Monthly Archives: January 2010

Restaurant Review: Wintzell’s Oyster House, Mobile, Alabama

Recently I had the opportunity to be in Mobile, Alabama for a weekend tennis tournament, and thus had the opportunity to visit a landmark restaurant that I intend to reference in my next novel, which happens to be set in Alabama.   One thing I’ve learned about mentioning restaurants, or any place for that matter, is that the writer should select a place that will be around as long as the first run of the book.  That should not be an issue with Wintzell’s Oyster House, which opened its doors in 1938 and now has expanded to a total of 10 locations in Alabama and one in Mississippi.

I chose the original restaurant, which is located in Mobile’s historic downtown district at the corner of Dauphin and South Warren Streets.  Food, service and atmosphere are the three most important ingredients in a dining experience, in my opinion.  Using a scale of 1-5, I’ll go ahead and give you my rating on each and tell you why.

Food – 4

Service – 3

Atmosphere – 5

Food – At Wintzell’s the oysters come “fried, stewed or nude.”  They can also be grilled, if you prefer.  I had a dozen fried oysters with side orders of cheese grits and cole slaw.  Not a very healthy meal, but a tasty one.  I had the cheese grits just because I’m a big cheese grits fan.  Although not very common on menus anywhere, if one lives in the South it (they?) are not hard to find.  I live in Jackson, Mississippi so cheese grits at Broad Street Grocery are regular fare for me.   Wintzell’s cheese grits are good, but nothing special, especially with fried oysters.  The cole slaw was also average.  It was the fried oysters that live up to the Wintzell’s reputation as an oyster house.  Real oyster lovers eat the marine bi-valves shucked and raw.  I’m not in that category.  If raw oysters are so good, why must they be slathered with sauce and consumed with a saltine?  But I digress.  My fried oysters that night were perfectly prepared, being slightly crispy on the outside and moist and tasty inside.  All of this was washed down with a cold Yuengling on draft.

Service – My casual observation revealed that service was something management paid attention to.  The servers were friendly, unhurried and knowledgeable.  Most were under 30.  There were two management-types walking around checking on things with customers, servers and the kitchen.  That is the kind of thing diners find in more upscale restaurants.  I gave service a 3, which means average, because I got the server who loved to talk, especially about himself.  Good servers talk to customers about the customers unless asked otherwise.  He also talked positively about his employer and about the restaurant.  He seemed to like his job.  So what was the reason for a 3?  Well, although I sort of enjoyed my conversation with him, what I did not enjoy was his long conversations with other customers, especially when I wanted something, such as my check.  In other words, he chatted with customers to a fault.  Still, that’s better than an inattentive server, so I should not complain too much.

Atmosphere – The oysters are good, but it is the atmosphere that probably draws crowds to Wintzell’s.  It is a casual atmosphere in a casual, old building.  Its claim to fame, in addition to the oysters, is the placards attached to almost every available spot on the wall.  The placards, or cards, contain clever and amusing sayings by the hundreds.  For example, “A nickel isn’t supposed to be as good as a dollar, but it goes to church more often.”  And then there is, “Never put off enjoyment for another day, there’s no time like the pleasant.”  It would take a customer an hour or more just to read the witticisms that are everywhere.  For example, above the shucking station is one that reads, “Please bear with us.  We are slightly ‘shell shocked.”  Sitting there, gazing at the palm trees across the street, the casualness, the blend of tourists and locals and the tin roof overhead, I had the vague feeling of being in Key West.  Not a bad atmosphere.

I look forward to my next trip to or through Mobile because I’ll be stopping at Wintzell’s Oyster House downtown.

Wintzell’s Oyster House Web site

“Catch me if you can” inspiration coming to Millsaps College

Frank Abagnale, a security consultant known for his history as a check forger, imposter and escape artist and his real-life inspiration for the movie, Catch Me if You Can, will be the featured speaker for the Else School of Management Spring 2010 Forum on Feb. 17 at 8 a.m.at Millsaps College. He will speak in the Leggett Special Events Center located on the Millsaps campus.

Abagnale, who now works as a teacher at the F.B.I. Academy and trains law enforcement officials to prevent the crimes he once committed, will speak as part of “Acts of Conscience in the Workplace: Ethics Week at Millsaps College.” …more

TomTom survey says Mississippi has fastest roads

GPS manufacturer TomTom issued a news release on January 21 that “… revealed the first fully detailed view of which interstate highways are the fastest and slowest in the United States. Although the average speed on some U.S. roads slightly exceeded the speed limit, data from GPS users show that, overall, drivers tend to stay within speed limit range on most major U.S. highways.revealed a survey that contains some interesting results about driving in the United States.”

Some of the key findings:

  • Mississippi has the fastest roads, where the posted speed limits range from 65 to 70 MPH.
  • The fastest American road is I-15 through Utah and Nevada. The posted speed limit is as high as 80 MPH in some spots, with the driver average being around 77.67 MPH
  • The slowest average MPH is in Washington D.C., with averages around 46 MPH, followed by Hawaii (53 MPH), Delaware (61 MPH), Rhode Island (63 MPH), and Oregon (63 MPH).

The most popular password…

… is “123456,” based on the analysis of 32 million breached passwords, obtained from last month’s RockYou.com server breach, from which researchers from Imperva were able to analyze the insecure practices used by millions of users when choosing their passwords.  That’s from an article by Dancho Danchev posted on zdnet.com.  Well worth reading.

What matters in your community?

What matters in your community?  What defines it?  What are people interested in and keep up with?

In Lexington, Kentucky, sports matter, according to an article by Kim Edwards in the December 2008 issue of Smithsonian Magazine. In most rural communities, high school sports, especially football in Friday nights, matter a whole lot.  Take a look at how many signs proclaim the local team as the “Home of the (fill in the blank) State Champs.” In the Mississippi Delta, it’s the price of agricultural commodities that matter. Lately, “the blues” matters in the Delta.

So how does one discover these “things that matter” in a community?  Listen to people talking.  Read the local newspaper.  And, of course, watch for those signs on the side of the road.

National Leadership Index reveals whom we trust to lead us.

The 2009 National Leadership Index is out.  Among other things, it measures confidence of respondents to various sectors of leaders.  Below is a list of those sectors.  Average confidence is 100.0.  The highest sector had a rating of 119; the lowest 69.7.  Care to guess which?  Wait!  I’ll go ahead and tell you.  Military leaders ranked highest and Wall Street ranked lowest.  Check out how the rest of them fared at The Center for Public Leadership at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Military
Medical Nonprofit & Charity
Supreme Court
Local Government
Education
Executive Branch Religious
Business State Government
Congress
News Media
Wall Street

Remarks to NE Mississippi Economic Outlook Conference

Yesterday (Jan 20) I had the honor of making a presentation to the Northeast Mississippi Economic Outlook Conference sponsored by the Community Development Foundation.  Below are links to coverage of the event.

But Scott and Hardwick said the jobless figures will ease as the U.S. Census Bureau hires thousands of temporary workers for this year’s count.  In Mississippi’s case, employment overall has been centered in about 10 clusters across the state, Hardwick said. More… (NE Mississippi Daily Journal)

“I’m not really optimistic about revenues increasing, I am impressed with the way that State government is handling this, so far, says Phil Hardwick of the Stennis Institute of Government. More... (WTVA)

Highly Effective Communities Cover the Basics

The so-called arctic blast, and the resulting water crisis, has exposed some communities.  Whether the direct cause was aging water pipes, shifting soil or pipes not buried deep enough, some cities and counties were simply not prepared for prolonged cold weather.  Current political leaders are now being accused of lack of leadership.  Perhaps that is part of the problem in some communities, but it also points out the fact that the basics were not covered.

The basics are those things in a community that are vitally important, but do not receive much discussion until things go wrong.  Water service is basic.  Police and fire protection are basic.  Financial stability is basic.  Citizens do not really care to discuss these things on a daily basis.  For example, do you know the rating of your city bonds?  Do you know if your community has a capital improvements plan?   Probably not.  These are not very juicy items for discussion.  But you would certainly be concerned if you picked up the newspaper tomorrow morning and saw that you bonds had been downgraded, or that you needed to get a front end alignment because your car struck an unexpected pothole.  Much of this is about financial management, long term planning and prioritizing.

So what can you do?  Get a copy of your community’s budget and see how much money is set aside for replacement of things that have a long term life.  It will probably be in a category known as “Replacement reserves.”

A request to those who “would like to”

This is not a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but it is one of my pet peeves so  I will (figuratively) get it off my chest.  There is a phrase heard often that goes something like this:  “We would like to take this opportunity to (fill in the blank).”  Well, if you would like to, then go ahead and do it.  For example, I just saw a television commercial where a furniture store owner said that he “would like to” invite his customers to a big sale.  Why not just invite them?  That commercial was followed by a news story in which someone stood behind a podium and said that she “would like to” thank the sponsors of a certain event.  Why not just thank them?  And then there was the receipt of a card stating that the parents “would like to” announce the birth of their new child.  Why not just announce it?

There seems to be quite a bit of worry among teachers and linguists that “textese” is causing the death of the english language.  Not to worry.  Studies prove otherwise.  It is the misuse of words and phrases that is the bigger threat.

Perspective and Outrage

I thought that Clarion-Ledger political cartoonist Marshall Ramsey really put things in perspective when on his Facebook page he said,  “Was going to complain about no water at work and then I watched Haiti earthquake coverage. Prayers be with the victims.”  That’s perspective.

Then I heard about Pat Robertson’s comments about Haiti being “cursed” by a “pact to the devil.”  That’s outrageous.