Thursday, August 23, 2007

Hey, I'm Eating: Asheville, NC

Most of the weekend in Asheville, NC was about getting to know my sister's fiancé, Brian, better and getting a feel for the town where Dr. Lil' Sis will be living after she gets married. The terrain lets you know pretty quickly that you're tucked away in the mountains, as there are a lot of hills to navigate. Bring your Dramamine if you're driving a stick shift.

In a crazy coincidence, Asheville happens to be the hometown of Cameron Maybin, a 20-year-old outfielder who's expected to be the Detroit Tigers' superstar of the future. He was called up to the major leagues just as I hit the road for vacation, and it was interesting to see what the locals thought of a hometown kid making it big. Of course, sitting in front of a TV watching the newest Tiger take the field wasn't much of an option while hanging out with family. But hey, we all had to eat.

Our last morning in Asheville, Brian took us downtown for breakfast at the Early Girl Eatery, which features southern cuisine made with local produce.

I was leaning toward the homemade granola and yogurt (just trying to fit in with the hippie surroundings) until Lil' Sis pointed out one of the daily specials, a sausage and sweet potato scramble.

My picture probably doesn't do the dish justice, but it didn't stay on the plate very long. The sweet potatoes provided a nice contrast with the smoky flavor of the sausage, and the saltiness from the bacon. And the eggs were still on the wet side, without being runny, which made them great to eat with toast. (One little nitpick: I wish there would've been more bread options than white or wheat. Some good rye or sourdough would've been an awesome compliment.)

We didn't really have time to lounge around with the morning paper, as Brian had to get to work, but the dining room - with all the natural light streaming in - was a pleasant enough place to stir away the morning cobwebs. (Although I think I was the only one still sleepy by the time we sat down.)

Here's the rest of the Early Girl's menu. I would've loved to try the turkey hoagie or fried green tomato BLT for lunch. Maybe next time.

There were plenty of more dining options in downtown Asheville, but we were a bit short on time, as we had to head back to Charleston for Lil' Sis' certification exam. But if there's any place where a camera will get a workout taking pictures of food, it's Charleston, SC.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Who's the Face of the Detroit Tigers?

A little while ago, the folks at SportsNation asked me if I would be interested in participating in a series called "Face of the Franchise," in which four panelists selected their choice for the best current representative of a Major League Baseball team. The panel would consist of a writer from, a beat writer or columnist from that team's city, an analyst from "Baseball Tonight," and a team-specific blogger.

After briefly wondering if someone was pulling a joke on me (and doing the requisite Google search), I said "Hell yeah, I'd be interested" and started thinking hard about my choice. And when I say "thinking hard," I mean agonizing over it, like Rob in High Fidelity when the reporter asked him what his top five favorite songs were. This was going down for posterity. My name would be on this. My Tigers fan (and blogger) credibility would be at stake.

The only rule I had to follow was that my choice had to be currently associated with the team. I couldn't pick an old-timer like Ty Cobb or Al Kaline, or any of the players I grew up watching, like Alan Trammell or Kirk Gibson. A few choices came to mind right away, and I began to consider whether or not I could write an interesting paragraph on this person, and the likelihood that he could be chosen by the other panelists.

I also asked a handful of friends who they would pick as the face of the Detroit Tigers, but no clear choice stood out. Actually, that was kind of reassuring. I wasn't just being anal-retentive or indecisive.

Then I imposed a couple of my own rules. 1) My pick had to be a player. An manager, owner, or broadcaster could certainly be the face of a team. But in my mind, fans don't go to the ballpark or switch the game on because of a manager or owner. Players get us excited; they're the ones we watch. 2) Casual fans, or even people who don't follow sports had to be aware of who the player is. I probably didn't follow this rule very closely because it somewhat conflicted with the first rule. For instance, if I ask my mother about the Tigers, she'd probably mention their manager, Jim Leyland. And if I consulted a non-fan like Mis Hooz, she likely wouldn't name anyone. But if I talked to baseball fans in other cities, who might they name?

After considering all these factors, I'm not sure that my choice ended up being any different from who I was leaning toward in the first place. If you've been reading BYB regularly, you can probably guess who I picked as the face of the Tigers. But you can read the official pick here, along with those of Rob Neyer, Jon Paul Morosi, and Eric Young (whose pick will go up tomorrow).

Having my name on a website with "ESPN" in the URL isn't a bad way to go. I think I might celebrate tonight (as if I needed an excuse to eat and drink while on vacation).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Hey, I'm Eating: The FRT 2007 Southern Tour

As much as I'm hesitant to admit that most of my vacations are entirely planned around food, it's a truth I should probably own up to. (Hawaii was an exception because, well, it was Hawaii. And because I'd rather eat my own hair than try poi again.) Watching too much Food Network and Travel Channel lately, along with reading a bunch of food blogs, has increased my subconscious desire for my own "Hey, I'm eating!" show.

One of my first stops was tucked away in the Great Smoky Mountains, near the Tennessee-North Carolina border. Frankly, this was just supposed to be a bathroom stop, but when I saw signs for the Pigeon River Smokehouse, I had to check it out. My curiosity waned when I saw it was a BBQ joint connected to a gas station. But, you know, I still had to make a pit stop.

I didn't really have high hopes, given the setting, but the place had its own parking lot, which surely meant it got plenty of customers. And the place was packed at lunchtime. Unfortunately, there's no evidence of that in my photos, since I didn't fetch my camera until long after making the decision to stick around and eat.

But the dining area was literally tucked right into the rest of the convenience store. The tables are surrounded by beverage coolers and snack aisles.

So how was the food? Again, I didn't think to get my camera until after I already shoveled down my pulled pork sandwich. But it was damn good. Tender, with plenty of smoky flavor. And the barbeque sauce had a zip to it, too. (It wasn't a vinegar-based, Carolina-style sauce, however. This was more of a sweet sauce.)

If I hit this area at the right time (i.e., when I'm hungry) while driving back up to Michigan, I definitely plan on stopping in again. And next time, I'll make sure to get a photo of a full plate. That picture up there looks kind of gross, doesn't it?

More later. I've been remembering to bring my camera with me.

Friday, August 10, 2007

The Host: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

What's so wonderful about The Host is that it doesn't follow any of the monster movie conventions that we've become accustomed to over decades of watching these sorts of films. Instead of teasing us with little glimpses of whatever mutant fish-thing is terrorizing Seoul, keeping the beast in the shadows while building up to a full reveal in the movie's climax, the filmmakers throw the monster right in your face in full daylight near the beginning of the story. You see how it moves across land with two big arms, you see its freakish jaw with four parts that fly open to reveal all kinds of sharp teeth, you see the fins and flappers that protrude from various parts of its body with no seeming rhyme, reason, or symmetry, and you see that tail that not only can snare its prey, but also propel it acrobatically beneath man-made structures like nothing we've ever seen before.

Why do Asian filmmakers seem to be able to make better monster movies than their American counterparts (excepting - hopefully - J.J. Abrams' "Cloverfield/Monstrous/01-18-08/Overnight"), seamlessly mixing comedy and tragedy with action, drama, and character development, while also including a little bit of a message about environmentalism?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Rescue Dawn: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

I'm so grateful this movie wasn't made in the '80s, because it probably would've starred Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone, depicting Dieter Dengler as some superhuman bad-ass who could mow down dozens of Asians with a gun that's supposed to be mounted on a helicopter, rather than held by hand, while also making bombs out of bamboo, rice, and grass that could wipe out entire prison camps, and making certain friends I grew up with feel as if they had some sort of personal connection to a war that ended when they weren't even born yet.

Anyway, I keep telling myself that someday I'm going to have a week-long, Netflix-fueled Werner Herzog marathon, as I've often heard various film critics and assorted friends speak glowingly of the obsessive characters whose stories he creates during insanely grueling film shoots. I don't know if Rescue Dawn is toned-down or more conventional Herzog, but it's apparent that Dengler's eventual triumph over both his captors and the Laotian jungle he escaped into is a story that Herzog admires greatly. Christian Bale might be one of the great underrated actors of our time, especially considering what he puts his body through for each role, but the real revelation in this movie is Steve Zahn, who shows he is capable of much, much more than the stupid goofball roles Hollywood has given him throughout most of his career.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Live Free or Die Hard: A Four-Sentence Movie Review

A few years ago, Mis Hooz and I were watching Mission: Impossible II, and after a scene in which Tom Cruise and Dougray Scott leaped off of motorcycles going full-speed and collided with each other in the air, a woman behind us blurted out "What-ever!" and we were cracking up for the rest of the movie. I was reminded of that several times while watching Live Free or Die Hard, especially when Bruce Willis drove a police car full-speed at a toll booth, presumably quite comfortable in the knowledge that the car wouldn't go through the booth, but somehow use the booth as a ramp that would launch it into a helicopter at least 50 feet above the ground. John McClane has that kind of understanding of physics, yet apparently has next to no knowledge of computers, even though one might imagine it would be difficult to be promoted to lieutenant detective in the NYPD without knowing how to use one. But don't get me wrong - I was pretty impressed with how Len Wiseman managed to make typing, downloading, and plugging in seem rather exciting, but mostly, I enjoyed the hell out of seeing $#!+ get blown up, jacked up, and shot up real good.