Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to Suit757’s Worst Nightmare

Moonlight Bistro
6080 Highway 117
Mentone, AL

Let’s say you just scored a multi-million dollar Energy Department grant to conduct a study of hippies living off the grid -- by hiring your congressman’s brother (that’s how these things usually work).

My guess is you probably wouldn’t begin your hippie hunt in Alabama.

But if you happened to stumble into Mentone, Alabama on a Saturday night like I did, you’d find yourself in the right place.

Across the street from the Moonlight Bistro, from the upstairs room above the oldest hotel in Alabama, the folky sounds of hippie music emanated throughout this tiny mountaintop village of 300 people. A couple dozen Mentone “Occupy Wall Street” wannabees twirled and gyrated to the sounds of Chattanooga band “Lumbar Five”.

Okay. So not really my usual scene, but what the heck? What else am I going to do this evening?

Mentone seems to be the only town in Alabama on this autumn Saturday night that has no interest whatsoever in college football. There’s not a television set in the entire town as far as I could tell.

But you know what? The band was pretty good.

So, okay. An evening away from glowing monitors. Some talented musicians. A little cultural exchange. Maybe I can deal with this.

Except for one major problem.

I’m pretty sure scoring pot in Mentone is easier than finding a beer.

Look. Modern travel is no picnic.

But up here in DeKalb County, Alabama I stumbled into Suit757’s worst nightmare – being stranded for the night in a dry county.

That’s right. No beer.

So much for Bob Wayne’s battle cry that “Everything’s Legal in Alabama”.

Hey, it happens. Alabama. Oklahoma. Utah. Sometimes when you travel the back roads of America you bed down in a town where you can’t get a beer.

That’s why it’s always a good idea to travel with a bootleg six pack in the trunk.

Just in case.

Before a completely debilitating depression came over me, I walked across the street to the Moonlight Bistro to catch a bite to eat.

Situated inside an old log cabin that’s been perched up here on top of Lookout Mountain since the 19th Century, the Moonlight Bistro is a dim, candlelit place that serves old fashioned country comfort food.

Perusing the beverage section of the menu, and against all odds, still holding out hope, I asked my teenage waitress about the “Cabin Cooler”. Could it be some clandestine code for skirting county law?

No such luck.

Much to my chagrin, she said it was a mixture of Sprite and Cranberry Juice.

As if that weren’t soul crushing enough, she came back 90 seconds later to tell me, “We don’t sell that any more.”

Becoming ever more desperate, I opted instead for a three dollar “Blackberry Lemonade” – which turns out is your basic lemonade in a red plastic Coke cup with a few blackberries floating on top.

I should have just opted for Appalachian tap water.

My depression subsided momentary when she brought out my fried green tomato appetizer.

I’ve eaten my share of FGTs, but this was among the very best. Perfectly fried crisp in a seasoned batter, topped with shredded parmesan cheese and bacon bits and served with a side of creamy remoulade dipping sauce, these were four star tomatoes.

Always on the look out for something I’ve never had before, I opted for the “Chili Corn Pone”, a twist on the traditional Southern Appalachian meal that’s been cooked up in cast iron skillets since the frontier days of Daniel Boone.

The menu described the dish as corn bread topped with chili.

But that’s not what my waitress brought to my table.
It was a bowl of tortilla chips topped with chili, cheese, lettuce and tomato. Think really, really messy nachos.

Unfortunately, the chili almost instantaneously transformed the chips to mush.

As I began poking through my mish mash of chili and chip mush in a fruitless hunt for the corn bread supposedly buried underneath, the owner walked by and noticed my frantic searching and asked what was wrong.

I inquired about my missing corn bread.

She immediately called out to the kitchen to bring me some.

I explained that the menu indicated the corn bread was supposed to be underneath the chili.

She said, “Oh, that’s how the old owners did it. We serve it on the side now.”

Uh, okay.

Silly me for paying too much attention to the menu.

The corn bread she brought out was a pair of corn bread sticks – not too inspiring.

It was like that tasteless corn bread you make at home from those “just add water” mixes.

Major disappointment.

While I’ve never had it, as described on the menu, chili corn pone sounds like it could be a great hearty cool-weather comfort food. You’d need good, thick, sturdy homemade corn bread to stand up to the chili assault, but it sounds delicious.

You’d think one of these hippies in town could figure that out.

In fact, if I ever get home, I just might make some chili corn pone myself.

A perfect accompaniment on a crisp fall afternoon for downing a few beers and watching college football.

You know, those other things, besides good corn bread, that apparently aren’t legal in Mentone, Alabama.

Rating: Wouldn’t Wear Shirt if They Paid Me.

Moonlight Bistro on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Sounds as if "NO BEER" and "NO COLLEGE FOOTBALL" can really set you off!
    People in rural parts of America pride themselves in the fact that they DO NOT need these things to enjoy life. We DO enjoy our simple way of life without having to be intoxicated or yelling at the television during sporting events.
    Next time, bring your own BEER and your laptop to watch the game on! EVERYONE has WIFI!