Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Stay Outdoors and Spoon

Technically, it was work. But it didn't feel much like work.

A drive to Westmoreland County on a pitch perfect summer day to do an interview yielded the expected (music blaring, scenic views, an interesting subject) but also the funny (Plunk Farm Road?) and surprising.

While I expected his house to be on the water - he is an oyster gardener after all - I couldn't have imagined the splendor of the view stretching seven miles across the Potomac all the way to the green shores of Maryland.

Nor would I have been so presumptuous as to anticipate being offered oysters once I finished interviewing him.

Saying he'd pulled them from the river a few hours before, he excused himself to shuck them while I was left to languish on the screened porch watching birds diving for fish and waves rippling the shore.

He served them with locally made hot sauce in a Mason jar, a simple accompaniment to oysters so creamy and buttery they really needed nothing at all.

I'm only mildly embarrassed to admit I ate way more than he did.

After a leisurely drive back to the city, I took care of some e-mails before setting out for food.

I was hoping Supper was finally open, but alas, no, not that I wasn't perfectly happy at Lunch instead.

The place was jam packed with a large group celebrating a birthday - so singing and raucous laughter were involved - but fortunately there was a lone bar stool free and I nabbed it.

Next to me turned out to be an art educator visiting Richmond for a class and out of his element because his wife wasn't with him.

As it turned out, he lived on Grace Street from 1977 to 1980, having transferred from ODU to VCU and leaving with a degree in painting and printmaking.

"I didn't know then that you couldn't get a real job with that degree," he said chuckling, so he went back to become an art teacher. I think they warn the kids about that now.

Of course, he was thrilled with his food (although confused about the assemblage of chicken, pulled pork, bacon and cheddar, but that's just how Lunch rolls) as was I with my luncheonette salad with two fat, spicy crab cakes atop it.

A couple came in and sat down at the bar seconds after the stools were vacated and were soon drowning in far more food than they could ever eat. Rookie mistake, I told them.

I could have warned them ahead of time, I probably should have, but there's no shame in leftovers. In fact, if they knew me, they'd thank me tomorrow.

Replete with oysters and crab (and, sadly, not enough room for hummingbird cake), it was time for music, namely NYC's Jessy Carolina and the Hot Mess (whom I'd been wowed by back in April) at Balliceaux.

Part Dixieland, part Tin Pan Alley and part bluegrass, their secret weapon is Jessy's voice, part little girl, part crooner and always full-bodied.

It was a small crowd, no doubt Monday related, but it meant I had no trouble getting a good table and gradually more people arrived to help fill up the room. Not many familiar faces except songbird Allison and one of the many DJs I know.

Like last time, there was Jessy, the leader, who played washboard, cymbals and sang in a beautifully powerful voice, while three talented guys provided accompaniment: an upright bass player, a guitarist and a guy who played trombone and trumpet.

I remembered their cover of "Shine On, Harvest Moon" sung in her lovely, languid voice from last time and it was every bit the knockout it had been then.

This is the kind of band that brings out a dancing crowd and before long, a couple were showing off their moves to a Mills Brothers' song and the crowd's delight...and Jessy's.

"Feel free to move around and talk," she'd instructed us. "We want you to fun. We want you to have fun!"

A couple of women got up and danced together, matching each other's intricate steps like a mirror image and a lot of attention swept from the band to their fluid moves because they were so good.

Having been out dancing three times in the last ten days, I kept to my seat, but partially because there's a lot to be said for just watching someone so talented belt and play washboard.

After all, we'd been told to fun. I was just following instructions for a change.

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