Wednesday, July 09, 2014
I've got a little more room to stretch out in the local paper's daily "things to do" supplement, plus the luxury of photos. It's kinda like moving from an army cot to a king-size--with a view.
And a surprise of a welcome from my new editor, who is a dream to work with!
Friday, July 04, 2014
UPSTATE NY, CIRCA 1968: You tell the in-laws you‘re moving to St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, and you might as well announce you’re leaving for the moon. Barbara Farlow’s mom inquires, “You’re going WHERE?!”
The late Dave Farlow’s son Keith says the late sixties were the “renegade days” for his parents—as they were for many American expats. “Back then, there weren’t even grocery stores on St. Croix; they had to buy produce off a boat from Puerto Rico.”
The enterprising Farlows nonetheless established the island’s first movie theater, family-based swim team, and ice cream shops. “Selling ice cream to locals put me through private school and swim team,” laughs Keith.
Dave and Barbara had found paradise. They raised their family; saw their sons swim in the Olympics and Pan American Games. They were planning to retire there.
One September night in 1989, a monster storm changed everything. Hurricane Hugo flattened St. Croix with winds that islanders swear reached 200 mph, leaving behind postapocalyptic devastation and a panicked frenzy of looting. President Bush Senior dispatched the Airborne to restore order.
Keith Farlow had just left for senior year at college in Kentucky. For five days it was as if his parents, indeed the entire island, had vanished. The college’s dean finally got news through a ham radio operator, but crackly reports of his folks barricaded in their street amid a massive gunfight didn’t exactly set Keith’s mind at ease.
St. Croix never seemed the same again, and retirement in Orlando didn’t work for Dave Farlow, who felt lost that far from his ocean.
Then, says Keith, “One day he calls and tells us, ‘I’m opening a restaurant.’
‘Really, Dad? You’re supposed to be retired.’
‘Yup. Found this place called Engle Wood.’”
Rejuvenated by this little Gulf town that echoed the “good St. Croix,” Dave Farlow followed his dream, moved to Englewood, and opened the Country Hound Café. Before long, everybody in town knew the guy behind the counter at the Hound who told such great stories.
Keith and his Kentucky-born bride, Laurie, had a dream, too. They’d just started planning a Caribbean-themed restaurant in Louisville, incorporating Southern-style dishes.
Funny. If it weren’t for Hurricane Hugo, they never would have visited Englewood. Nor would Dave Farlow have been there to catch wind of Englewood’s Flying Bridge II restaurant for sale, right on the water among the mangroves. It was the perfect spot for the kids’ restaurant.
Laurie marvels, “Next thing we know, we’re looking at this restaurant for sale. Then in three months we’re here and Farlow’s opens a month later. We went, ‘What the heck just happened?’”
Dave told everyone at the Hound, “Go check out my son’s new restaurant up the street!” Farlow’s opened like gangbusters.
“I never thought I’d be doing this,” admits Laurie. She’d never even waitressed but had worked with people her whole career. So the first principle of Restaurant Ownership for Dummies, according to Laurie: Hire good people.
“She’s in charge, I’m just the owner,” smiles Keith. “Hey, Dad used to get produce off the boat. At least I don’t have to go meet a boat down the end of Dearborn!”
Friday, July 04, 2014
Editor’s Note: Sue Wade is being promoted to Let’s Go! on Wednesdays and, starting next Friday, David Morris will move into this spot.
"Let's Go!" is a weekly arts and entertainment magazine blown into each copy of the paper, so although I won't be emblazoned on the front page every Friday, I'll have more space and photo opps in Let's Go!
Tuesday, July 01, 2014
ga∙rage sit∙ting noun \gə-ˈräzh, -ˈräj ‘sit-ting : phenomenon in which people sit on lawn chairs in the shelter of a building or part of a building in which a car, truck, etc., is kept
There are front porches up north. People sit on them watching the world go by, smoking outside to keep their houses clean. If you walk around the neighborhood, you can bet these folks will be out. They count on passersby to keep life interesting, and they’re a fine source of neighborhood news.
“How’s it going, Don?”
“Can’t complain, hon! You’re the best thing I’ve seen all week. You hear Ed died?”
In Florida, many folks have a screen-porch lanai in back, where they can sit outside to smoke and keep their house clean. Even better, it might front on a canal. Unless they have neither lanai nor canal.
At some point when they began building homes in the South, they omitted the New England front porch, more’s the pity. This left southerners to their own devices, and garage sitting was born!
Just like porch sitters, garage sitters gaze out on the street to see the world go by.
I can bet on Joe being out in his garage every day. The garage door lifts around 8:30 a.m. and there he is, at a card table surrounded by four or five plastic lawn chairs. Sometimes Joe sits there alone, gazing out on the street. Sometimes a card game with his buddies is in full swing.
I asked Joe, “What’s this thing with sitting in your garage? I get the no-smoking-in-the-house deal, but what else?”
He goes, “Come in and I’ll show you.”
Turns out his house is laid out awkwardly. It has a lovely, but totally enclosed, lanai, in which there’s no way one can smoke while looking out on the canal.
The point is: We are drawn to that space in our homes where we feel the most comfortable.
In New Hampshire we had a homey sunken living room, with a fireplace, which convinced us to buy the house in the first place. We spent no time there. In the summer our comfort zone was the sun room off the back deck, in the piney woods, where skunks and wild turkeys and Amtrak passed by. In the winter, comfort was a rocker by the woodstove with a cat in your lap.
Joe’s 6-year-old grandson has adorned a steel cabinet in the garage with “MAN CAVE” and various happy-face stickers. This is his comfort zone, just as it is Joe’s. Long-haired shag carpet crawls all over inside the house--of which Joe’s grandson says, somewhat fearfully, “If I drop something, it better be on the tiles, grampa, or I’ll never be able to find it again.”
Jim “Magic” Metz has a full workshop counter with overhead TV and swimsuit calendar in his garage, where he can both putz around and be available for conversation when the door is up. His dog, Grady, acts as greeter.
Earl and Sheila have a lovely whitewashed garden bench in the shade on their front lawn, and a red bucket bench with heart cutouts. They never use them. When their smoking sister-in-law shows up for a visit, they sit in lawn chairs in the garage, waving howdy to passersby.
Grace sits out in her garage in a green-webbed lawn chair squeezed between a stack of garage junk and her car. She doesn’t even have a tray table for her ashtray.
And one family in the neighborhood has raised garage sitting to new heights. When they’re open for business, the screened garage door affords a view of a fully furnished family room with exercise bike, leather couches, and a 72-inch wall-mounted TV playing Middle Eastern movies and news all day long.
Friday, June 27, 2014
So it was a good run for five months. My editor called to let me know that they're putting a consumer advice column in place of mine next month. I'm crushed, of course, but I'll lick my wounds and get over it one day. Meanwhile, here's today's story.
B.B. King has said a lot of things about the blues, like “The blues was that problem child that you may have had in the family … but you loved him.”
Luis Rivera Sr. had a problem child, who wouldn’t go to college like his dad wanted. Rivera was a star chef for 45 years--from the Empire State Building’s Riverboat, hangout of Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees, to tropical St. Croix and Puerto Rico, to Tampa’s Avila Country Club, Columbia, and Malio’s.
And if he could see his kid tackling his vocation today, he’d burst with pride. Still, there might be a few things he’d adjust. See, he was a perfectionist, just like his oldest boy.
Ask Luis Jr., of Punta Gorda’s Two Brothers, “Are you like your father?” and his face melts. Then he smiles, wide and warm, as he leans over the table. “I am. And it scares me sometimes. I’m cooking and my brother will say, ‘I see Dad.’ I gave the old man a hard time growing up. He tried to straighten me out. But I was unstraightenable,” he chortles.
A Buddhist monk once gave Luis a personal message that he took to heart: “You have tremendous energy and are going to do well in life. People will be drawn to you.”
So, Lu and younger brother Eddie were having lunch, and Lu started hashing out this restaurant plan, “Built by a Local for Locals,” on a Ruby Tuesday’s napkin. It’s hard to say no when Lu urges, “You wanna? No? Yes? Let’s go!”
Their location, across from the Charlotte County Justice Center, has been home to so many short-lived eateries that there’s talk of a curse.
It takes a determined guy to break a curse, but just to be thorough about things, Lu had a Buddhist-leaning buddy give the property his blessing. He and Eddie tore the whole place apart to boot.
Their goal? A micro version of Tampa’s Ybor City, with Latin food and a house of blues, right here in River City.
Is this going to be too much for them? Consider this.
Lu used to weigh 600 pounds. It’s no small feat to lose nearly half your body. Now “Papa Chubs” gets the pleasure he used to get from food out of taking care of others. No wonder he’s got plans for “Two Brothers Beatdown”—a vicarious 4-pound orgy of hamburger, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato, onions, and pickles on Cuban bread with fries and slaw, eat in 20 minutes and it’s free.
This man with the cigar also loves music. And if anything can break a curse besides his kind of determination, and a blessing, he knows it’s the blues. Friday nights they’ve had as many as 150 people here, bikers boogying with 75-year-old Punta Gorda gals to national blues recording artists.
Always full of ideas, he exclaims, “Two Brothers Gone Wild! How ‘bout a mechanical bull? Punta Gorda’s full-throttle saloon! A big show on the roof, $1 beers, radio stations doing live feeds!”
Then he settles down, sobered by his one, big, perfectionistic fear--Not failing as a restaurant, but not being as good as he wants to be.
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