Sunday, April 21, 2013


Nothing Cures Beach Fever Like The World's Most Famous
We discovered the Lotus Boutique Inn & Suites last year in Ormond Beach, just north of Daytona, on a quick getaway in September. It is very hip, very small and very inexpensive. Perfect for Nomads with beach fever in search of a great place to kick back and still come home with some cash in their pockets. So we are heading out this morning for a little sun, sand and surf. Last year, it had just opened and hit all the right notes with us. Ocean front, great design, giant killer shower and a bed to die for. It even sports a nice little kitchenette for dining in. And its a mere fifty paces from the beach. Best of all, its a cool $159 per night and its almost May!
I will always have great memories of Daytona Beach from my childhood through high school with mom, dad and big brother. It was pure heaven. The beach is still just as beautiful and, with little hot spots like the Lotus, maybe The World's Most Famous Beach will one day regain its rank as a top spot for the discriminating beachcomber. As for now, I am amazed that this cool little place in the sun has held on to its unique combination of high design and low prices. And the service is second to none as well. If you want more details, just check out my post from last year - The World's Most Famous Beach & The Lotus - Sweet.
I'll check back in a few days to see how  the 2013 edition of this great little hotel is doing.  
Headin' South by Southeast from The Bunker
d.l. stafford

Monday, April 15, 2013


We Have To Keep Meeting Like This
For various reasons, we have been unable to take any extended trips of late. Funny how life gets in the way of big plans. However, don't ever underestimate the therapeutic value of the day trip. This past Saturday, as we were having our morning coffee, tea and McDonald's sausage biscuit in the bunker - even discriminating Nomads go off the reservation on occasion - we looked outside at the clear sunshine and nice, cool day and asked - What can we do on such a beautiful day here in God's country? Not long ago, Susie - an obsessive reader and crossword aficionado - read about a small, family owned, grass fed, free to run around and enjoy nature group of most happy cows which produce, according to their web site, the most delicate, delicious cheese this side of  the French Alps. So, we decided to take the roughly one hour trip to the south Georgia border town, just north of Tallahassee, to check out the appropriately named Sweet Grass Dairy.
After deciding on a destination for the day, we needed to find a place to eat. That's where the Nomad and the laptop come in. I studiously checked out the web for some places to eat without any particular expectations in Thomasville. Only thirty minutes north of the capital city, Thomasville was just a small town we used to go through on our way to Atlanta. Even though Sweet Grass serves lunch, I noticed a couple of other places that sounded interesting. After reading one particular restaurant menu that featured fried green tomatoes, hush puppies and shrimp & grits, I made an executive decision - Jonah's Fish & Grits it would be! One of the truly great things created by the world wide web is the ability of small, local hotels, restaurants and even cheese shops to get the word out to a wider clientele, and, ironically, to remain local and organic in the truest sense of the word. Maybe that think globally and act locally thing is more than just a marketing slogan. Yes my fellow Nomads, its not all Chic-fil-A's and Starbucks. Creative entrepreneurilism is alive and well.
As we headed to the big/little city, I placed a call to our beautiful daughter and asked if she wanted to join us for lunch. She did not hesitate. Like the good child we raised, she never turns down quality face time with mom and dad. What is it about eating together that brings out the best in those you love? 
Thomasville, We Hardly Knew You
As an architect, with an interest in urban design, I have witnessed the slow  disappearance of the small southern town as a viable economic entity. Thomasville appears to be the exception to that trend. I was very much impressed with the downtown area of this small, quintessential southern town. With a varied collection of small restaurants, retail shops and other specialty stores, this town center has maintained its historic character while fostering the growth of new, locally owned businesses. It all has an accretionary, natural quality that only happens when a community embraces the real experiences of true small town commerce for locals and visitors alike.
After parking, we made a beeline for Jonah's, gave the young lady our name and decided to wait outside for our daughter. After a few minutes, we were seated in this very busy, hip eatery. A simple former retail space, complete with white walls, 12 foot high ceilings, black vinyl floors, funky chandeliers and half of a small wood fishing skiff  hung unpretentiously from the ceiling, it featured an open view kitchen where all the good stuff gets created.  And the menu featured a veritable smorgasbord of good stuff. I settled on the shrimp and grits, Susie ordered the fish and chips and Lauren decided on the chicken/fried green tomato sandwich. We shared a nice little slice of New York cheese cake for dessert. The two women in my life spoke well of their choices and my  shrimp and grits were a 9.5. I am somewhat of a shrimp and grits expert. I have had this southern culinary creation from the low country of the Carolina's to the Texas panhandle, including some of the best ever made by my very own Sweet Magnolia, and Jonah's had the perfect combination of fresh shrimp, white cheese grits, a light sauce and roasted veggies, with a delicate hush puppy on the side. And of course, this was all accompanied by the southern nectar of the gods - sweet ice tea. Hot damn!
After bonding  over the great victuals at Jonah's, we headed around the corner to Sweet Grass Dairy. Finding a vast selection of cheeses from other like minded natural farms and cheese makers as well as Sweet Grass's own, we selected an organic goat cheese from Capriole of Greenville, Indiana and a mild tomme from Sweet Grass. Both proved to be outstanding and well worth the trip and the price. After Sweet Grass, we wandered into another organic establishment, Grassroots Coffee, and picked up a bag of organic home roasted coffee, served by a long bearded twenty something right out of 1967. Not your grandfather's Thomasville  anymore, this still small southern town is alive and kicking with a unique blend of old school  and new ideas for Nomads of every age to enjoy.
So, next time the weather is great and you just need to get away for the day, head on over to Thomasville, Georgia for a little mealtime R&R and pick up some of the best cheese around.
From Our Little Bunker in Dixie!
d.l. stafford

Thursday, April 11, 2013


I Take Back Everything I Ever Said About Valdosta - Well Almost Everything
And the beat goes on. Several days ago, we had to make the thirty minute trip north to Valdosta, GA from the underground bunker here in North Florida for some needed car repair on a vintage automobile that shall remain nameless. I called and made the arrangements with the mechanic and said to my fellow life partner, nomad and very fine southern cook - Hey, why don't we have lunch in Valdosta at someplace other than a Chic-Fil-A or other road warrior haunt on the I-75 corridor? And she, never one to turn down an adventure, no matter how trivial, says sure. So I go on line and find a couple of local places that sound really interesting. This is Valdosta, Georgia after all. A town utterly defined by fast food joints, discount hotel chains and bad barbecue restaurants. Every tourist from Ohio, Michigan and Jersey stops in Valdosta for a little R&R on their way to the big prize - Disney or Universal.

So we drop the beast off for repairs and check out the restaurants on my cell. We land on a place we know nothing about except that it has a name that conjures up visions  of southern cool - Steel Magnolias. I check out the menu and turn to my betrothed and say - OK? She says - OK. And we are off to downtown Valdosta. When we get to Patterson Street, we see several other eateries and I, being the architectural critic of the family, make note of some really fine vintage buildings on this particular street. Nice brickwork, colorful awnings, a few minimalist storefronts here and there. Very un-Valdosty, if you catch my drift. We park on the street - for free. How weird is that? We walk up to the front door to the place and there on the chalk board is the following axiom:

Wine does not make you fat. It makes you lean against
walls, floors, chairs and funny people you don't know!
I turn to the Suse and say - I'm in. She rolls her eyes and says - OK! After thirty nine years, she so gets me. We walk into a very hip, minimalist southern chic space. Fifteen foot ceilings, exposed galvanized ducts, old painted ceiling boards, old wood floors, white washed walls replete with ancient relics and mirrors and a facing wall with a very southern print wallpaper render a space perfectly adorned for hungry Nomads. I notice a tray with French Press coffee makers for the dinner and dessert crowd. More evidence that we are not really in Valdosta anymore. We are seated by a very nice staff person and greeted by a nice young lady who appeared to be the owner. This would later be confirmed during our meal.

This Place Says Bon Appetite With A Nice Southern Accent
The website for Steel Magnolias proclaims "our food base is urban Southern, taking the roots of classic Southern cuisine and showing a new way of looking at them". Reading the menu, it is clear that these people take their culinary reputation seriously. After checking out the various delicacies on the menus in brown file folders, we place our order. My lovely gets the Oyster Po Boy with slaw, tomato and remoulade  and I order the Chicken Salad Wrap with mixed greens, tomato and cucumber. What happened next hooked me. The chicken wrap was just not to my liking. It wasn't bad - I just didn't like it. So, the owner walks by and asks- "How is everything". Without saying anything, she read my mind or my hesitancy to agree and asks - "You don't like it do you?". I said "Not really". She immediately says "Why don't you take another look at the menu and select something else".   After perusing the menu again, I selected the Grilled Chicken Sandwich with cabbage slaw, tomato and garlic aioli. After two bites - WOW! Great service with classic southern charm and even better food. I am now officially committed to this cool little eatery.
As we were finishing up, the owner came over a sat down for a brief chat between servicing other diners. Come to find out, she has been open since October 2011 and has many years in the restaurant business. In the short conversation, I also found out that she has the ONLY Steel Magnolias Restaurant in Georgia. There is nothing quite so impressive as an entrepreneur and restaurateur who is this passionate about serving food this good.  
So, fellow Nomads - put this intimate little eatery on your must stops for some cool R & R as you travel down the busiest interstate on earth from parts north or south. It's a short ten minutes from  Exit 16. You will have a great lunch or dinner at very reasonable  prices, run by people who really care about the quality of food they serve and the people that eat it.

From the Hinterland

d.l. stafford