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February 2008 Archives

Rest Haven Restaurant, Clarksdale, Miss.

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2:20 p.m. Feb. 23

Its never too early to start planning the road trip from Chicago to New Orleans for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. One mandatory stop is Chamoun's Rest Haven Restaurant in Clarksdale, Miss. I called yesterday to make sure they are still open. They are.
Here's an edited version of a story I wrote from a visit in early 2004. I was hungry. I had spent half a day talking to musician-producer Jim Dickinson at his North Mississippi compound. Then I went to this classic diner to eat Lebanese food. I think Mississippi is an underappreciated state.

CLARKSDALE, Miss. -- The parched terrain surrounding Chamoun's Rest Haven Restaurant is best-known for nourishing the blues. John Lee Hooker, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters all came from this part of the Delta, 75 miles south of Memphis. Blues are not usually linked to Lebanese cuisine. But the Rest Haven has been serving kibbies in the Delta since 1947........
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Rancho de los Caballeros/Arizona

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1:10 p.m. Feb. 23

Rancho de los Caballeros ("gentleman on horseback") corral foreman Tom Secrist sized me up. I did not look like a cowboy, even though I was tumbleweeding around the 60-year-old ranch in Wickenburg, Ariz., 55 miles northwest of Phoenix. I wore my faded Cubs cap, shorts and blue Chuck Taylors.
I looked like an extra in "Bleacher Bums."
I told Secrist I had been on a horse twice in my life. He told me I was going to ride Custard though the high Sonoran desert. If Custard was a train, he would be Amtrak. The 1,200 pound custard-colored horse moved slow. As slow as molasses. Or custard.
In some rusty quarters he would have been called lazy but I will call him leisurely......

Double JJ Ranch & Rothbury Experience

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1:55 p.m. Feb. 16

I first visited the Double JJ Ranch in Rothbury, Mich. in November, 2006. The historic ranch was a gentle, rural escape from the madness of Muskegon, 25 miles south. I returned with my girl friend on New Year's Eve 2007 to find a new indoor water park and pizza parlor. The vibe was sort of Wisconsin Dellsy. We avoided soggy kids and came away impressed with the ranch's New Year's Eve fireworks show.
But now this?
ROTHBURY--a sustainable camping festival that features the Dave Matthews Band, Jakob Dylan & the Gold Mountain Rebels, Primus, Snoop Dogg, John Mayer and more than 60 other acts (www.rothburyfestival.com) is scheduled to be held July 3-6 around the ranch. Its like Burning Man for the Heartland. Besides the music, there's daily yoga sessions (one with Michael Franti & Spearhead) face painting and DJ master classes. Nearly 50,000 people are expected to attend and there's camping available on 300 acres of land that surround the ranch.
I'd check out Conscious Alliance's effort to get into the Guinness Book of World's Records for the "World's Largest Canned Food Sculpture," which will also generate 40,000 cans of food to be donated locally. The sculpture will be on exhibit all weekend. So if you're planning to go to ROTHBURY or some more tranquil time here's the backstory on the JJ Ranch, whose name is derived from Jack & Jill. Or now its Jack and Jerry as in Garcia....
This edited story appeared in the Nov. 26, 2006 edition of the Chicago Sun-Times:

ROTHBURY, Mich. -- The folks at the Double JJ Ranch & Golf Resort in wild western Michigan rope you in with the tagline "Outside the Ordinary."
Where do I sign up?
The 2,000-acre resort north of Muskegon celebrates its 70th anniversary next year. It features heated log cabins, hotel rooms, horses, three lakes and a natural cranberry bog.......

Pink Pony/Scottsdale, Az.

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4:15 p.m. Feb. 8
Spring Training starts next week. People always ask me about the Pink Pony, a staple of Cactus League Spring Training and one of my favorite baseball restaurants and bars in America. I've been to the Pink Pony a dozen times, but truth be told, I've had dinner there just once. Here's my edited backstory which originally appeared in the March, 14 2004 Chicago Sun-Times.

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Gwen Briley misses her husband, Charlie.
Charlie died in the winter of 2002, but every time spring comes around he is as near as the crack of a bat and the crease in a glove. Charlie died of complications from pneumonia at age 87. Charlie had a great life, but that goes without saying. He was a baseball fan........

Stuck in Biloxi, Mary Mahoney's Restaurant

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1 p.m. Feb. 6
Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport----I've got time to burn.
I was supposed to leave two hours ago and I don't know if I'll make it home because of snow at O'Hare. How can I complain after the lingering Katrina devastation I saw along the Gulf Coast and yesterday's tornados that ripped through Arkansas and Tennessee?
Time to burn. It's now 1:07 p.m.
Burning calories is a big deal (no pun intended) down here because of the proposed legislation that would prohibit restaurants from serving obese customers. State Rep. John Read co-sponsored the bill and maintained no harm, no fried fowl. "I was trying to shed a little light on the number one problem in Mississippi," he said.
But last night I had dinner at Mary Mahoney's Old French House Restaurant, Magnolia and Water Streets in Biloxi, where owner Mary Mahoney spent her lifetime trying to educate outsiders on the intellectual and spiritual depth of people from Mississippi......

Biloxi Mardi Gras

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9:20 p.m. Feb. 5
Biloxi, Miss.-----Human connection is a fuel that inspires and upholds.
This was clear on Fat Tuesday when I rode on a Mardi Gras float sponsored by the Mississippi Gulf Coast Convention & Visitors Bureau. I tossed beads out to many in what the CVB estimated were 100,000 people who lined the streets of downtown Biloxi and its outskirts.
I have been on the receiving end of these colorful trinkets in New Orleans and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Biloxi was different. Many families and elderly lined the sidewalks and streets. I threw a long gold bead to a rotund nun to turned it over to a little boy. Near the Beau Rivage Casino on Highway 90 warriors in wheelchairs stood strong against a brisk wind coming off the Gulf of Mexico.
Not one woman showed me her tits......

Mardi Gras King Cake

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11:44 p.m. Feb. 5
Biloxi Miss.

I've lived many illustrious Mardi Gras traditions including springing my friend Mark out of a crowded New Orleans jail with bail bondsman Rev. John English during a Mardi Gras misplaced somewhere in the early 1980s.
I spent all my money obtaining Mark's release on a Friday night and his court date was not until Monday. So this marked the final time I shoplifted. I grabbed a slab of meat from that tiny A&P store down the street from Pat O'Brien's in the French Quarter. We barbecued the rest of the weekend in Louis Armstrong Park. I slept in the back seat of his grandfather's Cadillac.
I never could have ripped off King Cake, which I never had until this Mardi Gras trip to Biloxi.....


Dave Hoekstra

Dave Hoekstra has been a Chicago Sun-Times staff writer since 1985. His collection of Sun-Times travel columns, "Ticket To Everywhere," was published in 2000 by Lake Claremont Press. He was lead writer for "Farm Aid: Song for America" (Rodale Press, 2005) which commemorated the 20th anniversary of the Willie Nelson inspired effort.
He won a 1987 Chicago Newspaper Guild Stick O-Type Award for Column Writing. Hoekstra wrote and co-proudced the WTTW-Channel 11 PBS special: "The Staple Singers and the Civil Rights Movement," nominated for a 2001-02 Chicago Emmy for a documentary program/cultural significance.
He lives in Chicago.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2008 listed from newest to oldest.

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