Two months ago, at the edge of a gentrifying area
in Washington, D.C., I was sitting with some food-writer friends at Death Metal Cocktail Night in a very dark, very loud bar in a former garage called American Ice Company, sampling ominously named drinks such as the rum-based Jucifer and a spicy Rye on Fire.
talking shop, a colleague mentioned an opening at a sister paper to New Times, prompting a
discussion on what it would take to jump ship from D.C.
I loved living in Washington, even with its stereotype as a city of bureaucratic drones who toil
for "the man."
The next day, one of my colleagues pinged me: Why aren't you considering food-writing jobs in other cities?
I had shelved a career teaching high school English and journalism to focus on becoming a freelance food writer. I landed gigs for Washingtonian and Washington City Paper. I traipsed through exotic markets and learned how to make bread, rice noodles, and pizza for the Washington Post. I worked as a server and cook in restaurants as a form of culinary boot camp -- and had my ass handed to me. I had helped NBC launch The Feast DC.
But I wanted to grow.
What I had known of Florida was as little as you can imagine from a couple of trips to Key West, Carl Hiaasen books, and Susan Orleans' Orchid Thief.
Thankfully, on my interview visit, I was embraced by some very genuine and very generous Florida Sherpas who showed me around. I was intrigued by the juxtaposition of rich and poor, of desolate and lively spaces, of diners, dives, and Hooters-inspired culture. I was shown pockets of hipsters and hippies, gay guys and frat boys. I liked the quirk.
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Soon after, I road-tripped down here with my father in his ol' man mobile stuffed with kitchen shit and linens. My dog, Charlie, barked and drooled in the back seat. Rush Limbaugh and Santana's Greatest Hits tortured me from the radio while the Garmin directed us toward my new home in Sailboat Bend.
The night we arrived, I blindly picked Quarterdeck for my maiden voyage of the bar scene -- it was the closest, least crowded spot near my father's hotel. As "Rapper's Delight" blared from the stereo, Joe the bartender briefed me on where to go as I put back a couple of Buds. While pretty, blond surfer dudes shot pool, I shifted between being grateful for advice, trying to stay awake after a day's drive, and stealing glances at the Nats-Marlins game.
Over the past few days, I've sampled a solid banh mi (at Coconuts), some of the best collards I've had (at Betty's Soul Food), and pizza as good as I remember from growing up in Jersey (Luigi's). I cast off my antibrunch stance for an ice-cold Warsteiner, kielbasa, and fried eggs at a little Austrian place (Cypress Nook). I drank locally brewed beer so hoppy, it tasted like pot. And I sipped some sugar-bomb cocktails that took me back to college from the days of vintage Lauderdale (M Bar).
I'm gaining footing but have a ways to go. I'll look to you for guidance along the way. Got any advice for me? What would you like to see on the blog? Holler! Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Facebook and on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.