Sunday, October 18, 2009

Music at the Soul Kitchen

Music is one of my passions in life, especially live music. I truly enjoy watching talented musicians and singers practice the craft they love. So last week when I learned that The Rebirth Brass Band was appearing at the Soul Kitchen I decided it was time to finally check out this popular music venue.

Located in downtown Mobile at 219 Dauphin Street, the Soul Kitchen has a reputation for booking great bands and I must say that Rebirth Brass Band was awesome! This group's music has the feel of a New Orleans second line band with a dash of jazz, funk, and hip hop added for fun. The music was great and the crowd had a great time. There was a genuine Mardi Gras feel to the night.

That being said, Soul Kitchen is in a building that once housed Woolworth's and I'm willing to bet that the place hasn't been cleaned since Woolworth's occupied the building. This place is a filthy dump. I've seen some nasty bathrooms at convenience stores and gas stations but the Soul Kitchen takes top honors for disgusting bathrooms. My daughter asked for an ashtray and was told to throw her cigarette butts on the floor. The employee actually said "that's why we pay a guy to sweep up." Looking around I would guess that the "sweep up guy" doesn't come very often.

The beer is cold and the bartenders are talented and friendly. All of the staff was very affable. There are two stage areas in the club, a large stage and bar in the back part of the building for big crowds and a smaller more intimate bar and stage at the front. Neither area provides tables or chairs so wear comfortable shoes because you'll be standing all night. Rebirth Brass Band played on the front stage, I assume because the audience was only about 100 people. I didn't mind standing since my daughter forewarned me to wear flat shoes, but really, if I shell out $15 for a ticket and another $2 for a membership card I think I should have the option of sitting if I want to.

The bands don't start at Soul Kitchen until very late. The doors opened at 9:00 but the band didn't begin until 11:30. We made the mistake of showing up at 9:00 and had to sit through an hour long sound check with the first band. This is a major annoyance of mine. I think sound checks should be done before opening, not in front of the audience. The opening band was the Revitalists from New Orleans and their music sounded good but I couldn't understand any of the lyrics because the sound was turned up too loud. Everything was distorted beyond recognition. In fact, when we left at the end of the night my hearing was severely impaired. It didn't return to normal until noon the next day. Apparently this is the normal volume level because the bar staff all wear ear plugs. The management needs to learn that louder does not equal better, it just equals louder.

Lest anyone think my poor review of the Soul Kitchen is a by product of my advanced age let me point out that I spoke to many, many people that night who were my daughter's age (early 20's) and they had the same complaints I am voicing now. The fact that this age group continues to return to the club, in spite of their complaints, shows they're more forgiving than I am. I have no problem with dive bars and this place has all the makings of a great dive bar. Just clean it up!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Catt's Brown Bag Concert Series

The 92 ZEW radio station offers a series of concerts in the park every fall. The series, dubbed "The Brown Bag Concerts", occurs on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of each week from 11:30 to 1:30. A different local artist(s) performs live in the park. There are a variety of music genres offered which reflects the eclectic format of the radio station. Wednesdays concerts are held in Bienville square in downtown Mobile, Thursdays are performed in May Day Park in historic Daphne, and Fridays are located in front of Faulkner State in Fairhope (at the corner of Bancroft and Fairhope Ave).

With the weather cooling off it was a real treat for me to take my lunch down to May Day Park and listen to Jimmy Robinson play his acoustic 12 string guitar. Mr. Robinson played a variety of instrumental pieces and sang a few songs as well. My co-worker and I enjoyed his talent. There are picnic benches and grills near the playground area if you want indulge in a cookout or picnic. The amphitheater area where the performance is located is down the hill from the playground which helps prevent the sounds of small children squealing on the swings from drowning out the music. Many attendees brought their own folding chairs. The afternoon was sunny but the concert area is shaded by enormous oak trees so no need for sun screen. There was a lovely tiny breeze blowing and a gorgeous view of Mobile Bay in the background. In short, it was a great way to have lunch and take a break from the work day.

May Day Park also features a fishing pier, boat ramp, rest rooms and a board walk. There's a small sandy beach that is very popular with kids. I have taken my grandson down there and he has a wonderful time wading in the water. A quick note about playing in the water here. First, it gets deep quickly so make sure you stay close to small children. I wouldn't let mine get more than six feet from the shore line. I also discovered, while doing research for this post, that there have been warnings issued stating that the bacteria levels in the area were too high to go swimming. The warnings were for brief periods of time but I will admit that we may not use this as a swimming hole in the future.

The concert series runs from Sept. 2 through Oct. 30 so there are only a few weeks left to enjoy it. Winter will be here before we know it and our warm weather will be gone. If you work close to any of the three parks or you are lucky enough to be off during the week, gather up some co-workers and plan a quick lunch in the park. It's a great solution to the work week blues.

Magnolia Blossom Cafe

I don't intend to use this blog to do lengthy reviews of every restaurant my family dines in, but recently my husband and I found an establishment that so impressed us we wanted to share it with everyone in Mobile. The Magnolia Blossom Cafe is located on Hwy 59 in Robertsdale and it is worth every mile of the drive to experience a meal there. You've probably seen it on your way to Gulf Shores. It's the place with the red tractor parked out front.

Open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch and dinner, owner Darlene Roper has created a wonderful causal dining restaurant that houses a cafe, deli, bakery, and catering company and offers a private dining room for business and social functions. There's a breakfast buffet six days a week and a lunch buffet every day. Friday night features a seafood buffet with crab, shrimp, jambalaya and gumbo to name just a few of the many, many items and Sunday morning you can stop in for the breakfast buffet with three carved meats and mimosas. There is no bar but they do serve alcohol. So far you're thinking this sounds like a lot of little places you've already ate in. Ah, but you're wrong!

In the interest of full disclosure, I will mention that my husband and I dined for free. We had a gift certificate that was given to us by my fabulous friend, Lisa, and she won it as a door prize at a business event. Thank you Lisa for not wanting to drive to Robertsdale for dinner because you have given Dave and I our new favorite restaurant. The Magnolia Blossom Cafe's slogan is "Like Eatin' at Grandma's". I wish eating at my grandmother's had been this good! (Sorry Grandma.) While the menu contains many comfort foods it also listed options I didn't expect to see in a Robertsdale cafe. (My apologies to the people of Robertsdale. I know that makes me sound like a snob, but rest assured my eyes have been opened.) The chef, and he is a chef, prepares homemade french onion soup and gumbo that is the best we've had so far on the Gulf Coast. We started with a basket of fried crab claws that were good but much like the crab claws you get at any Causeway restaurant. The crab claws are of course market priced.

I ordered the All You Can Eat Fried Shrimp. It came with a salad bar, stuffed baked potato, and basket after basket of homemade yeast rolls. The price for this belly swelling meal was $8.99. Are you kidding? That's a serious deal. The shrimp were fresh not frozen and they were delicious, lightly battered and fried to perfection. The salad bar is limited in the number of items available but it is adequate. You really don't want to fill up on lettuce when you can dine on all you can eat shrimp. Beware of the rolls because they can be addicting. They are soft and warm and delicious and the wonderful waitresses will bring you all that you want. By the time I'd finished dinner I thought my husband was going to have to roll me to the car.

Dave had an evening special which was Surf and Turf. For $13.99 he had a rib eye steak, wrapped in bacon and topped with a crab cake. The steak was perfectly cooked, fork tender and flavorful. The crab cake was again the best we've tasted on the Gulf Coast. Instead of serving a pile of dressing with a little crab meat mixed in (unfortunately this is what we've been served in too many places) this was almost completely lump crap meat and the flavor was wonderful. The meal was also served with a salad, two sides and those homemade rolls. Did I mention it was $13.99? The food and service we're so good we felt guilty using the gift certificate. Not paying for a meal so delicious felt like stealing.

We skipped dessert on this particular evening, only because there was no possible way to get another bite of food down my gullet, but the dessert items did sound heavenly. I have since stopped in and sampled the bakery and I have to say the pastries are every bit as wonderful as I expected. They are moist, flaky perfection. I will never again be able to pass through Robertsdale without at least stopping for a bakery item. Ms. Roper was at a pastry show the weekend we stopped in. The hostess told me she was looking for new treats to whip up in her kitchen. I can't wait! I'm already lobbying to have our company Christmas luncheon here. Next time you're traveling down Hwy 59 give this place a try.

Magnolia Blossom Cafe
22667 State Hwy 59 S.
Robertsdale, AL 36567
(251) 945-2202

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Mobile Public Library System

September 26 through October 3 is Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates the freedom to read and the importance of the First Amendment. This seems like a great time to write about one of my favorite places, the library. I know what you're thinking and you can stop rolling your eyes. If the last time you visited a Mobile County Library was to research a term paper then you need to take another look at your local branch. Our libraries really do qualify as someplace to go - something to do and the best part is they're free.

There are nine branches so the entire county is covered and for those people who can't get to a local branch there's the Bookmobile. The branch locations and bookmobile stops are listed on the Library website as are the hours of operation for each branch. Of course you can check out books on a variety of topics at the library but there is so much more than that going on. Music CD's from all genres and a huge selection of Books on Tape can be checked out at no cost and the DVD section contains movies and TV shows that rent for only $1 a week. Computers are available for use and Internet service is provided at no cost, however you will need to pay for anything you want printed.

Much of this may not be news to you but did you know that the library also offers a variety of free classes and events? You can learn basic computer skills, Excel and Power Point, take genealogical courses or learn the basics of grant proposal writing. A class entitled Job Hunting in the 21st Century will teach attendees how to write a resume and use the Internet to find employment opportunities. Classes in art and crocheting, a chess club and weekly Storytelling sessions are some of the available options for children and the Library website offers homework help online from live tutors.

Book lovers can join any of the seven book clubs that meet at the various branches. They include Not Your Average Book Club, Ebony Moments, Classics Revisited, Life Begins at 50, Poetry Enthusiasts, Murder by Numbers and a new club called The Eclectic Book Club. There are also a variety of free movies shown at the various branches each month. Many are family oriented but there are also documentaries, foreign films, science fiction and film classics for adults. Check the event schedule on the website for the upcoming list and locations.

The libraries offers a variety of exhibits on art, science, gardening and crafts just to cover a few topics. All events can be found on the website but you can pick up brochures at any branch or sign up for a variety of email alerts that will keep you up to date.

The days are already getting shorter, the weather will be turning colder and the holidays will be on us before we know it. We'll all be spending more time indoors and we'll be wondering how we're going to pay for Christmas. So this is the perfect time to stop by your local library and check out some books on weatherproofing your home, mixing that perfect cup of hot cocoa, or how to make a Halloween Costume. Better still, just grab a classic Holiday DVD or pick up an intriguing little murder mystery to read in bed under the covers. Happy reading!