Category Archives: Kate and Stephen

Twelve Things About Sinclair’s

While it’s true in some senses that it’s easier to write what you know well, it’s also true that familiarity with a place makes it tough to offer a review that reads as credible to an outsider looking for a fairly objective snapshot of a place. As such, it’s hard to write about Sinclair’s, the cornerstone neighborhood restaurant of our part of town. We’ve been fairly regular there since moving to Montgomery a few years ago and that alone ought to tell you that it’s good enough to keep bringing us back.

And as with any place you’ve been countless times, we’ve seen some good, some bad, and pretty much ordered most of the things on the menu (well, most of the things that can be eaten by vegetarians who occasionally make exceptions for seafood). As such, there is no one prototypical meal for us at Sinclair’s. We’ll recount for you some facts you ought to know, and present them in list form for your convenience. And if you don’t want to read the list, the bottom line is this: It’s a great restaurant and you should eat there.

1. Outside seating: We have noted before that it’s a crying shame that our town lacks sufficient outdoor dining areas. It’s the South. We need chairs and patios in order to function as a decent society. There’s good enough weather here in this particular part of the world that, properly equipped with a few tables and umbrellas, we ought to be able to eat outdoors. Sinclair’s understands this. Best patio in town.
2. Full bar and strong drinks: These folks have a solid, if not flashy, bar and know how to mix drinks. You can sit inside or on the aforementioned patio, but we appreciate their ability to make drinks properly the first time and serve them in nice glasses. This all dovetails with the fact that there’s a movie theater next door, meaning you can have a great meal, have a few drinks, and walk over to the movie (or sit and discuss the movie after the fact).
3. No smoking: One of the downsides of many bars is the smoke haze. It’s nice to not leave Sinclair’s smelling like there’s some kind of film clinging to you, thinking that you need a bath.
4. Trivia: There really aren’t all that many places in town that do the trivia box competitive networked trivia game. Sinclair’s has it, along with the associated crew of eccentrics who take it super seriously. We love trivia. We are glad they pay for this service.
5. Good ambiance: It’s just a nice place to chill. It’s sort of formal, but you don’t feel awkward for sporting a t-shirt or shorts. It’s formal enough for legislators to make regular appearances, but informal enough that you can rip through a bunch of cranberry vodkas and not feel like you’re going to draw ugly looks. There usually aren’t a bunch of kids running around. The restrooms are snappy, the art is good, and it’s all around a nice place — the sort of place where you could bring a date or out-of-town friends, but also feel comfortable as a neighborhood regular just in for a meal or a night out of the house. They even do something in the men’s room certain to confuse future generations of “smart phone” users: They hang the sports page over the urinals. And the women’s restroom has a couch!
6. Fried foods: There’s trashy fried food in the world that leaves you feeling greasy and then there’s Sinclair’s fried brie wedges and simply otherworldly onion rings. Healthy? No. Fantastic? Absolutely. And atop the Sinclair’s pyramid of fried goodness must be the artichoke hearts, which we can’t do every time, but on those special occasions, are truly a delicacy of the highest order. The dipping sauce is creamy and the fried hearts are rich and, at the risk of overusing a foodie word, decadent.

Brie wedges

7. Brunch: Not to overplay the “Why doesn’t everyone have this?” angle, but it’s baffling that more places don’t have tasty brunch. Sinclair’s has it right, with multiple options for your eggs, amazing potato compliments, and quality mimosas served in good potency and quantity. Not something we can afford to do every weekend in this economy, but a fantastic benefit to be able to go there whenever we can make it work. Ask your server about the difference between Eggs Sardou and Eggs Soho. We always forget. Also, if you like crab, order the crabbie eggs. Nothing confusing there.
8. Smoked trout: The best thing on the appetizer list. There’s a photo below, but the texture of the fish is great and the combo of the capers and the cucumbers with the creamy sauce, well, it’s filling but not a tasty throwaway like so many other appetizers. It’s fresh-tasting and should be considered among the best appetizers in the city.

The trout

9. Spa salad: The go-to item when you’re not sure what else to get, this is truly an admirable baseline for the menu. It’s big, hearty, fresh and consists of greens, tomato, cucumber, mushrooms, red pepper, purple onion, artichoke hearts (not fried), and hearts of palm. At $8, it’s a bargain and a great meal.
10. Unsweet tea: Why doesn’t Sinclair’s have sweet tea? It might have something to do with the restaurant once being a Sinclair Oil gas station. They offer you sugar packets, as if you weren’t from the South and hadn’t looked with contempt at some other servers across the country when they tried to equate the granular mess made with packet and spoon to the ambrosia of actual Southern sweet tea. Why? Why? Damn you, Sinclair’s. I guess I’ll have a Coke instead.
11. Veggie burgers: We might go out on a limb and say that they’re the best in the city. The great thing is that they are willing to make them up like the many kinds of regular burgers they offer: with Swiss, peppers on it, mushrooms, etc. These people “get it.” A veggie burger is not meant to be some kind of health treat like a rice cake. And we can tell if you keep a box of Boca burgers in the freezer and thaw one out when the rare vegetarian stumbles along. Sinclair’s doesn’t do that. They create a big and tasty patty on good bread.
12. Good service: A recent trip had the server offering thoughtful suggestions on a couple of menu items, all of which turned out to be spot-on accurate. Drink glasses are rarely empty and most times you get the thing that you ordered. And if there is a mistake or a mix-up, they’re really cool about it. They’re friendly, laid back, and seem to genuinely want you to have a good meal. And that stands out and really makes you want to go back. Again, that’s the kind of thing that’s easy to say if you’re regulars and get good treatment from friends, but really, we’re not. Although we mentioned above that it’s hard to write a review of a place you know well, it’s also not like we are daily visitors. We just make frequent enough visits that we know we’re going to get good food in a good atmosphere at a good price and we want to make extra sure that we aren’t taking a neighborhood institution for granted.

Shirmp Po Boy: A little too much bread, excessive sour cream on the potato.

The fantastic Spa Salad

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Martin’s Restaurant

Sometimes on the way back from New Orleans, we stop at a little gas station just across the bridge to fill up for the trip to Montgomery and stock up on Hubig’s Pies. For years we have considered these delightful snacks to be the apex of the fried pie arts. And then we tried the fried pies at Martin’s Restaurant. We stand corrected. We’ll still stop and get Hubig’s whenever we can, and even seriously consider ordering them from the Internet, but they’re not even in the same category as Martin’s fried pies.

Getting your fried pie can require a bit of experimentation. They take some time to make – we were told to order them at least 15 minutes in advance – so it is best to request them when you order your meal. Sometimes they run out of the advertised flavors of the day. Other times they just don’t have them. Fried pies aren’t on the regular Martin’s dessert menu, so you have to ask. But when you sink into its flaky crust, lemon glaze, warm filling, it’ll all be worth it. Everything in your life up to that point will have been worth it.

Not that the other desserts are bad. On the contrary, they are both gigantic (prepare yourself for the slice of chocolate pie as large as your head) and delightful.

It’s just that in a place that’s famous for its fried chicken (and in case you didn’t know they were known for fried chicken, several dozen plaques advertising it adorn the wall above the cash register), you might expect that everything else on the menu will play second fiddle.

Not so at Martin’s. You start with the cornbread, which is dense and sweet with an intense butter flavor. The fried fish is fantastic, salty and light with just the right breading. And the vegetables are well worth a starring role in a plate of sides. They rotate from day to day — and of course some offerings are more appetizing than others (we are not fans of “congealed salad,” for example), but the tomato and okra is great, the fried okra is uniformly perfect, and they have macaroni and cheese that is actually made with cheese.

Recently we played host to a visiting musician friend from Athens. We wanted to show off the town a little bit, so we took him to the strip mall that is home to Martin’s. He pronounced the chicken “delicious” and swooned over the fried pie. We were so proud you would have thought we cooked the meal ourselves.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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August Saturday in Midtown

By Kate and Stephen

We just had a great Saturday.

It was one of those days that make you feel really lucky to live in Montgomery. Friday was a late night. Good friends came over. The August heat had finally decided to offer a tease of September. The punishing heat had, if only for a cloudy night, relented. We had mojitos on our patio. Come Saturday, we slept in. But just a little – there was a lot going on in our hometown.

First, we went to the Capri, where the African-American Film Festival was showing from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. It was sponsored by the National Center for the Study of Civil Rights and African-American Culture at Alabama State University. Admission was free, so the price was right, and the selection of movies was pretty great.

We missed the Lena Horne movie, Cabin in the Sky, but settled in for a civil rights movie called Soundtrack for a Revolution. We both consider ourselves fairly well-informed observers of civil rights history, but we had never heard of this documentary. All we really knew is that it was: A) about civil rights and B) featured music from some of our favorite musical artists. So with The Roots, John Legend, Joss Stone (and others) acting as drawing cards, we went and were happy that we did. It was one of the best movies about the 1950s-1960s American civil rights struggle that we have seen.

The music was on point (Richie Havens performed a stirring version of Will the Circle Be Unbroken?), but the overall arc of the movie brought home the importance of music to the movement. There were great interviews with a number of folks, all of whom seemed to be speaking pretty candidly. The makers of the movie clearly spent a lot of time doing extensive combing over archival footage, and their efforts pay off. There are a few neat cinematic tricks too, like when the camera scans over a full-screen grid comprised entirely of police mugshots, with the grid folding and rotating showing booking photos of more and more of the human faces willing to be arrested for what was right. It covered Birmingham, Selma, Montgomery, Mississippi, and the march on D.C. without getting bogged down. A great, great film about American history that uplifts but also reminds you of the urgency of unfinished business.

Afterward, we went across the street and had tasty sandwiches from Cafe Louisa. Even if you’re a meat eater, you can still appreciate the portobello mushroom Reuben sandwich. Sauerkraut plus mustard plus heavy sandwich press equals happy post-movie lunch.

Next stop? Montgomery’s riverside dragon boat races. We weren’t really sure what to expect and had never been to this gathering before. We felt lucky to have heard about it and weren’t sure if there’d be much of a crowd downtown or not. Sure enough, after passing through multiple other inexplicable police barricades shutting down the downtown area for totally unrelated reasons, we parked near the Brewpub and saw people milling around.

While walking towards the river, we decided to stop in the Bishop-Parker furniture store in the Schloss-Kahn building across from the Biscuits stadium. We weren’t looking for furniture, but have always wondered what that cool triangle-shaped building was like on the inside. Since it was the kind of day where you do a little exploring, we went inside. It’s pretty amazing in there. The beams throughout feature old graffiti, many of which inveigh against the city porter in some way. We’re not sure what the city porter’s job was, much less how it might have angered the workers at some point in this awesome building’s 105-year history, but it must have been pretty bad. There was also some very nice furniture inside, and the people there were very kind to let us poke around and take pictures.

When we arrived at the river, it was hot. Very hot. Alabama in August hot. But the festival was free and the smart people that were competing in the boat races had planned ahead, bringing football tailgate tents, which reminded us that we were enjoying the last Saturday of the year before football consumes the brains of otherwise well-meaning folks.

The festival featured live music at the city’s cool riverside amphitheater. As we walked up, a local band called The Signals delighted us by playing some Elvis Costello, but floored us by launching into Neil Young’s “Cortez the Killer,” a super-long guitar-heavy dirge about genocide. They smashed it out of the ballpark, producing a stirring version that somehow, oddly, managed to capture the Neil Young anthemic sound while blending into the sunny civic outdoor atmosphere of people cheering for dragon boats.

We enjoyed rooting for the only all-female team entered into the races, “Chics Ahoy,” right before they won their heat. This made us feel better about the announcer’s insulting pre-race comment that they might not be the fastest boat, but they sure would be the cutest. In general, the scene down at the riverfront was bucolic and happy, with everyone enjoying the races while getting their summer fun on.

Our only quibble was that afterwards, when we wanted to go drink something cold and sit in some air conditioning, neither the Alley Bar nor the Brewpub was open. Why not? There’s a festival going on. It’s a Saturday during the summer. People are hot and want to hang out. Also, is this the business plan that’s going to help you out during college football season? We were surprised. So we went home to cool off.

And all of this activity doesn’t give due to the fact that also on this Saturday were the Black Belt Roots Festival in Eutaw and the Okra Festival in Lowndes County. We didn’t make the quick day trips this weekend, but would love to go next year.

First thing in the morning, we’d seen a movie that reminded us that we live in a city that has, throughout its history, been among the most important in influencing the trajectory of our country. We’d been inspired by photos that have inspired the world – and they were taken right here in our town. Then we met some friendly people and saw a building where new furniture graces old floors. Then we heard soaring music while watching hand-paddled boats slide across our beautiful river. Then we had lemonade. Just another lovely Montgomery Saturday.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Red Root Farm

By Stephen and Kate

A typical week's CSA in the spring season

Every Tuesday from April to August, and then again from October to February, we make it to El Rey Burrito Lounge on Fairview by 4:00 to pick up a bag bursting with organic vegetable goodness brought from a farm near Banks, Alabama (in Pike County) to Midtown. The food arrives care of our friends from Red Root Herb and Vegetable Farm. Red Root’s Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program allows Midtown residents like us to buy CSA shares that support the farm providing bringing delicious and healthy produce.

The shares ensure that you get weekly batches of fresh, organic, locally grown vegetables, while giving you the knowledge that the money is going straight to the farmer and not the various middle-persons that profit from the conventional grocery chain. While the chain supermarkets can create economies of scale from dealing in bulk, with the CSA, you’re at least not paying a lot of hidden costs for refrigeration, advertising, etc.

One of the things we love about the CSA is that you never know what you’re going to get. While that’s not exactly true – you can predict collards at a certain time of year, zucchini at another, radishes at yet another – it’s still a bit of a mystery until you actually get the canvas bag home and open it up. This summer we were flush with watermelons – some massive, others tiny (they were calling them “personal watermelons” down at the farm when we visited), some red, others yellow. El Rey (which also buys food from Red Root for various menu items) memorably used these watermelons in a salad with mint and red onion as part of their Red Root Farm-based menu on Bastille Day (the one where they had hired, oddly, a belly dancer).

Each bag comes with a note from the farm, sometimes talking about weather conditions, sometimes telling you what veggies are coming along at what schedule, sometimes just including descriptions of things and recipes. Ever had a kohlrabi? Farmer Gary not only will sometimes include one or two in your bag, but will tell you a little about it and suggest a few uses. And if you’re reading this blog, you know how to use the Internet. So you’ll enjoy (as we do) searching around for various recipes for the surprises that arrive each week — some of which will force you to discover new cooking skills. Tons of fun!

Getting the CSA also encourages us to adapt our cooking to what is seasonal. We learn new recipes and figure out how to use ingredients – some familiar but abundant, and some strange. One year when we were rolling in radishes, we discovered how to make a delicious salad combining them with corn, onion and parsley. Another year, we learned an unbelievable new way to make turnips using a simple yogurt marinade. Leftovers go into fried rice, soup, salads. The next Tuesday you take your empty canvas Standard Deluxe printed bag back to the pickup site and exchange for a new one.

This is the sixth year of Red Root Farm’s CSA and the tenth year that proprietor Gary Weil has been farming family land in Banks. He has studied all manner of agricultural techniques and is also quite well-versed in the healing properties of many plants. He has a passion for using sustainable methods and can offer up a pretty withering critique of the health and environmental effects of industrial farming methods. His vision is to make Red Root a fully integrated keystone of the growing local and organic foods movement. Healthy eating and environmentalism aren’t fads for Gary Weil and his workers at Red Root. They are ways of life.

CSA subscriptions for the fall are now available. While in previous years the CSA has been more limited (and highly coveted), this fall Red Root will be adding twenty new Montgomery subscriptions. A subscription for a growing season (fall/winter or spring/summer) is $375. They say that you receive 627 items freshly picked and in season over the course of a subscription, but honestly we’ve never counted them all.

You can download a brochure about the CSA here. It includes a subscription form. For more information, you can also call Red Root Farm for more information (334-243-4072).

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Cloverdale SmartCode Update

By Stephen and Kate

Last Thursday and Friday the City of Montgomery’s Planning Department held public meetings in the basement of the Cloverdale Playhouse. The meetings were open-ended, come-when-you-can affairs, designed to share information about the Planning Department’s proposal for implementing SmartCode in the Five Points business district. Like many folks from all over Midtown, we wandered down to the Playhouse last week to look at the City’s various ideas.

The meetings were informal, with various exhibits on tables and walls throughout a big room in the basement. Residents were invited to move between the exhibits and talk to City personnel who were available to discuss any concerns. When we were there, folks were involved in a dozen conversations about their ideas for the neighborhood – sometimes with City personnel, sometimes with each other. Everyone was invited to leave comments using a standard form. Most people seemed to be very interested in giving written feedback.

The overheard comments ranged from the uninformed, strongly-held opinion (everybody has feelings of some sort about property rights and the aesthetics of buildings) to the expert-level conversation about implementation and origins of smart code (we had no idea what a “transect” was).

Here at MML, we’re delighted to be able to host copies of the drawings and exhibits from the meeting – in fact, we are the only site on the Internets with these pictures. Tremendous thanks to City Planner Tyler Caldwell for sharing with us. He’s also given us a copy of the results from the original 2006 design plan by Historic Southview, Old Cloverdale Business Coalition, AIA and countless other concerned citizens. Again, we believe that we are the only place online that you can download the document. If you care about the livability and look of your community and Midtown Montgomery, familiarity with this conversation is a crucial part of municipal participatory citizenship.

For the convenience of our readers, we have put all the images and documents from the meeting on this page here at MML. You can browse and download everything on this page.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Montgomery Film Festival

By Stephen and Kate

You will, I hope, forgive us for being a little bit provincial when we saw that there was to be a film festival in our neighborhood. We were so very excited. A film festival? What with the moving pictures and all? In Montgomery? In our neighborhood?

As we noted Friday here on MML, the Second Annual Montgomery Film Festival was this weekend. And just as if our town was having an ethnic food festival or some kind of amazing live music, looking up at the marquee of The Capri and seeing the words “Montgomery Film Festival” made us feel like we were living in a big city, with real cinophiles and a local creative underground. We didn’t know how many of the entries would be local, but thrilled at the idea that there were people out there making movies about our shared geography, shining lights onto experiences we might be missing, casting the world in new and eye-opening ways. And somewhere, somebody was cool enough to assemble all of the works into a “festival” and charge a reasonable price for a memorable Saturday evening.

As film festivals go, there are still some kinks to be worked out. But even the amateurish moments added to a warm small-town feel, where most of the people in the audience seemed to know each other (or be friends of the film makers). And when the DVD froze during one of the movies, causing them to have to hit “fast forward” to skip over the glitched scene, well, that’s the sort of communal experience that makes seeing a movie in a theater different than watching it in your living room. And it was fun.

Sure, there were some stinkers in the batch. That’s also part of the fun of it. One of the good things about watching a bunch of movies that are (by requirement) under 25 minutes in length is that even the bad ones will be over soon. And half of the fun of having opinions is sharing them with others. And if some of the bad ones selected to air at the film festival actually were the cream of the submissions, well, it’s even fun to imagine the ones that didn’t make the cut.

Before talking about the specifics of the films, it is worth mentioning that the festival was put on with the help of the Alabama Film Office and corporate sponsors like The Montgomery Advertiser and local TV station WSFA. And of course, the priceless venue, The Capri, about which we have gushed many times.

Here are our reviews (and grades) of the movies that were screened at this year’s festival:

“La Barba Brutta” – This is a silent film, which is to say that there is no dialogue. But the film is far from silent, as it’s set to a soaring excerpt from The Barber of Seville, the famous opera by Rossini. It’s short, hilarious and nicely showcased the editing talents of the creator, a nice young Brazilian fellow named Davi Abreu who spoke before the screening. This did a great job of setting the tone for the festival. A solid “A,” especially for a two minute “silent” film.

Afghan” – The high expectations set by “La Barba Brutta” were exceeded by the next short, a 11:40 long piece from Canadian Pardis Parker about xenophobia, optimism and the beautiful power of creativity and cinema. Simultaneously hilarious and poignant, this short piece managed to contain great acting and a powerful message about the universe of possible responses to fear-driven aggression. It was both a timely comment on the hateful political climate of intolerance in which we exist, but also a timeless meditation on the transformative power of art. Grade: A-plus.

In Our Shoes” – Shot entirely in Birmingham’s lovely Five Points South district, this film was a collection of interviews with people who talked about … well … their shoes. The film maker, Jen Suran, wasn’t able to be present, but it would have been nice to hear some of her thoughts about this project. What did we learn by hearing people talk about the social implications of their footwear? Not much. We’re all humans, man, says that homeless-looking guy. Some people talk about how much money they make. Others just about how hard they work. Seemed a lot like a school project, not that there’s anything wrong with that. Grade: C.

“The Gynecologist” – This film made us cringe, and not in a good way. It is about a person who appears to be male and attempts to visit a gynecologist. Many in the audience seemed to think this “fish out of water” gimmick was hilarious. Perhaps they bought into the filmmaker’s heavy-handed attempt to make us relate to the bureaucracy-beleaguered doctor, but this flimsy premise seemed to us to disguise a much more troubling message: We’d better, if we know what is good for us, stay in our assigned gender roles. Beautifully produced but terrible. Grade: D.

“Your Casanova” – If “In Our Shoes” seemed like a school project, this seemed like something dreamed up in a basement by some high school sophomores. On the other hand, it was made locally (Jimmie Rogers and Michael Turner) and starred area high school students, many of whom were at the screening. We don’t want to spoil the “twist” of a questionably-comprehensible plot, but think of it as a mix of Face/Off, Silence of the Lambs, Vanilla Sky, and American Psycho (as made by a very drunk Roger Corman). Grade: F.

Copper Penny” – The second-best film of the festival. Watching this movie by Jay Pulk is like reading a perfect short story by one of the masters of the genre: a Raymond Carver, a Jhumpa Lahiri. A man goes to visit a prostitute. One of history’s oldest stories plays out in a way that is unexpected, but not cheaply so. If not heart-rending, the movie is at least heart-warping. Grade: A-plus.

“Find a Way” – While “Your Casanova” was the worst film, that’s only because “Find a Way” doesn’t even count as a film. At least “Your Casanova” seemed like it would have been fun to make and involved high school students and local amateurs. Bracket for a moment whether the River Region United Way is a good charity. And bracket further the question of using the tragic circumstances of a disease-stricken child in the most overtly-exploitative way possible. The inclusion of this professionally-produced advertisement opens the doorway to next year’s festival running a 20 minute infomercial for Alabama Power or Alfa. Sure, the end product is well made. But it’s an ad. The maker of the film spoke before the screening, talking about his “client,” the United Way. No grade.

“Two Men, Two Cows, Two Guns” – Pardis Parker again. This won the organizers’ award for the best movie at the festival, but we weren’t that impressed. It’s a quirky comedy that seemed to us to be more quirk than comedy, drawing from the Little Miss Sunshine/Rocket Science well a little too deeply for our taste. But comedy’s such a matter of personal taste, and it made a lot of people in the audience laugh. A lot. Grade: B.

We did wonder what happened to “best 30 bumper” and “best trailer categories” mentioned in The Advertiser story here. Did they not get any entries in those categories? Did they do much advertising before the festival? We only learned about it by way of The Capri’s Facebook page, but didn’t see other promotional materials. Also, we’re sort of unclear on who it is exactly it is that is putting this thing on. Is it a non-profit? Do they get to keep all the money? More organizing will probably help the MFF’s third installment be even bigger and better.

When you purchased a ticket to the festival, you were given a ballot, allowing you to vote on the best film of the festival. As if it weren’t obvious from the above reviews, we voted for Afghan. And we enjoyed muttering about the selections of the festival organizers. We did think they should have had a “best Alabama-made” movie category. It’s not fair to allow movies made by some high school kids from Prattville to compete with movies bearing the seal of the Canadian federal government. All in all, we had a great time. It was affordable. We felt like we were supporting both local art and local lovers of cinema. We hope very much that things went well enough for the festival organizers that they will be having the third annual festival at this time next year. The Capri is, of course, a great venue for this sort of thing and we really, really want to go back next year. We might even make a movie ourselves and submit it.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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Ted, the Wine Guy

By Stephen and Kate

Alabama has a conflicted relationship with alcohol.

On one hand, the state celebrates college football tailgate boozing, is home to the nation’s oldest Mardi Gras (warning link opens jazzy informational Schoolhouse Rock-style song about Mobile), and has a long history of moonshine and White Lightnin’.

On the other hand, the state government still competes with private enterprise in the alcohol market because “The people of Alabama did not want alcoholic beverages marketed like soup and soft drinks” and it took a “Free the Hops” movement until 2009 to convince the Legislature increase the limit on alcohol by volume in beer from 6% to 13.9%. Many restrictions on beer and brewing remain. And then there was the unfortunate recent matter of the ABC Board banning a brand of California wine due to a picture of a nude nymph of the label (sidebar: Said board is run by a certain octogenarian former Mayor of Montgomery).

As such, we count ourselves lucky not only to be living in one of Alabama’s “wet” counties (with Sunday sales and draft beer and everything!), but also to be amid intelligent and well-informed folks who have tremendous expertise in beer and wine.

Enter Ted, the Wine Guy. Now, we don’t know Ted nearly well enough to call him by his first name. We met him once, when working on this blog post. And we’d never call him “the wine guy.” Vintner, maybe. But “wine guy?” Seems awfully casual. And yet, that’s the name of Ted’s charming three-year-old store (3062 Zelda Rd.), where he and co-owner (and Montgomery native) Scotty Scott sell, well, you know.

Look, we’re not wine snobs. But we do love to drink the stuff. And that makes Ted and Scotty a perfect match for us since on their website, item number one under the company’s mission is to “remove the intimidation from wine shopping by offering our customers Expertise without Arrogance.” Sounds good to us. Getting beyond the snooty intimidation factor is a big part of being comfortable trying new things and being able to be honest about what you like and don’t like.

That’s not to say that we don’t have opinions or think that all wines are created equally. We may not read Wine Spectator, but we do like having informed opinions about why things taste a certain way, even if we’re not able to talk soil quality, weather patterns, and cork construction with the people who really, truly geek out about this sort of thing.

All of which is really just prefatory to the bottom line: The service at Ted’s is great and the inventory offers the full panoply of fermentation. There are starter wines, more expensive items, cheap table wines, exotic things for sophisticated palates, international rarities, and the usual accouterments (sparkling wines, rare cheeses, etc.).

They seem very serious about helping Montgomery residents learn about wine, but not in a pedantic way. On Fridays after work you can stop by for a tasting (we were there when wholesaler Stacy Chappel from Rush Wines was pouring a selection of six tasty wines that were new to us – and of course we left with one). Or you can join their “Cellar Club” to get discounts on wine (pay $25, then two more installments of $25, and you’re a lifetime member) including special sales from a “members-only” rack, 6% off bottles, and 12% off a case. Discounts aren’t limited to club members – everyone can get 10% off when they buy a case.

Even though it’s in a strip mall (next to the UPS store in the Publix shopping center on Zelda Road), Ted’s feels warm and welcoming. Their focus on affordable and accessible wines is refreshing. It shows that there is a delicious middle ground between Sutter Home and a nice bottle of Sterling, and it makes you feel like you could actually learn something about wine without spending a fortune.

Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.

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