Monday, August 28, 2017

Time in a Bottle

With only a week left, I needed to get in one more wearing of my white shorts before Labor Day.

That need paired with temperate weather and a constant breeze told me it was a Lilly Pad kind of day.

Not that any sunny day isn't suitable for hanging out at a cinderblock building (incidentally, one with a mural on the back reading, "Having an affair? with an image of a 40s-era couple) next to a boat landing in Varina.

So mid-afternoon, my date and I pulled in behind one of many mammoth trucks and SUVs parked in the lot with boat hitches attached. Judging by the sheer number of them, the river had to be chockablock with boats and jet skis.

Walking into the Lilly Pad, I ran into a guy I hadn't seen in ages, despite knowing him for  20+ years. Saying that he was the last person I expected to see this far out, I looked to his side to see another face from the past, this one from a decade ago.

Grinning at me after hugging and saying hello, he asked, "Am I the second to last person you expected to see out here?"

After introducing my date, we chatted with them for a while. It was their first time at the Pad and they'd liked it, they'd really liked it. Grinning like fools, they were now headed back to the city to see what they could get in to.

We intended to do the same, only on premises.

That required scoring a bottle of wine in an orange beach bucket from the kite enthusiast I know behind the bar ("Don't believe a word they said!" he tells me as if I don't know this) and staking a claim on a patio table that had a generous umbrella.

I thought I was prepared, having brought a hat just in case (didn't need it), but a woman a few tables away had shown up with her own umbrella and a Chinese fan.

She also turned out to be a major Jim Croce fan, so "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown" got her up and dancing (albeit alone) and later, "You Don't Miss Around with Jim" did the same. Strange, I never saw Jim Croce as particularly dancey music until today.

The live music featured Chris Grigg playing guitar and singing a hell of a range of song choices. I mean, how often does a set list range from Kenny Rogers' "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town" to George Michael's "Father Figure" with a detour of "All Along the Watchtower?"

Only in Varina, folks.

People-watching at the Lilly Pad is always fabulous. Only here do you see people smoking as casually as if it's 1967. One guy lit up a cigar and blew the smoke directly at the people at the next table. Several people lit one cigarette from their last one.

Next to us, two women discussed back when they got their long hair cut into shags and the trauma that caused them. When one said, "Who wears a shag anyway?" I just smiled at her with my shag haircut.

It's the kind of joint where I'm standing in line for the ladies' room and the guy going into the men's room feels my pain, pointing inside it and saying, "Sorry, it's a one-holer."

Over on the side of the patio sits a bar, but not a service bar, just a beat-up old bar where customers can sit and have a place to put their bucket of Buds or rum and Coke. It's Lilly Pad fancy, though, with a bar-shaped canopy over it.

95% of the men on the patio have on black t-shirts of one kind or another. One says, "I love pig butts" and I'm okay with that. Another has a Confederate flag on it, the words, "We the people" and then a passage from the second amendment and I wasn't okay with that.

Over by the wall, a large table is intently listening to their drunk friend blather over the music. "You might make a left turn on Williamsburg Road, but I'll make you turn around!" he crows.

All afternoon, boats of every stripe come and go from the dock, some tying up to come into the Pad and others just heading out on the river. It was the ideal moving visual to complement the sparkling water and soft breeze.

About 6:30, the yellow A & B snack boat pulls in after another successful day hawking chips and candy to boaters.

Guitarist Grigg didn't disappoint when ending his set, first doing Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and then, of all the unlikely choices, "I Will Survive."

I'm telling you, this guy's set pendulum swung wide.

By the time we headed out, the sun was low in the sky and the air was feeling crisp, at least to those of us who prefer summer in our veins. My white shorts felt a tad inadequate come dusk.

Luckily, we didn't have far to go for dinner. Tonight was pizza club at Nota Bene and since we couldn't very well get back to my place without passing the restaurant, it only made sense to stop. That and a favorite wine rep had designed this month's pizza club pie and cocktail.

We'd just claimed stools at the end of the bar when she came over to greet us. The Facebook oracle had told me she'd recently sprained her ankle the last day of her beach vacation, but she was without crutches tonight and hobbling around.

It didn't take long to find out that it was after she'd been experimenting with tonight's pizza club cocktail - gin, Aperol, radler, bitters, lime cordial and basil - that she'd tripped on the steps of the beach house and sprained her ankle.

That's some real dedication to pizza club research right there.

On the owner's recommendation, we began with a salad of roasted local beets, goat cheese, mint, olive oil and lemon so good it had my date recanting his distaste for beets. Holmes had done the same about cauliflower in the same restaurant.

Just as wonderful was a riff on panzanella: a bowl of heirloom cherry and grape tomatoes with basil, pickled red onion, bread and a creamy ball of burrata to take it over the top. Eating all the heirlooms I can right now, I'm all about savoring every last taste of summer before it's gone.

But the main event, the reason for the evening and the creation of the hobbled wine rep was a pizza layered with housemade sausage, rosemary, hot peppers, honey and - be still, my heart - Tallegio.

For the second time in my life, it was left to me to introduce a man of Italian decent to this semi-soft cheese from his motherland. If I were the judgmental type, I'd say some mothers were asleep at the wheel to raise sons with no knowledge of Tallegio.

Everything about the pizza combination worked, from the earthy sausage to the fruity cheese to the heat of the peppers and sweet notes of honey, all on that stellar crust from a wood-burning oven.

And this is why you go to pizza club: it's a tonight-or-never proposition.

The same could be said for white short season. Shags, though, they're timeless.

No comments:

Post a Comment