The Gourmet Highway – A New Journey: Back to the Future

We are not alone on an island. With deference to poet John Donne, whenever someone suffers or is afraid, it affects each of us. We are one, always have been, always will be. Through this spirit of unity, no crisis can defeat us.

While we will not be doing any traveling for a while, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t dream about better days ahead and do a little planning. After all, travel is the realization of our dreams, a priceless gift from our imagination. Each of us remembers stories in books or movies that elevated our spirits during childhood. Mark Twain’s Life on The Mississippi, Huckleberry and Jim running and hiding. Musicals like “South Pacific”, “Singing in the Rain” and “Oklahoma.”

Cedar Key’s Island Hotel represents the grandeur of original Florida.

We were inspired to seek out new places, find new faces and feel the exhilarating thrill of air never breathed before. Keep that ambition, extend that vision and start dreaming about those destinations in the near future.

I took a little time to revisit all the columns I’ve written for this magazine over the years. What an amazing journey, an affirmation of personal growth that would not have happened if I stayed home. Wanderlust enriched me and will do the same for anyone. We didn’t just read Kerouack’s On The Road, we lived it.

Food critics Meridith Ford and Malika Bowling enjoy wine at Aix-en-Provence.

Actual travel experiences began early on. For me, baseball and college took me as a teen to the Caribbean, then Key West and at 17, a freshman at FSU. Florida opened up a new world where cuisine was as diverse as the population. Cracker heritage at Marjorie Kinnan Rawling’s Cross Creek, Spanish cooking traditions in St. Augustine, chowder in the Conch Republic, Cuban sandwiches, Ybor City’s unsurpassed cuisine, soft shell crabs and fried grouper, swamp cabbage, Pindar palm jelly, Tupelo honey, mangoes, smoked mullet dip and heaven knows what else.

Artist Olivia Thomason’s optimistic vision of the new journey.

Florida was my personal awakening. New worlds of flavor and aroma translated into more enjoyment at the dinner table.

It’s impossible to have these experiences confined to one place. Mobility educates the palate.

Florida also opened up much of the South for me. Like the Conquistador’s 500 years before, I journeyed to New Orleans, hitchhiking three times with only a few bucks. I discovered the French Quarter and learned to stretch a buck reading and sipping coffee in Pirate’s Alley. Later, I learned that William Faulkner and Tennessee Williams followed a similar routine. I never forgot the kindness and generosity of locals there who, almost without effort, practice the art of joie de vivre better than anyone, anywhere.

Louisville’s Michael Veach is the country’s top Bourbon authority.

I returned many times, able to dine in legendary restaurants and enjoy the great galleries and museums. French, Spanish, Italian, German, Creole and Cajun dishes broadened a world view. Wines, to my surprise, belonged at the dinner table and with a little thought, paired quite nicely with almost anything. One cardinal rule remains: when in doubt, drink Champagne. Everything including barbecue welcomes it. Names like Chef John Folse, Paul Prudhomme, Dickie Brennan, Justin Wilson, Emeril and dozens more still influence almost everything I write or produce.

Sunset in Key West

A PERSONAL MANIFESTO

The plague will wane and disappear. Even before the all-clear sounds, I am committed to starting new adventures, blending fantasy into those highly anticipated experiences.

A dinner with Scott Joplin in St. Louis, devouring baby back ribs with a background of ragtime classics, enjoyed with Missouri wine like Norton.

Irish Whisky (I prefer Jameson’s) at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street, the best watering hole in Memphis.

Dinner in Louisville with the world’s top Bourbon authority, Michael Veach. So many outstanding restaurants to choose from, but I’ll settle for the opulent Oakroom at the Seelbach Hotel, looking for Jay Gatsby between bites.

Just imagine what dinner would be like in Asheville with Steve Martin? Between courses, perhaps he could be persuaded to pick a few tunes on his 5-string banjo.

Pat Conroy has joined the heavenly band of angel writers, but his beloved Beaufort still has serves South Carolina Low Country classics in its incomparable restaurants. For those who haven’t had Carolina Gold rice, She-Crab soup or Frogmore Stew, life will change for the better after each meal.

I’ve witnessed Atlanta’s food and dining evolution first-hand. Let’s go restaurant hopping on Buford Highway’s corridor comprised of over 100 international restaurants representing Vietnam, Brazil, Peru, Cuba, Malaysia, Japan, El Salvador, Columbia, Korea, China and more.

No need to fly to France. Atlanta’s Aix-en-Provence, headed by Chef Nick Leahy, is just up the street from CNN and is as close to Provencal cuisine as you’ll find in America with an old and new world wine selection designed by a visionary dedicated to a higher life.

Florida still pulls me like a magnet. Cedar Key, White Springs, Monticello, Micanopy, Everglades City, Dog Island, Captiva and Key West beckon. Dinner in Sarasota with Chef Judi Gallagher is going to be life-changing, my vision of a deliciously dreamy James Beard meets Julia Child moment.

Come on along. We’re doing everything by car and boat, giving our best effort to channel that inner Hemingway waiting to be released, never shying from new adventures, particularly at the bar and dinner table. It’s preparing for that day soon when the nightmare ends-and it will-and we a fully prepared to hit the road again.

 

Old school journalism describes the style and stories produced by Doc Lawrence. “In everything I do,” he says, “there is a beginning, middle and an end.” One of the top travel writers in the country, Doc is steeped in the heritage of the deep south. Traveling the back roads from Texas to Virginia and on down to Key West inspires stories about local food and wine preferences, community theater, folk art and music often leading to clues for a good story. Heroes include Faulkner, Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Ralph Ellison, Dorothy Parker and Willie Morris. An Atlanta native, Doc keeps a well-stocked wine cellar and bar and two outdoor grills. He enjoys entertaining and believes that the greatest challenge for a writer is to keep searching for a higher life. www.thegourmethighway.com | doclawrence@mindspring.com

 

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