Monday, April 8, 2013

Tallahassee - A capitol idea

You can tour the empty, echoing halls of government, climbing tier after tier of steps or, if you go to Tallahassee, Florida, you can see native wildlife - bears, buzzards, eagles, fox, wolves, panthers, gators and more - in its native habitat; experience an Apalachee council house and joint native and Spanish settlement at Mission San Luis; and relive the days of Prohibition in a modern-day speakeasy, complete with secret password and passageways.

Gator territory at Tallahassee Museum. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Along the way, you'll find excellent food, from country store to produce market, sophisticated restaurants to a kick-back oyster bar and every variation in between. Seafood comes from local rivers and the nearby Gulf of Mexico, produce from area farms, recipes from great grandmothers to high-Gucci chefs.

A recent press trip opened my eyes to the capitol fun to be had there and I wanted to share.

Tip: Levelers, Tallahassee is one of the few cities in Florida with hills so you will encounter elevation changes and steps. However, elevation shifts are relatively minor and flights tend to be short and accompanied by ramps and/or elevators.

Museum of Florida History. Photo © by Judy Wells.


Treasures from storm-wrecked Spanish Galleons, Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you're into Florida history, this is the place to come. Archives and artifacts abound. If all you want is an entertaining overview, it's the place, too, the Museum of Florida History. Kids will like Herman the Mastadon, you'll like seeing treasures of the New World lost en route to the Old World.
Civil war tent. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The special Viva Florida exhibit takes you from first encounters between old and new in Florida to the state's entry into the Civil War.

Easy walks through swamps and wild animal habitat. Photo © by Judy Wells.
The 52-acre Tallahassee Museum looks nothing like a museum. An easy boardwalk takes you through the wildlife habitats and by sculptor Jim Gary's whimsical 20th century dinosaurs.

Can you find the crankcase? Photo © by Judy Wells.
Wander through the 19th century Florida village or take the zip line which is a bit of zipping plus a lot of fitness, balance and team building-type segments in 73 platforms.
More balance challenge than zip. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Warning: "Zip" stuff is not recommended for Levelers; otherwise, although there is a lot of walking, it's on the level with plenty of reasons to stop and sit a bit.

Apalachee Council House. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you think of native American dwellings as crude huts or tepees, Mission San Luis will knock your socks off. The 125-foot diameter, five-story-high (!) Council House is built over and to the exact size of the original destroyed by fire in 1704. More than 100 years before Spanish missions reached California, the Spanish and Apalachees had created the most prosperous of missions, sending extra produce and pelts overland to St.Augustine or to Cuba from St. Marks where Spanish galleons put in.

Firing demonstration at the Spanish fort attached to Mission San Luis. Photo © by Judy Wells.
A Spanish fort and village, a Franciscan chapel and re-enactors make this a must see bit of history that even the kids will enjoy.

Goodwood Plantation. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Goodwood Museum and Gardens began as a 2,500-acre plantation, went through five private owners after being built in 1834, inspired inheritance case law when the original owner was lost at sea and remained a plantation until finally becoming a museum. Most unusual, 85 percent of the furniture stayed with the house as it changed owners over the years; there's also more than 900 articles of clothing previous owners left behind.
Neo-classical pool pavillon. Photo © by Judy Wells.

Tip: You will encounter a short set of stairs getting in and one flight of stairs inside the house and the gardens are level. 

Where to Eat/Drink

Lobster too? Photo © by Judy Wells.
Good things come in small,packages and the tiny Paisley Cafe in Midtown for breakfast or lunch will start your day off with a smile. Ebullient owner/chef Kiersten "Kiki" Worrell uses only the freshest, finest ingredients and no preservatives for her down-home cooking with an international twist.  Her biscuits are to die for, the apple butter is made in house and she whisks grits to perfection. The food would be totally healthy if you didn't want to eat so much of it.

Lobster and biscuits. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If taste buds call for seafood at lunch, dinner or Sunday brunch, head for The Front Porch. Former "Chop" champ, Chef Joe Rego, heads up a kitchen that turns out creative combinations of regional fare with a delicious influx of Maine lobster. The drinks are good, too, and the decor will mellow you out. You won't go home hungry and you might take one of Fred Fisher's gyotaku prints as a memento.

View from Level 8. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Don your chicest duds for sunset cocktails on the terrace at Level 8 atop the beautifully restored Hotel Duval. Bar snacks are excellent and designed for sharing. Chef Chris Leynes' rosemary, lemon toasted nuts and pretzels with a touch of bacon are addictive. [See and try the recipe at Food Afar - Recipes from a Travel Writer.]

Pecan crusted red grouper, bourbon-smashed sweet potatoes, collards and pot likker, Photo © by Judy Wells.
Florida Golden Spoon Hall of Fame member Cypress won't disappoint either. More likely, the clean flavors and creative pairings will delight you. I can attest to deliciousness of the Pecan Crusted Red Grouper with Bourbon-Smashed Sweet Potatoes, Collard Greens and Pot Likker. At the risk of spoiling your appetite, start with a selection of cheeses including Sweet Grass Dairy Green Hill from just up the road in Thomasville, GA.

Beef brisket from Avenue Eat and Drink.
It's hard to judge Avenue Eat and Drink  fairly for they had set up a food and wine pairing experience for us. After a snitty, under-informed waiter finally agreed to seat us (actually we sat ourselves) things leveled out and we had a delicious albeit meat-heavy series of dishes. The lamb chop and beef brisket were irresistible and the salad was superb. Others dining from the menu seemed to be enjoying themselves. I'll try it again.

My pork dish was delish. Photo © by Judy Wells.
If you want live music with your meal try Mockingbird Cafe. Service was spotty the night I was there. The kitchen seemed to be overwhelmed and some orders were mixed up, my meal was good if not memorable, but our waitress's knowledge of wine and spirits helped make up for the snafus.

Preparing the absinthe. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Mixologists at Alchemy Speakeasy live up to their name, turning out cocktails the old-fashioned way - no pre-mix - one glass at a time, often at your table. It takes some hunting down to find it, drinks are pricey, but the experience is a fun one. E-mail and make a reservation (don't forget the password) or stop and ask at the Midtown Filling Station. You'll be surprised by what can be hidden in a nondescript office park.

Want beer, oysters and a jolly atmosphere with absolutely no pretensions? Try the Aphrodesiac Oyster Shack. Trivia, comedy, karaoke and trash cinema nights are served along with fresh Apalachicola oysters, burgers and other bar fare.

Food memories to take home.

Tomato Land for take-home fare. Photo © by Judy Wells.
Tomato Land, not far from Paisley Cafe, sells locally produced sauces, jams, jellies, meats and other kitchen must-haves along with fresh produce.

The drive to Bradley's. Photo © by Judy Wells.
You can find Bradley's whole hog sausage there, but you'll be missing a local treat not to venture out to Bradley's Country Store, circa 1927. It's a pretty drive out Centerville Highway that will take you back to simpler times when you reach the store. Creaking wood floors, a cold drink box and at the back, a cold case full of sausage links, smoked pork chops. hams and shoulders. 
Bradley's Country Store, sausage central. Photo © by Judy Wells.

"Nothing's finer than to sit in a rocking chair on the front porch with a sausage dog in one hand and a cold drink in the other," said one otherwise sophisticated devotee.

Worked for me.

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