We were enjoying an excellent dinner of coastal cuisine at Villagio Grille on Alabama’s Orange Beach area. It was fantastic, particularly the Gulf oysters. The Gulf used to provide a huge percentage of the oysters consumed in the United States. Lately, of course, many of the oysters shucked and served in Chicago come from the West and East Coasts. Even at a world-class oyster emporium like Shaw’s Crab House, which serves a daily dozen oyster varieties from a constantly changing list, it’s rare to find Gulf oysters. There could be a lot of reasons for the lack of Gulf oysters on Chicago menus: truth be told, Gulf oysters sometimes lack the bold brininess of West Coast oysters and the subtle minerality of East Coast oysters. Gulf oysters seem to shine, however, in cooked preparations, and at many Alabama coast locations we found them grilled with garlic and Parmesan. Because these oysters are harvested from local waters, they’re relatively inexpensive compared to oysters in Chicago. There’s more about the outstanding gulf food in a Newcity article I wrote last year: http://resto.newcity.com/2014/12/09/dining-destinations-the-alabama-coast/#sthash.3QejLYXc.dpuf.
But the lasting impression from that dinner had nothing to do with food. I was sitting with two women, one from Mississippi and one from Alabama. I mentioned to them that earlier I’d witnesses something I would never see in Chicago. They were both interested, or seemed to be, so I went on…
After arriving at our hotel, Caribe Resort, I decided to stroll to the nearby white sand Orange Beach. On my way, I passed by a beachside bar/restaurant, and I stopped to let a big red flatbed truck go by. In the back of the truck was a shirtless young man wearing a baseball cap and holding a large “Confederate flag,” the well-known stars and bars (quotes are necessary, because as we well know, the Virginia battle flag bears little resemblance to any of the official flags of the Confederate States of America).
Hearing that story, both of the Southern gals said, simultaneously and dismissively, “Rednecks!”
The woman from Alabama then pointed out, with a hint of self-recrimination, that the Alabama state flag is pretty much modeled on the “Confederate flag,” red diagonals on a white field, the bars without the stars. The Mississippi woman pointed out, with a tone of disbelief, that the flag of her state actually contains a smaller version of the “Confederate flag” where the stars would be on the American flag.
The South, of course, is not monolithic. There are folks like my dining companions who dismiss the attachment to this flag as a symptom of Redneckism (itself a kind of class intolerance that is a little uncomfortable) and there are folks there who will fly the “Confederate flag” to make a statement. Those statements may be different, some claiming heritage and others expressing winking racism, but one thing’s for sure: lots of people south of the Mason-Dixon line feel the flag is an embarrassment, a reminder of a harsh past, and something that needs to be swept into the dustbin of history. I believe it will be.