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Shrimp And Grits In Syracuse

Some time ago I spent 18 months in Memphis. Although eating a lot of foods that weren’t indigenous to New York didn’t treat my system all that well, one that did was shrimp and grits. I mean, take two things I love, add andouille sausage to it; what can go wrong?

It turns out a lot can go wrong. Even in Memphis I only found a couple of places that made it perfectly. One place, which is part of a restaurant chain owned by the same people who own Red Lobster, made a very bland version of it. Another place that swore by its Louisiana roots made a meal that looked wonderful, but it was so salty that I ate less than half of it and my legs cramped up the rest of the day.

Still, the quest for shrimp and grits led me to see if there were any places in Syracuse purporting to make it, and I found two likely candidates. I’d never been to either of these places so I figured this would be a good opportunity to check each place out.

Laci's shrimp and gritsLaci’s shrimp and grits

The first place I tried was Laci’s Tapas Bar on Hawley Avenue. I went there for dinner and the place was pretty packed, so packed I actually sat at the bar to eat my dinner… if you know me you know that’s rare, and in normal circumstances I’d have walked out and maybe come back another day. This time I was on a quest so I decided to suck it up for the experience.

Based on my first observation I thought I was going to be eating cheesy grits, which isn’t what shrimp and grits is supposed to be, and I noticed bacon instead of andouille sausage. Then I tasted it… very nice indeed! The grits were cooked just right, which I don’t encounter all that often in central New York, and the use of small shrimp made it feel like I was getting more shrimp than I know I was. The bacon added a nice touch in flavor to the extent that I didn’t miss the sausage at all.

The only gripe I had was that it was a relatively small serving. However, since they tout themselves as more of a healthy option for meals that seemed to make sense, and for the price… I paid more for the same meal in Memphis and got more food so if I go back I’ll know to ask for two portions or indulge in an appetizer.

peanut butter surprise

Since I was still hungry I decided to order dessert, which was called Peanut Butter Surprise. It was a small chocolate cake the size of a cupcake and the surprise was peanut butter mousse. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste the mousse as it was fairly light and the cake was a bit soft and mushy, so I ate less than half of it before calling it a night.

Next on my quest was Creole Soul Cafe on East Jefferson St, where I went for lunch. It’s in the old Dey’s building just up the street from both Gannon’s and Cafe Kabul. It touts New Orleans style cuisine, which made me think of the one restaurant I went to in Memphis where my portion was too salty. Yet when I walked in the door, even though it was the peak of lunch time, I was surprised to see that I was the only client in the place.

The menu showed something called grits and gravy, which you could have with either shrimp, andouille sausage or alligator (?) or fish. I decided to have both shrimp and andouille, but worried about gravy in my grits, something I’ve never had in all my years of consuming grits. I also ordered a sweet tea, figuring a restaurant purporting to represent a Southern city must have good sweet tea.

grits and...shrimpCreole’s Shrimp & Grits

Let me say this; when I got home I couldn’t find a single example after doing a Google search of shrimp and grits looking anything like this. It didn’t look like it was going to be appealing… and it wasn’t. The grits were overcooked and the gravy was overwhelming, and neither had any flavor, to the extent that I had to keep adding salt to it. I usually don’t like this type of cheese on anything I eat and I didn’t like it here either.

Having the fried shrimp on the side instead of it being grilled and an actual part of the meal was very disappointing based on what I was hoping for. Even though it turned out to be tasty, it was way over-breaded so most of the flavor was in that. Those other things on the plate… that wasn’t sausage! lol It’s possible it was gator, and I bit into one, hated the texture and taste and didn’t try another one. Since I hadn’t eaten anything on the day I went ahead and ate it all, and its only saving graces were that it was a bit more food than I had at Laci’s and the sweet tea wasn’t bad… not great but not the worst tea I’ve had in town (at least it had some sweetness; thank goodness for McDonald’s sweet tea lol).

Obviously if I had to make a recommendation Laci’s wins hands down. I did mention to one of the proprietors of the joint as I was leaving that I enjoyed my meal, though I missed the sausage, but that the bacon added something that was a pretty nice extra. If I get the craving for it again I know where I’m heading.  

Wegmans Playground At Onondaga Lake Park

I’ve never had occasion to check out the large Wegmans Playground at Onondaga Lake Park before because I don’t have any children. I have walked around it but had never paid much attention to it.

Wegmans Playground entrance

Wegmans Playground entrance

That is until recently, when my wife and I got to spend a few hours with my great niece Shaniece. I thought it would be a great place to take a 3-year old and let her burn off some energy; man, I was right on that one!

It seems a bit cliched to resort to using the word “cornucopia”, but this area seems to fit the bill for all the little kids. There are a host of things I never saw when I was a kid, lots of things for them to climb on and under, as well as the usual number of slides (now plastic) and swings.

Frankly, it was astounding how much of everything there was, and how big a couple of the structures were. It had to be that big because of the high number of kids who were there with their families; I’m certainly not used to being around that many kids.

There were a few things I had to learn about kids that my wife had warned me about; after all, I’m an only child who’s not really used to kids and she was one of seven but babysat a lot as a teenager.

20160702_141351One is that children are, for a lack of a better term, “germy”. I couldn’t believe how many kids were licking poles; yuck! They would pick stuff up and put it in their mouths, rub their faces on all sorts of things… yuck! They also had no clue about all the goose poo, and if their parents weren’t quick enough (luckily I was), they’d be stomping it it and making it squish all over the place.

Two, the slightly bigger kids don’t really care that the smaller kids might be in their way, and sometimes their parents either don’t care or aren’t paying attention. There were many times when they’d just knock those smaller than them out of their way… that is, unless they noticed an adult looking at them, and trust me I was looking at them hard. After all, my niece was with me; nothing was going to happen to her on my watch because I wasn’t the one who was going to have to tell her I failed in my duty to protect her.

Puzzle game

Puzzle game

Three, there were actually some pretty polite children. One little girl asked me if I could please help her get down from something that was scaring her, and once she was down she thanked me; that was cute. Another was confused while playing this large puzzle grid game that I had as a kid (much smaller of course) and took my suggestions in a positive way (he solved it lol).

The funny thing is that it seems the park isn’t only a gathering for children. I noticed a lot of parents or guardians enjoying each other’s company, which reminded me of park scenes I’ve seen on TV and in movies (that wasn’t a part of my childhood, so I never knew it was a real thing). I found that intriguing, and realized that, some of those parents probably found the chance to be around other adults while not really needing to worry about their kids a bit relaxing.

Of course, if you’re watching someone 4 years or younger, or a bit smaller than the other kids, some of what awaits them is a bit dangerous. Shaniece wanted to try a few things that her little legs couldn’t quite reach, and though I applauded her bravery I also applauded her common sense. There were a few things I didn’t think she could (or should) do but she figured them out and turned out to be quite adept. It was fascinating to watch and I have to admit that I had a lot of fun.

sitting by the lakeWe were there a couple of hours, which included a walk over by the lake to get close to the water and the geese, and her enjoying some of those Dippin’ Dots (ice cream of the future) you always see at the Fair. It did end up wearing her down; too bad the nap only lasted 15 minutes. lol

I don’t know if they have anything like that anywhere else within the central New York area but if you have young kids and want to check it out, go into the Onondaga Lake Parkway entrance and follow the road to the large parking lot. Once there, you can’t miss it.  

Things I’ve Seen Lately In Liverpool… Some Of Them Old…

Come July I’ll have been living in Liverpool NY for 41 years. By now you’d think I would have seen pretty much everything there is to see in the area; after all, it’s not a metropolis by any stretch of the imagination.

Over the past few weeks I’ve seen some things that I’ve never seen before. It turns out that there are some new changes at the park and some existing things that I’ve either never truly seen or paid any attention to. I have picture of some of these things to share and others I’m just going to talk about.

Johnson ParkJohnson Park

The first thing to talk about is Johnson Park, which is right in the middle of the village. I’ve driven by it thousands of times and looked over every once in a while when there were musicians playing but until last Friday I’d never actually walked over there. I have to say that I was lucky to have a perfect weather day to see the beauty in the park. I walked over to the gazebo and the stage and wished I was still singing because I think it would be pretty neat to be up there in front of a lot of people.

While I was there I took a look across the street at the church with the purple doors. I actually was not only part of a wedding party there once but I sang a duet with someone else during the ceremony, Endless Love, which turned out to be the only duet I ever sang. Next door… when did they put that Masonic Temple in there? lol It’s been there for decades, way before I moved here, yet I’d never noticed it before.

IMG_20160521_122319

Next we have this barrier that’s been put up near the Salt Museum side of the lake. I’m assuming it’s there to bar anyone who’s not bringing a boat to put up at the marina from coming in. That almost makes sense except there are a few other access points where people could come in if they wanted to, especially the access road near what I call the yacht clubhouse, which is unimpeded. At this point it just looks goofy hanging there on its own, but maybe they’re planning on doing something with the other roads in the future.

IMG_20160521_131333

At the other end of the lake on the Salina side are these couple of shacks where people can rent kayaks. I never knew there was a place in the village where people could rent such a thing because one, I don’t swim and would never do it and two, because I’ve never seen anyone kayaking on the lake. I’m not even sure whether these are wood or some kind of plastic but I’m sure they weren’t there a couple of weeks ago… even though I’m not the most observant person in the world so it’s possible they could have been there as long as a week, even though I walked at the lake 4 days last week.

IMG_20160524_113333

From where I sit, a great reason to not kayak is because we all know that the lake still isn’t clean, no matter what the press covered last year when they allowed people to swim in the lake for the first time in decades. Other than the Syracuse crew team I haven’t seen anyone else swim in the lake. Based on seeing this thing today I’m glad I can’t swim. It’s the first time I’ve seen it, and I know it’s there to clean up the lake, yet I saw it dumping dirt in, which was confusing to me. Frankly, I’m not sure how that’s cleaning up anything but I’m not a scientist so I’m going to assume someone knows what they’re doing.

IMG_20160426_114601

The final thing I’m going to mention is finding out that the Clay Town Hall has solar panels providing around 80% of its energy usage, totally covering them during the day and only using what’s needed to power a few things in the evening. I was told that there’s only one other town in the area that has solar panels; how cool is this? Saving the town money and protecting the environment at the same time; who could ask for more?  

Are We Too Busy For Real Networking?

“Oh the times they are a-changing!” – Bob Dylan

I’m trying not to consider myself as being all that old. I’m also trying not to seem overly nostalgic. Yet things have changed, and not all of them for the better.

PMA Fresh Connections Retail 2016 Produce Marketing Association via Compfight

Last Friday I had lunch with one of my local buddies. He said that he hardly has any friends and doesn’t get out much except for work. I mentioned that I thought he was a great connector and he said that part was sometimes true, but that it was very hard actually getting people to get out of their comfort zone to actually meet him or others he’s trying to connect with each other.

I’ve noticed the same thing over the last bunch of years, but I had to mentally step back and consider this. I thought to myself “Heck, if this good looking young guy has this kind of trouble, then what am I griping about.”

When I first got into business on my own back in 2001, there was no shortage of places where people could and would network together. I really was just getting my footing at that time because I’d mainly worked out of town, so I didn’t know that many people in the Syracuse area. This was also before the days of social media, so maybe it was the only way we could connect with each other.

Back then, I was meeting someone new for lunch every few weeks or so. Occasionally it was with a new organization I was checking out, but for the most part it was one on one. Truthfully, most of the time it was with people who were hoping I’d become a client, which never happened, yet they’d know who I was moving on from there; I could live with that.

Then I left town for a year to consult at a hospital in Westchester County. When I got back home, I noticed that things had changed somewhat. It was harder to get people to meet individually for lunch. Some people wanted to meet for coffee before 8AM; that wasn’t happening since I not only try not to get up that early but I don’t drink coffee. However, it was a low number; most people just weren’t interested.

It was pretty quiet for a while there. Then we started having things like Tweetups and other organizational get togethers of hopefully like minded people, and that was pretty cool. We even had a Tweetup kickball game that was amazing (and hot!).

Then I left town again, this time spending 18 months in Memphis. Now it seems that even the planned networking events, such as the Liverpool Chamber events, don’t draw all that many people… at least not close to the numbers they used to.

Other events are also down drastically. Last year there wasn’t a single tweetup locally, and there was only one very small get together of a local blogging group that had a pretty successful start but fell pretty much off the earth. As far as I know, there are no plans for anything in 2016 at this point.

As for lunches… not counting my friends, in 2015 I met 1 person for lunch, and in 2016 I’ve now met 3. Two of those were people who asked to meet me, which means that my record for asking and getting people to meet me for lunch is pretty dismal.

Maybe I have it easier than most others since I mainly work from home. Maybe I’m living in the prehistoric era of networking since most people connect more with each other online, and when they have a free moment they’d either like being with friends and family or off doing something on their own.

I had thought it was only me until I had lunch last week with my buddy. Folks, it seems there’s a serious disconnect as it pertains to local networking. I refuse to believe it’s just here in Syracuse; this has to be more of a national thing. How funny it is that I can interact online with people all around the world yet I can’t get a local person who I’ve met at least once in person to meet me for lunch.

Oh well, life goes on. At least I’m not scared to eat lunch alone; Twin Trees loves me. 🙂  

My Encounter With Pearl

It was sad hearing that one of my favorite Syracuse University basketball players of all time, Dwayne “Pearl” Washington, had passed away from a brain tumor. I remembered that he’d had another one back in 1996, and I knew it had come back again, yet one always felt that Pearl could overcome anything he wanted to.

DAPW01It made me reflect back on the one time I met him. I was consulting out of town in, of all places, New Jersey, the team that drafted Pearl in the 1st round in 1986 after 3 fabulous years playing for the team we then called the Orangemen. My car had been broken into at the hotel I was staying at, and both doors had been damaged, with the only things taken being some change I had sitting in the coin holder and my $15 CD player.

The damage was extensive enough that I had to bring my car into the Sam Dell Dodge dealership which was still around in 2004, and I had to leave it there for a week while they took the time to work on it. They gave me a loaner for the week, which was a good thing, and said to come back the following Friday to pick my car up.

Thus, I found myself back at Sam Dell the following week, turning in my car and heading into the back to see what was going on with my car. When I got to the garage, I see Pearl over in a corner washing a motorcycle. It took a few seconds for my mind to compress this – Pearl Washington and a motorcycle? I smiled at the thought and I figured I’d take my shot to go and meet him.

I walked over to meet him, and he looked up and smiled, as if he was used to people doing that. I’m not a shy guy but I’m also not a gushing type. I didn’t even say his name. Instead I remember saying “I just had to come over and shake your hand for all the thrills you gave me in the years you played for Syracuse.”

Pearl thanked me for that and shook my hand. Then I continued.

“I was at the Boston College game, ten rows up behind the backboard when you hit that half court shot. I jumped up with everyone else, screaming and hugging everybody around me, only knowing one person, as if we’d just won the NCAA championship. After about a minute I stopped, looked around and thought to myself ‘Hey, I’m surrounded by dudes!’ Not a woman in sight!”

Pearl laughed at that; I’m sure I told the story better than it reads here. I’d always heard how nice and gracious he was and in that instance he made me feel like the best storyteller in the world… and I bet it was the most unique perspective of that night that he’d ever heard from anyone else; at least I hoped so.

RIP Pearl Washington; you gave me so much joy during a rough period of my life. I’m glad I was around to see moves like the one in the video below:

https://youtu.be/Qqt2HEbAGO8  

Copyright 2016