he was so far away from family, he and his brother (who took over the family business) stayed close, often helping each other out when something was needed in their respective shops. The machines he uses today are irreplaceable. A couple machines he pointed out to me were from 1941 and 1963. He repairs them himself and will not use what is being made today as he says they are mostly made out of plastic. He uses leather from Italy and gets shoes mailed to him from places as far away as California and Arizona. He, jokingly told me, “I fix broken hearts.” It seemed to come true though when a guy in his thirties came in while I was there. He had two pair of shoes. About one pair, I overheard him tell Danny “These are my favorite shoes.” About the other pair he said that he had gotten married last year in Savannah and instead of renting shoes to go with his tux he had bought these shoes. (Danny replied “At least you got something out of it.”) Later a lady came in to drop off a Louis Vuitton bag from the 90’s. She and Danny recognized each other from the early days of the shop. She said that she had moved here in 1961 from Cuba. After they hugged they caught up on family, births and deaths and Danny showed her his wall of pictures of his family.
It seemed to me in the short time that I was there, that through people sharing bits of themselves with Danny that he was, in fact, fixing broken hearts. It just looks on the outside like he’s fixing shoes.
Louisiana has a cultural identity unlike anywhere else in the United States. From our love of food to love a good party, it is easy to see that what makes Louisiana special is community. From the groups of old men meeting for beignets and coffee on a weekly basis or families setting up chairs and tents for a parade, people are visiting...and eating..and eating and visiting. For me, Louisiana is a roll down the windows and smell the sweet air kind of place that I will never tire of returning to.
Not everything fits in an easy category. Sometimes that little bit of something extra ends up being the most interesting thing of all.
With little more than her Around-the-World ticket and a guidebook or two, the owner of Barzina is about to set off on the trip of a lifetime. For the tenth time anyway. While some people would be holding going away parties and telling everyone they meet about their big plans, at Barzina the most you’re going to see is a little notice in the window and a sale going on inside. It’s just the owner, Gretchen’s annual four-month buying trip. Now that the season is officially over, Gretchen and I were able to chat one slow Saturday afternoon about her plans and adventures she’s had on past trips.
Gretchen started Barzina in Palm Beach 18 years ago. When she first opened her store, she went to market in Dallas thinking that since most of the stores here shop in Atlanta or New York, she’d be able to find a different selection of merchandise. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case as it turned out that a lot of the lines would show in different markets. “It wasn’t unique enough” Gretchen told me. Many people would have let that problem defeat them, but Gretchen thought outside of the box and decided to combine her love of travel along with our seasonal commercial market to her advantage. About 13 years ago, she took her first trip to Italy for two weeks. The next year she added France and England. Then Greece and Turkey. After that she thought of Asia. Another shop owner from the Avenue had gone to Asia “She told me how much she detested it. So I thought I’ll go one time just so I can say “been there - done that” [but] I fell so madly in love with Asia.”
This year, leaving June 1st, Gretchen starts her trip out in Beijing. It’s funny, there are things that don’t occur to me as I’ve never been to a country that uses a different alphabet. Gretchen showed me a piece of paper with her favorite restaurant in Beijing written on it. In English it says “My Humble House” and then there are the Chinese characters. Gretchen explained to me “You never get in a cab in China without having written, Chinese directions. Taxi drivers don’t speak English and they don’t read English. The first time I went to China, we jumped into a taxi and said “Take us to The Bund” and I had a guidebook in English and I showed him the guidebook. [Finally] he got out of the taxi and yelled “Does anybody speak English?” So a guy came over and translated and then we were able to go.”
Another time when Gretchen was in China, this time traveling with a friend who is a chef, the friend was determined to eat snake. So off to a snake restaurant they went. “It had cages of all the animals outside. There were ducks, cats, dogs, all kinds of birds, fish, eels, and snakes. I ate rice for days.” After they sat down, they were asked to pick out their snake. One snake was too big, one too small, and like Goldilocks, finally one was just right. It’s head was then snipped off with scissors, weighed and taken into the back to be cooked. According to her friend, it was delicious and tasted just like chicken. As a funny aside to the story, Gretchen had tried to get some asparagus at the restaurant to eat. “We had been to the market earlier in the day and I saw the most beautiful asparagus. I was dying for some so I thought I’d draw a picture. So I drew a picture for the waitress. I handed it to her and she looks at it and says “Ha Bur Day” and she gave me an extra bowl of rice.”
Having traveled now to China for so many years, Gretchen has had the opportunity to find some wonderful pieces for her shop as well as make unique connections that the ordinary traveler may miss. I think it’s like being a detective. One thing, asking a question or making a comment may lead to a unique product or restaurant then that leads her onto something else and then it can go on from there. How she found the Red Capital Ranch is just such an example.
One of Gretchen’s resources is Conde Nast Traveler. Her favorite issue is the Hot List. She goes through all of the restaurants, cuts out the ones that interest her and makes plans to visit them. One year, there was a restaurant mentioned called Red Capital Club in Beijing. She went there for a number of years until one year, the hostess asked her if she would like to meet the owner. Thinking she was about to meet David Tang, she readily agreed. Instead of a Hong Kong billionaire she was pleasantly surprised to meet an American lawyer whose mother lives in West Palm Beach (small world). He was just opening a boutique hotel called the Red Capital Residence and asked her if she’d like to see it. “He put us in a bicycle rickshaw. We went whipping through the slums of Beijing to the Residence...I’m like okay, this is it from now on, I’m staying here.” A couple of years later the owner built the Ranch. It’s along an unreconstructed part of the Great Wall of China. Gretchen is going back there again this year, this time taking her oldest son with her.
After Beijing, Gretchen is traveling to Ulaanbaatar, Shanghai, and then Hanoi. On her first trip to Hanoi, she was walking out of her hotel with her daughter to go shopping when a cyclo (a bicycle with a seat for a passenger in front) driver tried to convince them to hire him for a ride. “There were all of these drivers parked outside and we were not going to do it. So, as we were shopping, walking along, there was a guy following us, pedaling, shouting “Come on ladies, come on madam, I take two. I take two.” So we decided to get in the cyclo without realizing that they’re designed for one person not two. So my daughter sits down and then I sit on the armrest. All the locals are just roaring with laughter.” To add to the chaos, they had just looked at some t-shirts that said “Good Morning Vietnam” but the girl selling them couldn’t find their size. So, off they go in the cyclo, when suddenly the girl finds their size and starts chasing them (in jeans and high heels) yelling that she found it. Then, “There’s this one place in Hanoi where all the streets come together. It’s like a spider web. These cyclos don’t stop. They just keep on going. The girl’s running after us, the cyclo driver has plunged into all of this traffic, motorcycles, cars and trucks, they’re all coming at us. The two of us are sitting in the cyclo and we’re saying “Stop! Stop!” It was one of those things that if you saw it in a movie, you’d say, they made this up.”
Another time when Gretchen was in Hanoi, she had decided with her two traveling companions to see Ha Long Bay.” She told me that the movie Indochine has wonderful scenes from Ha Long Bay. “We had a Volkswagen bus with a guide. Once we got there they put us on a junk and we sailed around. There are these weird limestone outcroppings that come out of the water. It’s just so beautiful. Then they served us lunch with white tablecloths, wine glasses.” For lunch they were served spring rolls. “My friend and I were eating these spring rolls and they were really good so they brought us more. [The other person who was with them] kept saying “No thanks, no thanks” After lunch we asked her “Why didn’t you eat the spring rolls?” She said “Oh, because they were made from dog” She didn’t tell us until after we ate them.”
After Hanoi, Gretchen is off to Bangkok, then Singapore. This will be her first trip there. When she goes to a new place, she asks people she knows who have been there for tips, she reads design books and looks for products unique to the area (she wouldn’t buy Chinese furniture in Singapore, she’d buy it in China), and she reads loads of guidebooks and magazines. This is something that I know everyone could adapt to their own travel experience. A trip may not be to find an unusual item for a Palm Beach store, but it may be to find the best beach or a wonderful pizzeria in Rome. Asking questions of the locals, not taking things at face value, and not letting language be a barrier, are all lessons that we can learn from Gretchen.
From Singapore, Gretchen is going on to Helsinki, Stockholm, Budapest, Paris, and then London.
One year, based on a tiny piece in Tattler, she learned that the Countess of Leicester was taking her collection of Roman and Greek statuary from Holkham Hall and having molds made out of her favorite pieces and selling them. Gretchen has just one of these left in her shop. When she called her, the Countess gave her a private tour of Holkham Hall. She was able to see many private rooms (not to mention getting to meet the Countess). Another time when she was in England watching her son play polo, she got to meet Prince Charles. When I went to England I bought an umbrella. Very similar stories.
After London, Gretchen will travel to Milan and Venice and then return to Palm Beach via Paris. Looking back over past trips, Gretchen said “I’ve just had these magical trips.” Every place she’s gone to sounds like it’s been a unique adventure, filled with treasures that were there for just her to find. Hearing about some of her more harrowing exploits (I can’t look at dogs for a while) it made me wonder if there was anything Gretchen wouldn’t do, any lengths she wouldn’t go to find just that right piece for her shop. She set me straight really quick, “My rule for travel is, if they don’t have sit down toilets, I won’t go. So, you’ll never see me in the Gobi desert or out in Mongolia looking for dinosaur bones. I don’t do any of that kind of stuff. I can hook you up with the best guide in Mongolia if you want to shoot big horn sheep. But I don’t do any of that myself.”
E.J. Schrader Mattress Company was founded in 1956 by Enoch Schrader. It is located alongside the railroad that cuts through Palm Beach County from north to south. Today it’s an interesting contrast between a company that has been in operation since the 50’s and the Brightline trains that race past the open factory doors. Diane Schrader, daughter-in-law of the founder told me that E.J. would load up his station wagon with miscellaneous hardware and drive over to the west coast of Florida to sell items out of this car as well as make cold calls. Some of the clients he got then, they still have today. E.J. Schrader specializes in custom made mattresses, many for the boat, rv and interior designer trade. From start to finish, everything is done right here in West Palm Beach.