We were having dinner with a friend the other evening when discussion turned to how we’d met. The three of us had met decades ago, but I’d met the woman years before when she was friends with the younger sister of one of my childhood pals. He had a driver’s license, and he and I took his sister and her friend — our dining companion — to spend a day at a beachfront condo the family was using at the time.
I shared that story at the table. She had forgotten it, and was surprised I remembered after more than 45 years.
“Of course I remember,” I said. “That was the day I had my first fried chicken sandwich.”
The ladies erupted in laughter. But I wasn’t joking. It was a little divey place on the beachfront leg of Thomas Drive. The building looked like it had once been a Waffle House, repurposed as a generic short-order place. The sandwich was extraordinary — crisp battered boneless chicken topped with sliced dill pickle on a toasted, buttered bun.
This was long before my world had expanded widely enough to encounter a Chick-fil-A. In fact, it may have been my first exposure to the marvel of boneless chicken.
I tend to recall the high notes in my life by association to extraordinary bites. I judge scallops against the benchmark of a deserted back-alley restaurant in Hong Kong, where we pointed to a picture and were served an astonishing serving of seared medallions the size of flapjacks nestled in a bed of wilted choy sum greens. As we prepared to dig in with our chopsticks, the entire staff emerged from the kitchen surrounding a man who presented us with a lone utensil on a folded linen napkin — the restaurant’s only fork.
If I daydream about Vienna, it’s not the Opera House or the Boys’ Choir or the Lipizzaner Stallions. I think of mouth-watering sautéed spinach and a sea bass encased in a rock-salt shell whipped up in a small restaurant with no signage at the end of a darkened street off the main drag.
Oh, the fishes I have loved. Magical preparations are created on the Lamma Island waterfront in the South China Sea, but there’s no better land on the globe for catfish than Monroe County, Mississippi. You can spend some quality time with atop a lock on the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway if you stop off at the Walmart for a bag of George Jones Country Gold Dog Food to toss into the water. When the nuggets hit the surface, the water roils with hungry catfish. If you’re lucky, a legendary monster catfish the size of a dolphin will rise from the depths like Neptune for a mouthful of The Possum’s finest.
Later, you can make your way to Wren and meander down Coontail Road toward the Friendship House for bottomless plates of fried catfish, chased by caramel pie topped with toasted meringue standing higher than the servers’ beehive hair.
If you get to Bubba’s Boom-Boom Room, you’re on Little Coontail Road, and you’ve gone the wrong way, perhaps in more ways than one. But that would be a whole ‘nother story.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of The Dothan Eagle. E-mail: email@example.com.
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