Tag Archives: Kate and Stephen

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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Filed under Architecture, Government, Kate and Stephen, Legal Issues, Municipal business, Real Estate

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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Filed under Kate and Stephen, Municipal business

The Ghost of Martha Manor

By Stephen and Kate

Before demolition, Martha Manor in its last days. Photo by SDHA resident Bennie J. Riley.

We were used to them, in a sad kind of way. The Martha Manor Apartments on Wilmington were a kind of neighborhood landmark. And not in a good way. The apartments were long-abandoned, desolate, scary and certainly not the kind of place you’d want to be walking near at night. The words “NO COPPER” were scrawled across one outside surface, discouraging further scavengers from ripping up walls in search of metal. The windows that weren’t boarded up? Broken out. Weeds were knee high and scorch marks were reminders of some previous fire. One friend described it as the perfect place for someone to drag a victim, while another joked that we should nominate it for Montgomery’s Most Likely Corpse Disposal Location.

We didn’t envy our neighbors in South Hull for having to live near such an eyesore. As businesses began to spring back to life at the troubled corner of Norman Bridge and Edgemont, Martha Manor loomed over them like a reminder of civic decay, of the city’s struggle to thrive despite considerable adversity.

And then, one day, they were gone. We were shocked. How did this happen? Who was behind this much-needed masterstroke of neighborhood improvement? The more we looked into the matter, the more impressed we became with the perseverance, over nearly a decade, of our dedicated neighbors in the South Hull District Association (SHDA).

Of course, Martha Manor wasn’t always a creepy blight on the community. No place ever starts out that way. By nearly all accounts, the apartments were well kept for a long time until they went downhill in the 1990s. In December 2001, the city was called out to inspect the property because of a report that water was gushing out of the second story of one of the two buildings. The city’s inspection found that the apartments were extremely dilapidated. The battle to clean up South Hull was joined. Using the City’s formal procedure, a letter was sent to the property owner insisting that the apartments be brought up to code. When the owner failed to take the necessary steps, the City Council began a debate over demolition.

That’s when then-newly-minted City Council Member Martha Roby got involved. When Roby took over from her predecessor, Alice Reynolds, the Council was first beginning to consider authorizing the demolition of the property. Demolition was finally approved in August 2007, but then there was little action because the order was appealed.

“What happens with situations like this is once the city condemns a property, the owner can file a lawsuit in the circuit court to have the decision overturned,” Roby said. “With many of these properties that is what happens. It’s very frustrating from where I sit and where the neighborhood stands because it’s out of our hands.”

The west building was torn down a few years ago, but there was some talk about improving the remaining building. The SDHA reports that the property’s owner even attended an SDHA meeting to talk about plans for renovation. There were some improvements made to the remaining building, but with no property manager on site, they didn’t stick, and once again demolition was on the table. The property owners wanted to sell, so the city gave some time for potential buyers to come forward. None appeared.

Finally, in April, the ruins of Martha Manor came down to great acclaim among the members of SDHA. Even though the property wasn’t technically within the boundaries of their neighborhood, the association had come together to improve their larger community.

“The destruction of Martha Manor will benefit our and neighboring communities by helping to eliminate the foot traffic coming from an area where suspected illegal activities occurred and hopefully decreasing the break-ins in our areas,” said current SDHA President Lauren Dunning.

Roby emphasized the importance of Montgomery residents knowing and using the established city process when they have concerns over properties.

“If there is a piece of property that there is concern over, whether it is structurally unsafe or open and becoming a haven for criminal activity, the neighborhood association needs to contact their City Council Member or the City’s Inspections Department, or even call the city’s 311 number.”

The future of the site is unknown for now. SDHA residents are hoping that there might be some momentum to make the lot a neighborhood park, but everyone agrees that it is better to have a grassy lot than abandoned buildings where trash is dumped or act as a haven for criminal activity.

Download the latest SDHA newsletter here to read more about the story and get the latest news from South Hull.

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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Vaughn Road Park

By Kate and Stephen

At 21 acres, Vaughn Road Park isn’t Montgomery’s biggest park (that would be Lagoon Park, at 410 acres by far the largest of the city’s 90 parks), but it’s got to be one of the very nicest. Even in the most sweltering parts of summer, there are tennis courts that seem to be in use just about every day. Our tennis-playing friends tell us that the folks who play there are pretty intense/talented. There are shelters with benches and grills for cooking out and a well-kept half-mile jogging trail that traces the outline of the park. Along the jogging trail are the sad remains of a decayed Parcourse Fitness Trail (invented by the Swiss!) – the rings are still there (and likely to sear your hand right off if you touch them in summer), but the wooden sit-up planks are rickety and full of splinters. Too bad.

Still, the grass is abundant and well-kept — and there are even nice pockets of shade around the park. On the weekends, Vaughn Park is full of people flying kites, boys practicing gymnastics, tiny children carrying around tinier puppies and being chased by family members balancing hamburgers and red plastic cups of sweet tea.

The real star of the park is its playground. For children of a certain age, this is a paradise. Things that spin in crazy ways sit next to elaborate climbing devices. There are trails winding around the side under big overhanging lilac bushes for hiding and conspiring, floors that are rubber and thus less likely to cause injury, and ramps that make the whole park accessible to children of varying levels of mobility.

Volunteer labor largely built this playground. With the of support New Haven-based Boundless Playgrounds, it opened in September of 2003 and has probably delighted tens of thousands of children since then. We had never heard of Boundless Playgrounds until visiting Vaughn Park, but are really impressed by their beautiful vision and ideas – and it’s so cool that one of these state of the art playgrounds is right here in Montgomery and accessible to the general public. The playground makes a trip to Vaughn Park worth it, even if you don’t take a turn getting a push on a swing.

In an era where people view any municipal services as some kind of crazy Socialist tyranny, a visit to a city park can be a nice reminder of the value of community space. We don’t know enough to comment on how well the city funds its parks and recreation department (or how well that department does with the money it is allotted), but we can say for sure that Vaughn Park is one of the crown jewels of the system and our time in Montgomery is laced with many happy memories of trips there. Here’s hoping that the other parks in the city are one day as great as Vaughn.

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.


Filed under City services, Government, Kate and Stephen, Parks, Pets

El Rey Burrito Lounge

By Kate and Stephen

We love El Rey (1031 E. Fairview Ave).

We love the giant just-salty-enough bowls of guacamole, the tremendous array of vegetarian options, and the thoughtful attention to buying local and sustainable produce, meats, and seafood. Also there’s the massive beer list (though we’re not big high gravity beer snobs), the delicious sangria, and the margaritas that taste like actual drinks with alcohol in them.

We love that they put on special events, often involving delicious vegetarian “sausages” or migas or special and exotic beers for tasting. There’s ample outdoor seating, either on the Fairview-side patios or on the shady western veranda. Get a Pimm’s Cup and a portion of queso for dipping while you wait for the tempeh fajitas or the spinach and red onion enchiladas to arrive. Chances are you’ll see people you know walking by on the street. Or you can sit inside in a plush red booth, drinking your glass of wine in the dim, lush and just a little bit seedy ambiance as you await the arrival of some genuinely hot salsa and a massive burrito.

So, we love all of it from the big-city menu options to the small-town feel. What we don’t love as much is the price. Every time we go to El Rey we end up with a bill that hovers around $60. And that’s with one drink each (the cheaper ones, not the $7 glasses of wine or the high end $14 beers), one appetizer and two entrees. Not exactly a major feast (though we never leave hungry and usually leave with leftovers). Perhaps this is a small price to pay to eat at what we think is Montgomery’s best restaurant. And maybe it’s a small price to pay for what El Rey adds to Midtown – in summer, a touch of jasmine-scented, back-beat infused, locally grown food cooked with soul; in winter, a cozy bowl of soup and a spicy reminder that there’s no need for feuding between your conscience and your tastebuds.

Because we love it, we go as often as our modest incomes will allow. We’ve eaten just about everything on the menu (that is, everything that’s vegetarian or seafood-focused). Special accolades go to the olives ($3.50) served as an appetizer. It’s surprisingly hard to get good olives in this town, and the harissa served as a dipping sauce is a masterful decision. We also love the enchiladas. Of the burritos, we generally prefer the Cali (beans, veggies, and spinach) with tempeh added, but sometimes we do find it hard to conscience paying more than ten bucks for a burrito we can make at home for a few dollars. Still, they are darn good. The spinach salad with tempeh makes a great dinner on a hot day, but we’re not fully sold on their chipotle lime vinaigrette. Last time it was a fraction too oily for our taste.

El Rey has recently changed its menu (see it here), and this prompted us to try the grilled fish platter on a recent visit. It was spectacular. It might be the single best dish we’ve ordered at any restaurant in the Montgomery area, rivaling similar dishes we’ve eaten at places around the country (like Santa Monica’s Border Grill). The fish was grilled perfectly, reaching a spicy food nirvana when paired with any of the various relishes dotted around the plate. The black beans were smoky, the roasted sweet potatoes were just browned around the edges hinting of chili and salt, and there was enough left over for a great lunch the next day. It was a seafood kind of night – we also had a shrimp taco, which probably wasn’t made with Gulf shrimp (that day El Rey’s newsletter had told us that they were switching to other sources for shrimp) but was still mouth-watering.

We’ve only lived in Montgomery for less than two years, but already we see El Rey as an old friend. The prices are high, but it cannot be denied that you’re paying for the highest in quality. We frequently loathe corporations, but readily signed up to be on El Rey’s e-mail list-serv. They are great corporate citizens, providing updates to customers on the effects of the Gulf oil spill on their access to seafood, while encouraging people to use the city-sponsored entertainment mass transit options. They are the only place in town we have ever seen that tries to promote food artisans and local brewers, while keeping festivals fun. They maintain a hip edge without being exclusionary and snooty. They should be a model for other restaurants around the state and nation because there are plenty of places that try to have a hip vibe and serve quality food, but just can’t seem to get it right. El Rey calls itself a “burrito lounge,” but really it’s a cornerstone of our Midtown community and we’re lucky to have them.

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.


Filed under Kate and Stephen, Restaurant Reviews