July 11

National Blueberry Muffin Day

Char-grilled. Blueberry Muffins. Nectar, AL. Burr. Dueling Oaks. Pippin. Taft. Slurpee. St. Benedict.

Days Until...

Coolinary ...20

Celebrity Restaurateurs Today

The late great Drago Cvitanovich was born today in 1922, in a small town near Split, Yugoslavia (now Croatia). He moved to Louisiana along with many of his countrymen, and joined the oyster industry in Plaquemines Parish. He moved to New Orleans in the 1950s, and worked for a time at a restaurant owned by his brother-in-law Drago Batinich. Drago Cvitanovich opened his own place (also called Drago's) in 1969, in what later became Fat City. The new Drago's menu was half seafood and half Croatian food. It was also half-full, on a busy day. Its specialty always has been oysters. Drago handled that end of the business personally, drawing on his contacts with the oystermen in Empire and thereabouts. The restaurant's success was a long time in coming, but it did come--especially after it invented char-broiled oysters. That was such a phenomenon that it's as widely imitated as barbecue shrimp or oysters Rockefeller. Now, led by Drago's son Tommy, Drago's is one of the most successful restaurants in town.

Today's Flavor

Today is National Blueberry Muffin Day. Beware: the "blueberries" in many commercial muffins are actually little bits of dried apple colored blue. However, a good blueberry muffin is wonderful. Make some: blueberry season is ending down here, but it spreads north trough the next couple of months. The most famous blueberry muffins in New Orleans were (and are) those baked at the Pontchartrain Hotel. Although the restaurant offerings of the Pontchartrain are much diminished from their glory days when the Aschaffenburg family owned the place, the blueberry muffins still go on. Actually, they're a little on the dry side, but they do make a breakfast something special.

Gourmet Gazetteer

Nectar, Alabama is a town of 372 people forty miles north of Birmingham. It's in a very picturesque, prosperous farming and orchard area, in the foothills of the Great Smokies. Nectar is surrounded by a big, looping bend of the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River, far upstream. A long, historic covered bridge crossed the river at Nectar until 1993, when it was burned down by vandals. Its memory lives on at the Covered Bridge Grill, three miles away from the center of Nectar.

Annals Of Dueling

Today in 1804, the most famous duel in American history came to a bad end when Aaron Burr killed Alexander Hamilton. Hamilton--the man most responsible for assembling the U.S. government as we know it--fell in Weehawken, New Jersey, across the Hudson from Manhattan. Burr, who came out of the deal with a badly damaged reputation, came to New Orleans, where he began starting other trouble. Now, of course, men challenge one another with knives in the kitchen (i.e., the Iron Chef).

Gambling And Food

Today in 1913, within walking distance of the Dueling Oaks, the New Orleans City Park Casino opened. It served as the central refreshment stand for the park (and still does). When we were kids, we associated a visit to City Park with the sno-balls, popcorn, and hot dogs we gleaned from the Casino. Then we climbed all over the big live oaks outside between merry-go-round rides and turns on the swings. Ah, innocent childhood.

Dressing Up For Dinner

Today is the birthday, in 1934, of Italian fashion designer Giorgio Armani. I wish I could wear one of his suits, but you need a certain kind of physique for those beautiful duds. Avid eaters rarely have such a shape.

Edible Dictionary

pippin, n.--An apple--generally a good one--from a tree grown from a seed. Since the apples on ungrafted seedling trees are almost never like the apple the seed came from, when a good apple results from such a tree it's considered a lucky break--a "pippin." (Most fruit from chance seedlings are very bad for anything but making cider.) The most famous American pippin is the Newtown pippin, a green apple from a tree that grew on Long Island, New York in the 1700s. Trees grafted from that one were grown throughout the American colonies. It is still considered one of the best of the green apples.

Annals Of Overeating

Former U.S. President William Howard Taft was sworn in today in 1921 as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. He was the first and only man to head two major branches of the Federal government. He was the size of two men, at well over 300 pounds.

Treat Of The Day

Many locations of the 7-11 chain of convenience stores around the world will give you a free 7.11-ounce Slurpee today if you ask. Note the date.

Food In The Wild

Today in 2001, a patrolman in Vancouver was accosted by a duck who walked up and grabbed him by the pants leg. The duck kept pulling the cop, who kept breaking loose, down the street to a catch basin. There, in the drainage, were eight baby ducklings. The policeman fished them out with a vegetable strainer, and the reunited duck family resumed its walk to a nearby pond. I'm thinking of some tale of how delicious they all were in the police kitchen that night, but I can't bring myself to write it.

The Saints

Today is the feast day of St. Benedict, founder of the Benedictine monks, the first Christian monastic order, in the sixth century. His rule was "Pray and work." Cooking and baking have always been a big part of the work. The Benedictines at St. Joseph's Abbey near Covington bake an enormous amount of bread everyday, most of which they give away to the poor.

Food Namesakes

Bobby Rice, pop singer in the 1960s and 1970s, was born today in 1944. He was heard on the Fireballs' song Sugar Shack. . . Mel Appleby, of the rock duo Mel 'n' Kim, was born today in 1966. . . Blind Lemon Jefferson, one of the most influential early blues singers and guitarists, wailed for the first time today in 1897. . . Brazilian physicist Cesare Lattes discovered himself today in 1924. He discovered the pi meson, so small its filling could not be tasted.

Words To Eat By

"Mother: "It's broccoli, dear."
Child: "I say it's spinach, and I say the hell with it."--E. B. White, long-time New Yorker writer, born today in 1899.

Words To Drink By

"They never taste who always drink."--Matthew Prior, On a Passage in the Scaligerana.