Saturday, May 31, 2014

And the Living is Easy

For the record, I will leave the city for a meal on a screened porch.

Although I don't often head to the counties to eat, that's exactly what I did when a friend suggested Charles City tavern for dinner tonight.

Out Route 5 we drove on this beautiful evening, the Kinks blaring while discussing the Post's recent series on LBJ, past Curles Neck Farm and Shirley Plantation, past manicured fields and through tunnels of trees that felt as enveloping as the farmlands felt wide open.

I wasn't surprised when we got to the tavern to roll into a full parking lot. We couldn't have been the only ones lured east by a road trip or west by a southern meal. For that matter, I couldn't be the only Gemini still managing to celebrate her birthday eight days after the fact.

Or am I?

The garden around the porches was ablaze with plump flowering bushes covered in red blooms and purple irises just a tad past their prime.

Walking up the porch steps, a fat, gray cat on the top step looked us over and gave us a nod of approval. In we went.

We waited just inside the door to be seated but both servers were hectically running around, so it took a few minutes before one smiled and told us to follow him.

Since our decision to eat there had been a last minute one, there were no tables free on the porch so we settled for a table by a window in the tavern side, leaving the dining room to a far more circumspect looking crowd.

I knew we'd made the right choice as I sat down and a woman at the next table smiled and said hello to me. It was a small room, so we might as well make friends.

The music was pure '70s- Pablo Cruise, Starland Vocal Band - not necessarily a bad thing given the crowd.

After listening to the specials, I chose one to start, an asparagus and wild mushroom soup with lumps of crab meat, to be followed by a crab cake with corn and ham ragout.

"Wow, it's a crab kind of night, isn't it?" our server grinned after hearing my order. When you grow up in Maryland, any night (or day) is good for crabs, my friend.

Asparagus essence imbued every mouthful of the creamy green soup full of nicely sized chunks of crab while my friend was bowled over with the sheer size of his fried oyster appetizer.

You know how men can be about size. Was your fish really that big?

The ragout of ham and corn played the sweet/salty game beautifully, winning out over the crab cakes, but I can be picky about them. In my family, they're not much more than lumps held together with the most minimal binder before enjoying a buttery saute and these were breaded and fried, not really my style.

My friend's shrimp and grits got major points for the Byrd's Mill grits, not just because they're local but because they're so good. Fried okra nuggets less so.

As we were chowing down, we got off on a history tangent when my friend said he'd decided he needed to read a good biography of George Washington.

Coincidentally, when I'd been at the John Marshall House, I'd learned that Marshall had written a five-volume bio of George that's still in print. A week ago, I wouldn't have known that, but tonight was a different story.

Come on, what could be better than a bio written by someone who knew the guy when he was alive?

Just as we were moving on to the topic of Thomas Jefferson's reversal of position on the importance of a U.S. Navy, our server came to talk to us about dessert.

I didn't want to consider dessert unless it was on the porch, and he was more than happy to clean off a recently vacated table so we could enjoy our last course almost al fresco.

It was dusk by then and our view was of shrubs and the field beyond, a lovely view with the road curving out of sight and into nothingness.

We settled back into our chairs under ceiling fans and listened to the dessert choices, inevitably choosing a Ghiradelli brownie sundae with espresso ice cream simply because it was chocolate, not the most creative dessert we would have hoped for, but elevated considerably by the setting.

It was there that we lingered as the sky went dramatically red-streaked while I heard about the bunnies that have taken up residence in his yard and how he's decided to rearrange his many bookshelves by putting similar topics together, a project I accomplished years ago.

There's just something about sitting on a screened porch at night that slows a person down to where even the most innocuous topics are fodder for lazy conversation.

We eventually left but only because they were close to closing. The fat cat on the front porch barely looked up as we stepped over him.

You'll be back, he seemed to shrug. I don't know why not, thought the city girl.

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