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Last Week’s Craziness: Day Two

Friday: Surprisingly not sore from Day One’s adventure, I left the cat with extra food and extra water and set off to work at 8 a.m., my car packed with tent, camp chair, pillow, comforter, and grubby clothes, plus a backpack with my fancy wedges, nice jeans, black tank, spiffy jacket and extra jewelry and makeup. Oh yes.

At lunch time, I set out on foot—to the bank, for a money order for rent (seriously, anybody seen my check book?) and $60 cash; to Mal’s Cut-Rate Liquors for a bottle of Beam; to Whole Foods, for paté and crostini; to Bookstore 1, for a birthday card; and to Artisan Cheese for freshly made pimento cheese…which, alas, was so fresh it hadn’t been made yet. Sigh. Back to the office.

In a stunning show of professionalism, I flat-out announced to the bosses that I was leaving early because I was meeting friends in St. Pete. So at 3:45, I hit the Short Stop for an 18-pack of Bud Light, Artisan for the pimento cheese (finally), and set off, destination: Fort Desoto.

As if all the running around hadn’t made me harried enough, I took the wrong exit (it’s the first left exit off of 275; not the first overall), then, while trying to get back on the interstate, watched in vain as the proper exit passed by, a wall between us; turned around, got headed in the right direction, but forgot exactly how far off the interstate Fort Desoto is, through two toll booths and a long stretch of busy road. Found the park, found the camp area, drove in looking for site 201; found sites 199, 200, 202 and 203 and finally almost had a meltdown as Mrs. Deelio called: “Was that you?” “WHERE THE HELL IS SITE 201?!?!?!?” “It’s…right here.”

At this point, greeted by the Deelios and their friends—ack, new people—I was actually shaking. Beam first, then tent, then…aaaaah. Finally: relaxed.

And what a view: A wicked-nice campsite right on the water, grilled oysters and pasta for dinner, cheeky raccoons and campfire stories. I was out cold on the mat the second my head hit the pillow.

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Some Tuesdays Are Better Than Others

That a tequila “I.V.” exists at all in the world is an amazing, amazing thing.

That the head of my company just gave it to me during a 10 a.m. office-wide meeting is unfathomable in its awesomeness.

 

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Day Off No. 4

Apologies for the delay, but on Friday, after I got everything written out, WordPress ATE MY DRAFT, and I had to wait until I didn’t want to kill things anymore. Which takes a while, obviously.

So: Thursday. Thursday was our Anna Maria Island day. (And as an added bonus, I actually managed to sleep in until 10, so that was a good start.)

First up was beach. I love Bradenton/Coquina/Cortez/whateveryoucallit beach (the one that stretches south of Cortez Road). Debby did do some damage, but it’s a great demonstration of the importance of sea oats: The water obviously came right up and over the oats, but the erosion stopped at their roots–so now there’s this nifty sedentary study of a shelf of sand, and then waves that wash up much further on the flattened beach than they used to, leaving only 20 feet or so of sand. It’s still an awesome beach, though.

We lounged. We swam–the water was just cool enough to be refreshing, but warm enough so you wanted to jump right in. We played catch with our cool little Waboba-ripoff skippy ball thing. We swam around with our masks on and searched underwater for shells. It was perfect.

From there we walked dripping to Joe’s Eats and Sweets for ice cream, since Joe’s made a big impression during our office ice cream-a-thon, and salty lips love cool, creamy sweetness. Waffle cones of butter pecan and almond, and before lunch, too, because that is what you do on days off.

For lunch, as per the plan, we hit up Skinny’s–arch rival to our beloved Duffy’s. But we picked Duffy’s only because we loved their burgers by a lot, but we’d never tried Skinny’s by comparison before. This was our chance to make an educated decision.

Skinny’s: two TVs, both on SportsCenter. Good sign.

Skinny’s is an AC-less Old Florida shack right across the street from Manatee County Beach. It’s the perfect draw for beachgoers–close and casual, super-friendly and heavenly satisfying, with its own quirky-but-simple ordering rules. Burgers are Skinny (single) or Fatty (double), with cheese and bacon if you want, but your condiment/toppings options stop at “mayo” or “no mayo.”

I’m sorry, have we met? If the question is “mayo or no?,” the answer is always YES.

Also, tater tots. Tots are always a yes.

And yes, the burgers, they are juicy and delicious.

And yes, I’m still a Duffy’s gal.

I mean, I’m not going to turn down a Skinny’s burger–not on your life–but it wasn’t the kind of transcendent must-eat-this-burger-and-all-of-its-brethren experience I’ve had at Duffy’s. It’s just the way my beef has lain.

Stuffed and a tad overheated, we got in the car and just…drove. What a lovely thing–this must have been what all the old people were savoring while I was a bored and impatient child in the back seat. (Although I imagine they didn’t savor it too much with me there, heh.) We wound our way north to get to know the island. And then we wound up at one of my top 10 favorite places in all the world: Anna Maria City Pier.

Wood underfoot 100 yards out into the gulf; Skyway backdrop, sea breeze and cold beer, afternoon sunshine and a deep breath.

Doesn’t. Get. Better.

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Day Off No. 2

Up at 7 a.m. Ugh.

I didn’t realize when I committed to the idea of brisket barbecue, I was signing myself up for a wild beef chase.

First thing, made brisket rub and potato salad, and still managed to get out of the house by 10:30, to Target (birthday card and bathing suit), Publix (brisket, tarragon, toothbrush), Sweetbay (brisket), Lowe’s (cinderblocks, mulch, paper towels), Quality Mega Meats (brisket)–at which point I realized my 8 a.m. bacon and banana wasn’t cutting it anymore.

Also, did I mention that my car is insufficient in the cooling department? And oh yes: It’s hot as balls outside.

The second I got home and heated myself up a nice bowl of chili-powdered corn, Mr. Deelio informed me that there was now a 10-pound brisket on hold for me at Oneco Meats (their last brisket).

Back into the hot car I went. Drove by Oneco Meats (twice) before successfully steering into the parking lot.

MEAT DUDE: You’re the one the guy called for not long ago?

ME: Yep.

MEAT DUDE: Good thing. This is our last one.

ME: Apparently the last one in the county, too.

RANDOM SHOPPER LADIES: Oh, we’re from Texas. You can get them anywhere down there.

My bad, yo. Forgot what state I was in.

Ten pounds, dude. That’s a $40 hunk of dead cow.

Nothing like a good meat rub down.

Brisket safe in the fridge, I embarked on my random project for the day: Stacking boards and cinderblocks to create an outdoor shelf for empty plant pots and other outdoorsy things with no official home.

The best part was making the base for the bottom shelf out of a broken turkey frier pot and a half-burned desktop computer that’s spent the last three years under the orange tree. I’m resourceful.

The worst part was when I went to retrieve the machete from the darkened garage and stepped square into the freshly used oil pan. I’m a Three Stooges movie waiting to happen. I damn near beefed it on top of the lawnmower, too. (Apparently beef was the theme of the day.) Does anyone know how to get motor oil out of Reefs?

Only at the Palais de Debauche will you find a test tube shot in the course of your yard work. In other news, I’m totally going to name my kid Tooter Lingo.

Dinner at the ‘rents for Ma’s birthday–home-cooked barbecue ribs, B&M baked beans, Granny’s baked macaroni and cheese. Oh, and tarragon potato salad.

The conversation twisted and turned until it finally arrived at, of all things, A Christmas Carol. (Apparently everyone needs a little Dickensian winter this time of year?) A little triangulation of dates, and it turns out we can reasonably assume that, on a seventh-grade field trip, CCB saw Pa as Fezziwig at Alabama Shakespeare Festival in the mid-90s. Ghost of Christmas past, making a midsummer night’s appearance.

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Council’s

My love of dive bars is well e-documented. As is my love of burgers. So since our nasty-ass clogged kitchen sink forced us out into the world for dinner, I was happy to cross Council’s off my list of must-visit burger joints.

I first heard about Council’s from a Facebook-generated article we put in our December visitor’s guide a year or so ago. Since then it’s come up in conversation a few times, mostly with Beaucha (who, though he’s quite a few years younger, is basically my Bradenton mentor for all the northerly things I missed in my Sarasota-oriented upbringing).

First impression: Yep, dive.

In fact, it’s so much not about appearances that it almost seems like they’re trying too hard to maintain their dive-bar status–from the oddly blocked off front “window” that half-displays/half-masks the old sign, to the unmaintained black bar and its cluttered backdrop of signs and snapshots and decrepit cash registers, to the double-row of pool tables stretching into the back, lit up like an interrogation room by florescent lights.

Second impression: Awesome. I like it.

Well, except for the collective side-eye we got from the crowd when we walked in, led by the portly, ponytailed bartender. (That guy looks like he might be related to the second-generation Bahi Hut bartender who, last I checked, was slinging drinks at Broadway.) Reminded me of the reception we got when we walked into a considerably more frightening bar in BFE East Jesus, Tennessee, where we met a very nice man whose name I can’t quite remember–Trigger? Buckshot? Jackhammer?

Anyway, no menus–the chalkboard above the fridge lists hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chili, chips and beer prices. I ordered a Bud Light and immediately got a half eye-roll from the bartender. “Bottle?” he jabbed, grinding his teeth in the direction of the taps, which were Budweiser and Budweiser. “Um, yeah, please,” I responded, wanting to add, “I don’t give a shit, I ain’t gonna drink that that hangover gravy draught, even if it is cheaper.”

The bar, the beer, the limited food–it’s all very Hi-Way-esque, which certainly works for us so long as we’re not being viewed as interlopers. We ordered a couple of burgers, and the bartender grabbed some patties out of the fridge directly in front of us and took just one step over. This is when I realized that there was no kitchen “in the back”–just a griddle that looked to be about one-foot-by-two-foot.

Ok, that’s one of those tiny details that just encapsulates the awesome character of a place. That, and the sign over the fridge that says, “We’ve been cooking burgers since McDonald’s was just a farm.”

And I’d believe it. A few minutes later, the bartender plopped our burgers in front of us on the bar, half-wrapped in a napkin–no plates or nuthin’–and in one bite I was reminded of Duffy’s. Prooooobably not quite that good, but I’ll give it “Duffy’s East.” Next time I’ll order two, since I could eat the first one in about three bites out of sheer enthusiasm–juicy, meaty, crispy iceberg, chopped onions and tasty bun. (I asked for no tomatoes, but if you want ’em, they sit fresh in a little row on tiny shelves in the tiny window next to the griddle.)

Yep, we’ll be going there again. I’m sure they’ll love us–once they get to know us.

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Lan

Just to give you an idea of why we love Lan so much, this was the lineup for our $50 (apiece) chef’s tour Friday night:

Pre-dinner “snack”: Fried wontons with white bean hummus

Amuse bouche: A single mussel in shell topped with a Siracha and somethingerother sauce

Course 1: Curried rabbit soup with enoki mushrooms and cilantro

Course 2: Fried clam salad with lemon vinaigrette and chorizo; hard-boiled quail egg

Course 3: Breaded, fried sweetbread “chicken nuggets” and crispy fries with tarragon mayonnaise

Course 4: Puff pastry “Hot Pocket” stuffed with smoked mozzarella, salami and tomato with a garlic herb sauce and marinara and a roasted serano pepper

Course 5: Chevre (regular and smoked) and beet tart with honey, hazelnuts and truffle vinaigrette

Course 6: Flounder stuffed with spinach and crawfish and smothered in beurre blanc with roast red potatoes

Course 7: Seared scallops with pineapple salsa and parsnip/potato mash

Course 8: New York strip with papaya barbecue sauce and zucchini

Course 9: Lamb pot roast with a strawberry port wine sauce

Dessert: Chocolate mousse tart, buttered popcorn ice cream

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