Eating Authors: Lee Martindale

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Another Monday brings another installment of asking authors about their favorite meals, a weekly feature inspired by my foodie protagonist, the Amazing Conroy.

This week, we hear from Lee Martindale, with whom I shared the ToC of Low Port, a wonderful anthology edited by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller back in 2003. Lee once described herself thusly: “Poet, songsmith, teller of tales, lover, student, teacher, warrior…Bard.” As if that weren’t enough, she’s also an extremely talented editor, having put together anthologies like Such a Pretty Face, and the newly released The Ladies of Trade Town.

The Ladies of Trade Town Lee Martindale Such a Pretty Face Low Port

LMS: Lee, as a bard, I know you appreciate a fine meal. Would you share with the good folk reading this blog your best and most memorable repast?

LM: Sometimes what makes a meal “the best” is not that it’s haute cuisine or comfort food fondly remembered from childhood. Sometimes it’s a matter of something you’ve never had before, never even heard of, eaten at precisely the right time and with precisely the right company.

When the question was posed, the meal that came immediately to mind took place in July of 1993. My husband and I were driving home to Texas from having attended that year’s Mensa Annual Gathering in Orlando, and it was well into the middle of the evening when we pulled into the Howard Johnson’s in Mobile. Well enough into the middle of the evening that the restaurant was within minutes of closing. But we must have looked as tired and hungry as we felt, because the hostess seated us, handed us each a menu, and said “You folks take all the time you need. My husband’s the cook, and he’s not going anywhere ‘til I tell him to.” And then she recommended something I’d never heard of before: deep-fried crab claws.

My husband and I are both from the South, North Carolina and Kentucky respectively. “Fried” was what we both grew up on. But crab claws? Now, I love crab but, up until then, I’d had crab steamed or broiled or scampied, with butter definitely involved. I was a trifle skeptical. But I was also hungry enough to eat the shells, too tired to see the print on the menu, and grateful that these folks were seeing to our needs past closing time. Deep-fried crab claws it was.

Two glasses of ice and a pitcher of freshly-made sweet tea arrived. Then salads, crisp and cold, with homemade buttermilk ranch dressing on the side. And then, just as the empty salad plates were being removed, the cook himself brought out the main course.

Potatoes I can take or leave, but the seasoned, thick-cut home fries were among the best I’ve ever tasted. And the skillet-fried corn (freshly-cut from the ear, then sauteed with butter and a sprinkling of sugar) prompted me to ask the cook if he’d been peeking into my grandmother’s recipe box. I could have made a meal of that alone, were it not for the mountain – and by that I mean generous-to-the-point-of-insane – of golden-brown crab claws. Each between 2″ – 3″ in length, plump, and sent to play in a flavorful-but-not-too-spicy flour-and-cornmeal dredge before being dropped in oil of an obviously perfect temperature for an obviously perfect length of time.

My first, admittedly cautious bite was followed by a sound generally made in pursuits not involving food. A delicate crunch from the coating gave way to sweet, rich crab meat. They weren’t just good; they were addictive. Where had this dish been all my life?

The cook and the hostess sat with us, taking unabashed pleasure at our enjoyment of the meal. When we finally waved the white flag and waved off the offer of dessert – despite the fact the banana cream pie looked like heaven on a plate, the hostess casually mentioned that one of the breakfast offerings was fried crab claws and scrambled eggs. I’ll give you three guesses what I had the next morning.

= = = = =

Thanks, Lee. I’m not sure which has me more stunned, the idea of deep-fried crab claws, or that you’d find such a thing at a HoJo’s.

Let that be a lesson to us all, not just to judge a restaurant by the color of its roof.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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