One thing I'm finding in Savannah is one of those things that's nice to see in a business community: businesses in the same industry recommending each other. Without variety, an industry dies down. Without competition, an individual business can get lazy.
In a big tourist town (12 million visitors a year, and they don't allow cruise ships to dock here), there will never be a shortage of restaurants. But that doesn't mean they can't strive to be the best.
My conversation with Chef Brandon Whitestone of The Olde Pink House started with me saying we had a great night that included a dessert stop and him recommending another bar.
@JoshShear been to Andaz bar yet? Scott is the best bartender in town.
We got our reservations in (even two weeks out, a Monday, a 7 p.m. seating request had to be pushed out to 7:15, so if you're planning on a trip, call early), and spent way too long staring at the menu over those two weeks. We made sure we read the bad reviews on Yelp so we knew what to watch out for (mostly the complaints were about cold food and long prep times; not only did we not experience either, but the latter isn't something we were worried about — if you're looking to not wait for your food, either pick a fast food place or pick a destination not in the deep south).
So, Monday night, off to The Olde Pink House we went.
We managed to get parking nearby; Miss Kimberly and Chef Brandon both made sure to introduce themselves. We were seated in what was the master bedroom of the original house, next to a window overlooking Reynolds Square. The window still had some of the original panes in it (you can tell because old panes had a higher lead content, creating the appearance of waves in the glass).
Now, it was need-a-flash-on-your-camera-dark in there and people were enjoying their vacations and Valentine's Day celebrations, so we didn't take pictures of our food; we'll have to let the words do it.
Jenny started with a semi-sweet riesling; I ordered a Sazerac cocktail (Herbsaint is essentially absinthe, so that's what's typically used, if you're looking cross-eyed at the recipe). Both were delivered promptly and cold.
We shared three appetizers. First, a charcuterie that included a fantastic mustard that must have been house-made and a local camembert-style cheese, along with some Berkshire meat and tasty accoutrements. After that, we had artichoke fritters; these were artichoke hearts stuffed with goat cheese and lightly batter-fried, done with a spicy sauce. Then, jalapeño poppers, stuffed with some very creamy mac & cheese. All were delicious.
For dinner, Jenny had sea scallops and shrimp tossed over fettuccine with a cream sauce, and asked them to toss in some spinach. I had their house specialty, scored flounder, which is a whole fish (sans head), scored into little medallions, then cooked and topped with a spicy apricot glaze. It was delicious. To eat it, you pop up the medallions, chew, swallow, repeat, then flip the fish and do it again on the other side. They claim to be the first to serve it in this style, though it's a popular method for cooking flounder in other locales as well.
While we dined, a maitre d' came by a couple of times, as did our server. We felt well-attended-to and well-fed, and will most certainly be back.
We then walked five blocks to the Andaz Hotel (which Chef Brandon mentioned in his first tweet to me), for coffee and dessert. The hotel restaurant, 22 Square, offers a much different environment from Olde Pink House, very contemporary, with modern art on the walls and some exposed brick. The cocktail list looked interesting, but we were at a nice finishing-up point.
Jenny had ice cream and berries. It was a raspberry base with some Italian wedding cookies mixed in, made by Leopold's specifically for the restaurant and only available there. I had a dark and stormy chocolate cake, which, as the name implies, is derived from the rum-and-ginger ale cocktail. The cake tasted like a chocolate gingerbread, and the rum was pleasantly infused in the icing. It came with a scoop of very creamy vanilla ice cream, which I can only imagine must have come from Leopold's as well.
I think next time we try 22 Square, it will be for pre-dinner cocktails, and we'll sit at the bar. While the food was delicious and I love what they're doing with local food, the contemporary atmosphere was a little overwhelming to me with the bright colors and the art and the more open space allowing sound to travel a little more. But we'll definitely be back to Olde Pink House at some point.
Some five months or so ago, I launched a weekly newsletter called The Bearded Brain. It's a bunch of links to stuff I find interesting, and I think you will, too. Here are some examples of links I share.
As I noted last week, we're in the deep South. Charleston, South Carolina, right now, to be exact, where we're staying with my parents while we apartment hunt a couple of hours away in Savannah, Georgia.
I can't really list everything or everyone I'm thankful for. That seems too obvious a Thanksgiving post, anyway.
Though one thing for sure I'm grateful for is the ability to do this once in a while:
I know not everybody can relax and take some downtime. And even though I'm working today, I'm doing so barefoot, seated in a chair with ample coffee, clean water, and a family creating tumult while making a large meal that we'll probably eat for three days. Maybe five. We're used to doing this for 22 people, but there are only five of us.
That seems like a lot to be thankful for.
I guess what I'd really like to do is say, hey, look around you. I don't care how badly you think you have it, if you have a way to be reading some guy's post on the Internet, how lucky are you? Find some gratitude.
By the miracle of WordPress scheduling, as this writing publishes, I'm spending my birthday unloading a giant truck into a storage unit in Savannah, Georgia.
Many of our friends know we've been eyeing Savannah for a long time. We expected we'd be down here sooner, and we expected we'd have more time to say our goodbyes.
Our house didn't sell, but we got a lot of rental interest from a Craigslist ad. And the couple who wanted to rent from us had to be out of their house in Kentucky on Nov. 13. That was too quick for us, but we signed the lease Nov. 4 and told them we'd be out the door by Nov. 17.
In the world of packing up a house, reserving a truck, getting a driving route, booking hotels and still figuring out where I'm going to be able to work, since they need me, too, this is not a very long time. It's barely even enough time. In fact, we're unloading into a storage unit because we had to be out of the house before we were able to scout out places to live.
I came to Syracuse in 2003. While I had some built-in connections in my grad program, it was a very specific group of people and we had a lot of work to do. There was very little socializing, and no one knew anything about the city.
So I went out and I found communities. One person I befriended, who eventually left town, had grown up in Syracuse and thought there was nothing to do.
As a gay black man, maybe that was true until he was an adult in mainstream society. Until I walked into his cafe, he didn't know there were brewpubs in town. He had never sat in the bleachers at a Chiefs game.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to show the lifers what's going on.
I got involved in a lot of stuff. A poetry reading, 40 Below, CNY SPaRC, the Future Fund, Alchemical Nursery, SyracuseFirst, some recreational sports leagues. Probably a few other things I'm missing. Someone nominated me for and I won a 40 Under 40 award.
I've made a lot of friends, who are all very much my local family, with my blood relatives scattered throughout Massachusetts, South Carolina and Texas, and wherever else all the distant cousins went.
I became a Freemason in Central New York, something which has provided me with some amazing friends as well as a sense of focus and purpose I didn't have before.
Central New York and I have given each other 11 years. It's hard to say how much of each other we've taken, though I am removing with me my lovely wife, so either way I'm the winner there.
Her family is all in the Syracuse area, so we will, surely, be back several times a year. It's not goodbye, just see you later.
What's in Savannah? We don't know, really. We've met some people already. We've seen the city; it's lovely. Palm trees, live oaks, beaches. People who are generous, friendly and still somewhat guarded about themselves and their city, but welcoming anyway.
There are lots of people our age starting things, there's an art and design school, there's a TEDx contingent. There's a tech movement and a maker movement. There are lots and lots and lots of parks.
We're hedging our bets a little, going down to rent, figuring if we end up not liking it, it'll be easy enough to pack up and move on without dealing with trying to sell another house. And we're already done with the wedding, so planning that is off our plates, too.
I'm sure over the next month or two there will be a lot of posts in this space, some of them dealing with culture shock, some of them dealing with things we've discovered. Maybe some photo essays.
I mapped out my errands so that I could be home to greet some friends for lunch Sunday morning. But then I looked at my list and thought, "Hmmm, I should check to see what time the office supply store opens."
I had the office supply store first on my list, figuring I could always cut my workout short if I had to, but then I discovered that the office supply store didn't open until a half hour before I was to be home to meet our friends.
Clearly, that couldn't be my first stop.
So I rearranged my schedule, left the gym ten minutes before the store was to open (it's a five-minute drive). On my way, people were driving so slowly, and some were even stopping at places they didn't have stop signs.
I found myself irritated, which is unusual for me. I also think it was strange I was irritated, since (a) those things don't usually bother me and (b) the store wasn't even open yet.
It's then I figured out that I would rather hurry up and wait than wait and hurry up. "What's the difference?" I hear you ask. "That sounds commutative, kind of like addition."
The difference is, if I can't just do everything at a moderate pace and finish exactly at the time I want to finish, I would rather front-load the work and then get the chance to relax, than to relax and then be rushed at deadline.
In this case, I'd rather just get to the office supply store and be able to reset my brain before I walk in, and then get home in plenty of time to start making lunch as my friends arrive. The alternative was to be irritated and get there in a rush, not have my list straight in my head, and then rush home to greet everybody.
I feel this way about a lot of deadlines. Get the work done, then enjoy the time without a deadline looming over your head. And hey, if turning something in early means more work, by all means, finish something and hold onto it until your deadline. It's so much better than enjoying your time and then having to pound something out ahead of deadline.
Not much this week. It was a high-creatine, high-caffeine, high-stress week. I wound up taking two rest days, but by and large managed my food well (though I had to muscle through a 10-minute run one day).
It turns out this challenge might wind up coming up a couple of weeks short of my original plan; we have some personal scheduling going on that may preclude things going all the way; at any rate, I've learned something about the difference between wanting something and being motivated to get it. For all the times I've tracked and/or gamified my fitness, I think it's now enough of an ingrained habit that I'll only do it again if I have an extended period away for whatever reason.
I find myself hating rest days, getting cranky when I can't get at least a 15-minute workout in, and I don't need to convince myself I'm capable of a run, even on a crap day.
I was scrolling through my blog archives a bit and noticing that you can really tell what's going on in my life by what I'm writing. I know that sounds common, but I rarely use this space to diarize. Instead, I've used the space to give myself motivation by attempting to give you motivation. Those times when I tell you to go out and create? I'm feeling creatively stifled and am really telling myself to go out and create.
So this week, I'm passing along some steps to help you get focused. To help me get focused.
I haven't even picked up a book in almost a month.
Things are finally settling down a touch. We're able to reconnect with the people who matter to us (we even wound up having an impromptu barbecue the other night, with no stressful preparation or cleanup). We're able to get back to activities that matter to us, and to really find a little more time to focus on things like laundry and holding hands, instead of things like painting ceilings and moving beds.
I was out on the golf course for the first time this season with a friend. We're not good golfers. We enjoy the sun and the fresh air and the sound and feel of hitting a good shot, which, you know, comes occasionally. And sometimes that occasional good shot comes after pulling up on the ball and taking four strokes to hit the ball 10 yards. You keep your head down and knees bent and the next swing sends the ball 115 yards to the green.
"This is a great game," I said after such a stretch on the 12th fairway. "There's an opportunity for redemption with every shot."
It got me thinking about things like mistakes, and grudges. That every time we make a mistake, we shouldn't beat ourselves up over it — instead, we should take a deep breath (or two, or eight), and figure out the steps for finding redemption, and then follow them.
And we should learn a lesson from our finding redemption: Offer it to others. If they make a mistake, forgive them, reach out to offer an opportunity for redemption.
One of the more interesting and worthwhile endeavors I've undertaken recently is becoming a Freemason. I'll be raised to Master Mason (3rd degree, for those not in the know) on April 15 – any brothers reading are certainly welcome to visit for the degree ceremony (meeting at 7 p.m., Lodge details here and the usual visiting rules apply, of course).
I have a family connection to the Fraternity: both of my grandfathers were Masons. While I didn't really know my paternal grandfather, Milton Shear (he died when I was 2), I was close with my maternal grandfather, Bernard Tuttle, who I knew growing was a Shriner, but I didn't recognize his connection to Masonry until he died. He was a 32nd degree Mason, and I was recently sent his degree certificate, which is an interesting artifact, as well as an heirloom, which I'll of course have framed.
I also have, through Freemasonry, a connection to some great people throughout history, including George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, a total of 52 signers of the Declaration of Independence and at least 16 U.S. presidents (including Gerald Ford, who was a 33rd degree Mason, the highest degree).
Groucho Marx is famously credited as having said that he wouldn't want to belong to a club that would have him for a member, and when I was at the other end of that spectrum – looking for a club to belong to that wasn't actively seeking me as a member – I went looking to the Freemasons.
I first wrote to my local Lodge in application over a year ago, in March of 2013. I didn't hear from them for a couple of months, when several Lodge members came to the house to interview me, and then I didn't hear from them again for almost six months, when I was told the initiation ceremony for the first degree (Entered Apprentice) would take place in December. After being initiated, it was again six weeks before I was contacted, and mentored through the degree work; I was passed to Fellowcraft in March of this year.
There seem to be few things, these days, that take preparation, time and work, and largely take place through the mail and in people's living rooms.
Since I've told some friends that I'm undertaking this endeavor, there are two questions I get a lot:
(1) Didn't you at one time actually have to be a mason to become a Freemason? and
(2) Aren't the Freemasons a secret society? Why are you telling me?
To answer the first, yes. Operative masons – people who built buildings – were the first Freemasons, and Speculative Masonry, which is what Freemasonry is today, can be traced back, at least on paper, to 1717, and still uses as spiritual tools common operative masonic tools, like the square and compasses, which are prominently displayed on Lodge buildings and pretty much everywhere throughout the Freemasonic world.
To answer the second, well, kinda sorta not really. Question mark? You can always tell a Lodge by the square and compasses on the side of the building. Masons are not asked to keep their membership a secret. Many of their works are public, from appearances in parades to Shriners hospitals and circuses to (in some states, like New York) the Child Identification Program (CHIP) to places like the Masonic Care Community in Utica.
And there's plenty of information on the Web, and of course in books, many of them written by Masons, so they'd know.
Some people look at the names of Freemasons – Washington, Franklin, Adolf Fredrick (18th century king of Sweden), Salvador Allende, both Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart, James Naismith, Gene Autry, Count Basie, Simon Bolivar – and think with all that power and celebrity, there must be some conspiracy at hand. I looked at the list of Freemasons and said, hey, if all those great people wanted to be a part of this, I want to be a part of it, too.
Anyway, that's the long version. But it's one of the things I'm up to these days.
We're starting to be able to get outside here in Central New York. It occurs to me that, with today being April 2, it hasn't actually been a longer winter than others, it's just been a little more brutal — no thaws to speak of, and extra cold.
It also featured something (two things, depending on whom you ask) called a polar vortex. I still don't really understand what that means, but I didn't like it.
It's time to be running outside, waiting on the ground to dry a little so we can get some yard work done, and of course I'm back to watching parkour videos. These inspire me for a few reasons:
(1) While there must be a healthy dose of fear involved, freerunners by and large don't show it. I heard a freerunner say something about a 15-foot gap once, and I look around at my 12'x12' home office and think, "If I had a full running start, I could maybe come close." But to think about jumping between roofs 15 feet apart and 10 stories up is just— I don't have a word.
(2) Although a lot of parkour videos look improvised, the truth is a lot of rehearsal tends to go in, especially for people who cover ground. It's one thing to improvise some railing swings on a wheelchair ramp, but it's another entirely to know what's around the corner or over a wall. You can see some of that practice going on here: