We are currently working with customers looking for homes in Sarasota, Savannah, Charleston, the Low Country of South Carolina, Wilmington, NC, and other locations.  If you would like our personalized recommendations of which golf communities in the Southern U.S. best match your criteria, please fill out our Golf Home Questionnaire by clicking on the advertisement at the top of the left hand column below...
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        A Bloomberg news service headline a week ago must have made some recent retirees a little nervous, especially those who are poised to start searching for a vacation or retirement home. “Bargains Dry Up; So Do Vacation Home Sales” blared the headline in my local Hartford Courant Sunday real estate section, as I am sure it did in other local papers across the land. Citing National Association of Realtor figures, the article reported that sales of vacation homes in 2015 were down 19 percent compared with 2014 sales, and that the competition among baby boomers for a dwindling number of properties is driving prices higher. Indeed, the median price of vacation homes that sold in 2015 jumped to $192,000, a 28 percent rise. Since, in very few instances, current primary homes in the North are appreciating at rates approaching 28 percent annually -– or even double digits for that matter –- baby boomers poised to sell their current homes and move to a warmer climate could continue to lose buying power the longer they wait. (Full disclosure: I am a baby boomer trying to get our primary home in Connecticut ready for sale, but it is taking forever to get rid of stuff. Sound familiar?)
        Although the numbers don’t lie, we know of some extreme bargains in high-quality golf communities across the Southeast, although you may have to make a compromise or two in terms of location. For example, Savannah Lakes Village, one of our favorites for its low real estate prices and low cost but well-tended amenities, including 36 holes of golf, is located a good half hour from Greenwood, SC, the nearest town that provides services beyond the one supermarket eight minutes from the community. Those looking for single-family homes that begin in the low $100s and homes with views of beautiful Lake Thurmond that start in the mid $200s may find the remote location not much of an inconvenience at all.
        There are dozens of other such golf communities across the region. Take just 10 minutes to fill out our Golf Homes Questionnaire -- click here – and we will share with you which golf communities best match your lifestyle, your golfing interests and your plans for a good chunk of the rest of your life.
SavannahLakesdownhilltogreenSavannah Lakes Village in McCormick, SC, features two fine 18 hole golf courses and Lake Thurmond, as well as some of the most reasonable real estate and amenity prices anywhere.

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        The Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, located less than an hour from the university town of Charlottesville, is running a stay and play special this year that includes one night of lodging, two days of golf and prices starting at just $144. Wintergreen features 18 holes by Ellis Maples at the top of the mountain with breathtaking views, and 27 by Rees Jones in the valley at the base of the mountain. For about the price of a night in a Holiday Inn Express, inveterate golfers get 45 holes of golf at what works out to $3.20 per hole (or for free, if you consider you are paying entirely for the lodging).
        I have fond memories of visits to Wintergreen and especially of its golf courses. I hosted a family reunion in 2011 at Wintergreen for my siblings and their children just after my son’s graduation from Washington & Lee University a couple of hours away. Everyone had a great time and a family dinner in one of the condos at the top of the community’s highest mountain offered a beautiful sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains and the famous snakelike highway named for them.
Wintergreen Devils Knob 17The 17th green on the Devil's Knob golf course at Wintergreen Resort and the Blue Ridge Mountains beyond.
        I have played the mountaintop course at Wintergreen, Devil’s Knob, just once and the Rees Jones course, Stoney Creek, a few times. I prefer the latter but for sheer eye candy views, Devil’s Knob cannot be beat. I have a special soft spot for Stoney Creek because my son Tim posted the low individual score in a college golf tournament there. I followed the college kids around for two days and learned how I should have played the course previously.
        Jim Justice, the wealthy West Virginia industrialist, purchased the financially troubled Wintergreen in 2012 and immediately invested $12 million to rehabilitate some of its aging infrastructure, including restaurants and the resort’s snow making equipment. (Wintergreen is that rare place where a golfing skier can tackle the slopes in the morning and the golf course in the afternoon if conditions are right in January.) But Justice, who also owns the famed Greenbrier Resort, found he was overcommitted in his business ventures and, in 2014, sold Wintergreen to EPR, a Missouri-based real estate investment trust. At the time of the purchase, EPR maintained a $3.9 billion portfolio of properties.
        The community comprises 1,300 detached homes on the mountain and another 500 in the valley around Stoney Creek. Nearly 1,000 undeveloped lots are parceled out across the community. Prices (and taxes) are comparatively low at Wintergreen. We note one current single-bedroom, single-bath condo on the mountain is listed for just $59,900; two-bedroom units begin around $80,000. Mountain style homes with multiple bedrooms start in the $160s. Homes around the Stoney Creek golf course in the valley are of a more recent vintage and priced accordingly from the low $300s.
        Steve Marianella is our professional contact at Wintergreen, and we would be pleased to introduce you to him. Just send me a note.
WintergreenStoneyCreekdownhill4A downhill par 4 starts one of the nines on the 27-hole Stoney Creek course at Wintergreen.

        DeBordieu Colony could be the best upscale golf community you have never heard of –- although in recent years, the long-time Georgetown, SC, community has been flexing some marketing muscle with national newspaper and magazine ads. DeBordieu, or what residents and locals call “Debba Doo,” features a sleek, private Pete Dye golf course. This one finishes with a par 4 and par 5 that are among the toughest of the more than 1,800 holes on Myrtle Beach’s Grand Strand, which stretches about 90 miles from Brunswick County in NC south to DeBordieu.
DeBordieuDyeRRtiesonbankThe railroad ties are a giveaway that the course was designed by Pete Dye.
        DeBordieu’s other distinction, which will appeal to sun worshippers especially, is its “private” beach. Although all beaches in South Carolina are publicly accessible, DeBordieu’s guarded gate forces anyone wanting to share the community’s beach to arrive by their own boat. Given the other nice beaches in the area, residents have their own almost exclusively to themselves.
        For a community with some oceanfront estate homes valued in the $3 million plus range, you can imagine the average price point in DeBordieu is pretty high, with single-family homes typically in the $700s and higher. But because the developers designed an area called Fairway Oaks for “villas,” or cottages as they are more customarily known, a beach- and golf-loving couple can put down roots at DeBordieu in the $400,000 range. Our professional real estate contact at DeBordieu, Troi Kaz, who knows virtually every inch of the community, tells us there are currently three 3-bedroom, 3-bath Fairway Oaks villas listed from $380,000 to $400,000. The $380,000 and $385,000 units are being sold furnished; the $400,000 home’s furnishings are not included but are negotiable. Any of these units –- some duplexes and some free-standing -- would be perfect as a second-home or a year-round retirement nest; and they would leave enough in the way of resources to join the DeBordieu Golf Club a short walk away, where dues are a reasonable $515 per month.
        For more on DeBordieu, check out the community's page in our Golf Homes for Sale section where you can see the full range of listings in DeBordieu and get in touch with Troi.
DeBordieuVillaforSale 1

Debordieu clubhouseA $400,000 cottage at DeBordieu (top) is just a short walk from the clubhouse and golf course.

        I just finished editing the almost 3,000 words we have packed into the April issue of Home On The Course, our monthly newsletter. This month’s issue, which we expect to email to subscribers tomorrow, considers how the carrying costs in Florida’s all-in-one golf communities stack up against those elsewhere, and whether the comprehensive amenities approach makes sense for everyone. We also take a look at a recently published ranking of the top amenities retirees and near-retirees are looking for and try to understand why golf doesn’t make the top 10. (We think we know the reasons, and they give us the opportunity to play pop psychologist.)
        And, last but not least, we provide 10 good reasons why customers considering a golf-oriented retirement -– like really golf oriented -– should definitely take a look at Reynolds Lake Oconee in northern Georgia. (Spoiler Alert: One reason is actually six, which is the number of excellent courses at Reynolds.)
        Home On The Course is free for the asking, and the ask is simply to subscribe here and we will email you the April edition as well as all future issues. You won’t find a better deal anywhere.

Creek Club fairway bunkersThe Creek Club golf course at Reynolds Lake Oconee.

Saturday, 09 April 2016 05:26

Golf Near the Beach at Down to Earth Prices

        Rumors of golf’s demise, yet once again, have been greatly exaggerated. How else to explain that today’s Wall Street Journal’s “Mansion” section devotes the better part of a half-dozen pages to what it calls “The Golf Homes Issue.” The WSJ features mostly “golf homes” outside the U.S. –- the Caribbean and Spain –- and priced beginning above $2 million. Helpfully, for those of us with an urge to splurge and assets to match, the Journal lists three homes for sale “near golf courses” priced from, gulp!, $13.7 million to $27.3 million; the middle one, located in Arizona, is priced at $24.5 million. But for those of more modest means but an urge to play golf in a community near the beach, we are happy to suggest perfectly wonderful golf communities with homes priced well under $1 million.

        Below are a few.  Note that the name of each community in the heading links with our Golf Homes for Sale section.  From there you can connect to full listings of current homes for sale in each community.  (For more information on Amelia Island, please contact us.)

Longboat Key, Sarasota, FL

        Okay, technically on the Gulf of Mexico, not the ocean, but that gulf extends eventually into the wide-open Atlantic. You can spend as much as $8 million for a lushly appointed home at Longboat directly on the Gulf, but for the rest of us, homes start in the $300s for two-bedroom units, some with water views (lagoons, mostly, but the Gulf is within walking distance). Golf is water-infused, meaning lakes and the ever-present Gulf, and with 45 holes, sharing the courses with resort guests is no problem for Longboat Key members. One current listing: A three-bedroom, 2½ bath single-family home on the Harbourside golf course is listed for $369,000. For an introduction to our golf and real estate expert in the area, Dennis Boyle, please contact us.

AudubonclubhouseandcroquetAudubon clubhouse and croquet lawn in Naples, FL

Audubon Country Club, Naples, FL

        Just three miles from Barefoot Beach and the wide-open Gulf of Mexico, Audubon will appeal to sun worshippers who enjoy taking in the rays on both golf course and beach. We love the oh-so-Floridian gleaming pink and white clubhouse that looks out on the sleek Joe Lee designed golf course. Add tennis, fitness, an impeccable croquet lawn and a debt free club, and you have all the ingredients of carefree living. Although current homes for sale top out at $2.5 million, one current home in a maintenance-free neighborhood of Audubon is listed under $500,000. Jeff Feldman is our expert in Naples, and we would be pleased to put you in touch. Contact us.

Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach, FL

        Golf and beach are in perfect harmony on Amelia Island, and there is plenty of both. The four courses include one by Pete Dye, one a combination of the efforts of Dye and Bobby Weed and another the only nominally private club of the group, Longpoint, a terrific Tom Fazio design. All the courses are buffeted by sea breezes that can reach gale proportions and make the rather languid layouts feel as if they are on Scotland’s Firth of Forth. The beach is a lucky 13 miles long and because Amelia, which is only a half hour from Jacksonville, was developed essentially as a playground for resort guests, virtually every amenity known to man is available to those who choose to live on the island. You will find homes across the entire range of styles and prices, with one two bedroom, two-bath end-unit condo on the Oak Marsh golf course currently listed at $269,000. For many years, Lou Simmons, our agent on Amelia Island, has been helping customers find the right home at the resort, and she would be happy to assist you. Contact us for an introduction.

DeBordieuBeachlooking southThe private beach at DeBordieu Colony in Georgetown, SC.
DeBordieu Colony, Georgetown, SC

        We know of no community that better combines golf and beach than the gated DeBordieu, known to its own residents and the local citizenry as “Debby Doo” (Yankee pronunciation) or “Debba Doo” (Southern pronunciation). Although all beaches in the state are public, those few behind the gates of an ocean community are, for all intents and purposes, private (unless you want to take the time and make the effort to boat in from elsewhere). The Pete Dye golf course is one of the best on the 90-mile stretch through Myrtle Beach known as the Grand Strand, but don’t think for a second that DeBordieu is anywhere near the neon lights and boardwalk hustles of that resort city. It is a good 40 minutes away, and close enough to Charleston -– about an hour -– to make a habit of visits to that historic city and Southern foodie capital. DeBordieu, comprised almost exclusively of single-family homes, is the most upscale community immediately south of the Myrtle area. The lowest priced home currently for sale in DeBordieu is a 4 bedroom, 3 bath beauty with a deeded dock on the DeBordieu Creek and easy access to the community’s two-mile long beach. It is listed at $485,000. Troi Kaz knows everything there is to know about DeBordieu and will be pleased to answer any questions. Contact us.

Wachesaw 7from tee 1The par 3 7th at Wachesaw Plantation is among the best one-shooters on the Grand Strand of Myrtle Beach.
Wachesaw Plantation, Murrells Inlet, SC

        Real estate values in this friendly, highly livable golf community with a classic Tom Fazio private course at its core have always been lower than other comparable local golf communities, including some without gates or private clubs. A decision 30 years ago by Wachesaw’s original developer to put out the unwelcome sign for local realtors retarded the community’s growth for years. But savvy golf interested buyers know a bargain when they see one, and Wachesaw’s three bedroom, two bath cottage-style homes especially meet the definition of good buy. We note that three of them are currently listed below $300K; but there are many other options nestled in amongst dramatic, sprawling live oaks. When Wachesaw residents crave a sandy adventure, Huntington Beach State Park, the site for many local weddings because of the Atalaya Mansion that overlooks the beach, is just five minutes from the community. So is the town’s famed Restaurant Row, with more than a dozen seafood restaurants overlooking the inlet. Local Realtors Bill and Kathy Curtis live in Wachesaw and can answer any questions about the community. Contact us for an introduction.

St. James Plantation, Southport, NC

        Big, sprawling and with 81 holes of golf and every other conceivable amenity a retired couple might want, the only possible reason to venture away from St. James is to stroll amidst the shops and restaurants of the charming seaport of Southport, just 10 minutes away and a ferry ride from there to Bald Head Island; or to spend a day at the community’s private beach club on Oak Island. Size matters in golf communities, and St. James’ size means the widest possible range of real estate options, including two bedroom, two bath condos from a mere $130,000 to villa townhouses from around $230,000 to single-family homes that start at $240,000. The golf courses bear the names of architects like Nicklaus Design, Hale Irwin and Tim Cate, a local designer who has received rave reviews for his links-like style. Jerry Biffle is our go-to guy at St. James. Let us know and we can make an introduction for you.

Landfall, Wilmington, NC

        The Wilmington area has a few choice golf communities, and none are better situated or laid out than Landfall, which sports 45 holes of golf –- 18 by Pete Dye and 27 by Jack Nicklaus, who trained initially as a golf architect in Mr. Dye’s shop. Some of the Nicklaus holes are difficult and, when the wind blows in off the ocean, real hair pullers; but both golf courses are always in peak condition. Beach-going residents can arrive at Wrightsville Beach within a mere 10 minutes from the back gate of the community, and the exciting town of Wilmington is an equal distance in the other direction. Landfall’s location is a big plus, but that doesn’t mean real estate prices are out of sight. Homes are priced from $365,000 into the millions. Landfall Realty can help you get started with your search; we’d be pleased to put you in touch with them.

Peninsula par3Water is the dominant element on the Jack Nicklaus design for Peninsula Club

Peninsula Golf & Country Club, Millsboro, DE

        Delaware isn’t exactly top of mind for those contemplating a golf community home, but it should be. Given Delaware’s size, you are really never too far from the coast wherever you are. The Peninsula Club is almost on the coast, the Rehoboth Bay separating it from the beach, which is in full, if distant, view from many of the holes on the sporty Jack Nicklaus layout. The community got off to something of a rocky start financially, but it seems to have regained its footing nicely in recent years. One sign is that prices have firmed up in recent years, although condos start at only $190,000 and you can still buy a single-family home for under $400,000. One other reason to consider Delaware, especially if you like to buy things: The state assesses no sales tax. Kathy Sperl-Bell covers Peninsula and the area’s other fine golf communities, and we would be pleased to send you her contact information.

Friday, 01 April 2016 18:27

No Foolin’ on April 1

        Although tempted to write articles today about golf communities that are giving away free land, or that Donald Trump has put Sarah Palin in charge of Trump Doral Country Club, or that Bernie Sanders shot his age at Burlington Country Club, I would never try to make fools of any of my readers. Instead, here are a few headlines that sound foolish but actually are real.

16 Lots for Sale for $1 in Top Bluffton, SC, Golf Communities

As we’ve reported here a number of times, the recession was particularly hard on those speculators who loaded up on $400,000 properties in golf communities with mandatory memberships. But we are now a good two years past most of the problems with leisure residential real estate in high-quality communities, and who can pass up nicely treed lots priced at just $1 in places with great golf by the likes of Dye, Nicklaus and Fazio. Apparently many buyers haven’t gotten the memo, because we count 16 lots currently for sale at $1 each in those top communities. For you to snare one of them, all you have to do is commit to an initiation fee of $17,000 and to annual dues and homeowner fees of close to $20,000 -– and to writing a check for a buck. Contact me if you want more information.

RiverLandinghomebygreenResidents at River Landing in Wallace, NC, have free and easy access to its two golf courses, since full golf membership is just over 100.

Twenty-Year-Old Course with 100 members, 36 holes

The general rule of thumb is that private golf clubs with fewer than 250 members are struggling to keep up. But what does that say about the prospects of a 36-hole club with just barely more than 100 members. We have all heard stories about a wealthy family or individual building a golf course for essentially their own use. In the case of River Landing, the Murphy Family originally built an entire golf community initially to help attract executives to the family’s sprawling commercial farm business two decades ago. Today, the two Clyde Johnston designed layouts on site rank in the top 50 in North Carolina, according to its state golf panel, and the River course is ranked just outside the top 25. (The other course is called The Landing.) The River has been the site for many U.S. Open qualifying rounds. Any couple looking for a quality golf community with a walk up and play golf club at a reasonable price -– dues are less than $500 per month –- should consider River Landing. Contact me and I will be happy to introduce you to Keith Suttle, the broker in charge. Look for an article about River Landing here in the next week.

Amelia Island Real Estate Agents Turn Down Customers

I am working with a customer who has identified Amelia Island, FL, as a place of interest for a potential relocation. Over the last two weeks, I have attempted to qualify a real estate agency in the area to work with my customer locally. If I don’t work with an agent in a particular area, my initial research is to scour the Internet looking for those who appear expert in golf communities. When I find one that seems the most qualified, I send him or her an email through their web site asking if they would like to discuss my customer. Understand that a buyer’s agent typically earns a 3% commission for his brokerage and that the agent receives a good chunk of that commission check. At minimum, the payoff amounts to a couple thousand dollars on most home sales. I have contacted four Amelia agents by email, and not a single one has responded. Memo to Amelia agents: Why do you spend the money to build a web site and maintain an email address?

New Homes in Fine Golf Community for $100 a Foot

If the terms “tragic” and “golf community” intersect anywhere, that place could be Cobblestone Park in Blythewood, SC, just north of Columbia, the state capital and home to the main campus of the state university. It was at the fledgling Cobblestone Park that bad boy developer Bobby Ginn in the mid 2000s wined and dined mostly blue-collar potential buyers and convinced them that a $200,000 payment for a lot and $500,000 for a home would generate many multiples in appreciation. Long story short, it didn’t, and today, some of those homes are for sale in the $300s & $400s. To make matters worse for their owners, D. R. Horton stepped in at the beginning of the recession and purchased lots in bankruptcy for pennies on the dollar. They are now offering new homes in the high $200s and low $300s at roughly $100 per square foot, much lower than the resale homes. One of our readers, a retired police officer in Minnesota, got caught up in the hype and sold his $250,000 lot recently for $7,000.
Cobblestone from practice greenSay what you will about developer Bobby Ginn, he commissioned some nice golf courses, including the 27 holes at Cobblestone Park, north of Columbia, SC. The men's and women's golf teams at the state university have used the Cobblestone facilities for practice.

Thursday, 31 March 2016 19:07

Silly Season Strikes Myrtle Beach

        All regions of the nation have their own styles of political corruption, but something I tripped on today in the Myrtle Beach area takes the cake in terms of bad timing and superb irony.  While shopping for lunch items at the local supermarket in Pawleys Island this morning, I decided to pick up the Myrtle Beach Sun News.  I didn't look closely at the newspaper until I returned to the condo and sat down to lunch with my wife.  If the dining room table hadn't been in the way, I might have doubled over in laughter.  I won't say anything more except look closely at the item immediately to the left of the stick-on advertisement for the candidate.  You have to wonder how the person or persons who paid for the ad feel about it today.  Unless, of course, the candidate paid for it, in which case maybe he was trying to get his money back by accepting the alleged bribe.  Priceless.

Dick Withington 

Saturday, 26 March 2016 15:40

Jazz for the mouth in New Orleans

        After a stunningly good meal at Cochon in New Orleans on Monday, we would have settled for just plain "good" meals on our remaining two days. But the Crescent City -- or Big Easy, if you prefer -- is full of surprises, and we weren't close to done with mouth music in a city that takes as much pride in its food as it does in its jazz.
        Speaking of jazz, because we had reservations in the French Quarter for Preservation Hall that evening, we caught an early (5:30) reservation on Magazine Street at Coquette, a bistro in an area of shops and restaurants in the city's Garden District. With our friends Rob and Marcy, we were able to order small plates to share and a few we each coveted and kept pretty much to ourselves. The fried chicken were plump thighs crisply breaded and sliced on the bias so that each resembled the ubiquitous chicken "tenders" you might find at a pub restaurant. The crisp coating included a dash of paprika that spiced them up, but ever so discreetly. Marcy and Rob ordered a plate of sliced cobia, a delicate white fish cured in coffee.  But the star for me was a bowl that included flakes of crabmeat set atop a corn pudding and sprinkled with fresh green onion slices and mushrooms. The crabmeat was fresh and perfectly briny, the corn pudding lush, almost like corn grits without the grit, the tastes intense and delicate all at once. A "coquette" is a woman who flirts to win attention and admiration.  This Coquette earned both from our four diners.
Crab dish at CoquetteCrab set atop a corn pudding at Coquette in New Orleans.
        Late on Wednesday morning, we drove an hour outside of town to visit the Whitney Plantation, a former sugar cane plantation that has been developed into a living museum by a wealthy New Orleans attorney who believed it could serve as testimony for the stories of the slaves who lived there. Most of those stories are heart rending and all are interesting, an honest portrayal of an ugly period of our nation's history that we should never forget. We were slated to go to a jazz club in the French Quarter that evening, and we decided to have a late lunch/early dinner, again on Magazine Street, at one of the hottest restaurants in town, Alon Shaya's eponymous Shaya. Call it Israeli food with a twist, with influences from throughout the Mediterranean, including Turkey and Greece. Indeed, the bottle of Greek Assyrtiko white wine was the right choice as accompaniment to the assertive dishes we ordered.  The pita breads were made in an oven within eyeshot of our table, and they were beautiful balloons of light yet chewy dough and excellent vessels for the small dishes of "salatim," cold dishes served as a single course. All were intensely flavored and colored, most of all the lutenitsa, which the menu described as a “Bulgarian puree of roasted red pepper, eggplant, garlic and tomato.”  The paddlefish caviar purée, called ikra, was pale in color compared with the lutenitsa, but not in taste, assertive in a salty and briny way. Taboulleh, not typically one of my favorite dishes, is all about the parsley, and this bunch tasted as if it had just been plucked from the garden.  The lamb kebabs were fat cigars of ground, seasoned lamb set amidst that same lutenitsa from the appetizers, but which had the added snap of sesame seeds. Halloumi is a firm Cypriot cheese that shows up on many Mediterranean appetizer menus and is typically fried. The halloumi at Shaya was set atop caramelized celery root puree. The greens that shared the plate added color if not competing tastes. Frankly, the puree was the star of the dish. The three falafels on the "Falafel Plate" were set on a bed of crisp cabbage slivers and were a bright green color inside, tasting of a combination of mint, parsley and cilantro, raising the tasty fried balls to a new level of color and taste.
        Shaya's balance of favors were just right in every dish, and we left the restaurant late in the afternoon understanding why everyone we had met earlier in the week had urged us to go there. It certainly is not indigenous New Orleans or Cajun cuisine, but when we look back on our dining experiences in the Big Easy, we won’t forget Shaya.
Whitney Plantation Sugar CauldronsThe production of sugar at Whitney Plantation, one hour west of New Orleans, was a round-the-clock-operation tended by some of the plantation's 300 slaves. The dozens of sugar cauldrons at Whitney Plantation form the largest collection in the state of Louisiana.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016 11:38

New Orleans restaurants save the week

        After the culinary disasters of recent days, all is forgotten, if not forgiven, after two days of splendid eating in New Orleans. Our first stop on Sunday night was Domenica, recommended by a nephew who lives in the city and a great way to ease into the The Big Easy's restaurant scene. The invention of Alon Shaya, who has been celebrated for his flavorful Israeli dishes at his eponymous Shaya Restaurant, Domenica is a pizza and pasta palace located just off the lobby of one of the city's famous hotels, The Roosevelt, whose bar serves the city's original sazerac drink. My white clam pizza was properly briny, with Calabrese peppers adding a complimentary but not overwhelming amount of spice. While the edge of the crust was crispy and properly chewy, the bottom was doughy, partly because of slight undercooking but also because of the liquid from the clam sauce. Still, the tastes were nicely balanced. Oohs and ahhs came from my dinner partners and their pasta dishes -- one a dark twirl of squid ink spaghetti, the other a rabbit ragu over linguini. An extra highlight was an unusual beer I ordered, a black lager from a brewery in Gulfport, MS. It was toasty and smooth.

In praise of the pig
        We are staying at the Terrell House on Magazine Street, in the heart of the city's Garden District. It is a large and comfortable old house with balconies, a brick floored garden with a fountain (from whence I write this) and located a short Uber ride from many of the city's top attractions (and restaurants). Last night we ate at one of the hottest in town, Cochon, in the Warehouse District. The eatery's logo is a pig, and our table fell in line, ordering braised pork cheeks with onions (fork tender, porky in taste, an intense but properly sparing sauce), pork and kale soup (intense broth, both the meat bits and kale stars of the dish), and smoked spare ribs in a sweet honey-like glaze, cooked to the proper point, which is to say just before the meat falls off the bone, leaving your teeth to do the slightest of pulling. My wife's rabbit with dumplings, a kind of mellow stew, was served so hot she had to wait a few minutes to dig in, but once she did it was hard to distract her. Our friend's oyster and bacon sandwich, stuffed with fried oysters and a sauce he had trouble describing, except to say it was "delicious," was a bit too unwieldy to eat as a sandwich. Knife and fork to the rescue, the dish losing no punch because of it. But as terrific as all those dishes were, the star for me were the oysters, a half dozen meaty beauties served raw on a bed of rock salt, sprinkled with a chili sauce that knew who the boss of the dish was. It was one of those dishes you don't quickly forget.

Hard to get a bad meal
        New Orleans, like San Francisco and Charleston, is a city in which you almost have to work harder to get a bad meal than to find a good one. We were in a rush to catch an Uber ride to meet a walking tour hostess in the French Quarter and only had 15 minutes for a sandwich. We chose Boulangerie on Magazine Street and all of us ordered the Didon sandwich, a mix of arugula, avocado, smoked turkey and an aioli on the freshest of thick cut six grain bread, perfectly toasted. It was the best fuel we could have asked for to make it through a two-hour walk around one of the most interesting neighborhoods in the U.S.

        This will be a fairly short article, given that I don't want to depress myself any more than two dinners depressed me the last two days. Sometimes you have no choice but to rely on the comments of others when it comes to choosing a restaurant on the road. I learned these last two days just how unreliable that can be.

Damned Trip Advisor
        According to Trip Advisor, Dreamland BBQ in Montgomery, AL, is the second best restaurant in the city. But on a rainy Friday night, Dreamland was a nightmare, it's "sampler plate" showing the full range of its kitchen's ineptitude. The ribs were dry and barely seasoned, with neither smoke nor spice in evidence and no barbecue sauces on the table to help them along (although the platter included a heavily vinegared tomato sauce). The chopped/shredded pork and bits of barbecued chicken were plated almost on top of each other which turned out to be less than a faux pas since, aside from color, they were indistinguishable. Both were bland, tasting neither of pig nor fowl. The cole slaw was good in a deli-counter kind of way, but the only star on the platter was the smoked sausage, as good as I've had and worth the $2 upcharge. Overall, the best thing that could be said of the Ultimate Barbecue Sampler was its price, just $14.95 for a lot of food, almost all of it unmemorable.
DreamlandBBQ.jpg
The Dreamland BBQ "Ultimate" sampler looked good but left something to be desired in the taste category -- except for the wonderful smoked sausage.

Go Fish, Just Not At Boudreaux's
        I've been trying to be a good boy at the dinner table lately, especially at southern seafood restaurants where it is hard to turn down fried anything. I have been opting more and more for whatever a restaurant says is the catch of the day, and the last three pieces of grouper I have ordered were sterling. So at Boudreaux's, Daphne, AL's top restaurant according to Trip Advisor, I had great expectations for what our waitress said was the catch of the day, yellow tail snapper. I would describe it generously as the catch of the week, although what week I cannot be sure. It was as tough as an overcooked steak, the skin both curled and fused against the flesh. It took a surgeon's approach to separate the tough skin from the rest of that sad piece of fish; I left half of it for the trash compactor to struggle with. At $30 -- my wife ordered it as well -- it was the most expensive entree of our week, and the most disappointing of our year.

The Swamp Dries Up
        The fish was so bad it almost made us forget the technical knockout in the appetizer round. Okay, the fried green tomatoes were good, crisply fried and with a nice shrimp remoulade on top. But the Swamp Cakes, which were described as loaded with all manner of seafood, including the bayou's ubiquitous craw dads, was a disaster. When shellfish is pulverized beyond recognition and then mixed with bread crumbs -- a lot of breadcrumbs -- the entire cake takes on the taste of, you guessed it, breadcrumbs. Shellfish is supposed to have a little bit of moisture associated with it (think good crab cakes you have had). The Swamp Cakes tasted like a badly made dry hush puppy on steroids.
        Word to Trip Advisor reviewers. You don't need to give a good review to an overpriced restaurant in order to validate your choice to eat there. When the waitress asked how the meal was, I responded, "It had its moments." She asked if there was anything they could do to make it better. My mind was racing with ideas but instead I muttered, "That's okay. We're good." I couldn't wait to get out of there.

Greek Rides To The Rescue
        Friday, by the way, was not a total loss as we stopped in Macon, GA, a place I always wanted to visit if for no other reason than it once was the home of a minor league hockey team with the coolest name ever, the Macon Whoopee. Macon's downtown area has a nice selection of restaurants that were busy during lunchtime. We chose the Greek Corner Deli for our own lunch. My wife is Greek American and we have made a habit of stopping at Greek restaurants wherever we find one. This was very casual Greek but there was nothing casual about the kitchen's output. My wife loved her chicken souvlaki while my lamb souvlaki was wonderfully marinated and grilled, although the pieces of meat -- which were intended more for the inside of the restaurant's terrfic pita bread -- were oddly shaped, less than a kabob and more like small meatballs and large bullets. But that tasty melange was the best thing I ate in two days.

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