SWOON: Banjo Jim & The Redhead

“Don’t you come home with a Yankee!!”

When he left his Marietta, GA home for the big bad land of Northern Aggression in 2004, Big D took with him, among other things, that stern warning from his mama. Two years later the words still echoed thru his head and jokingly fell out of his mouth on one of our first dates. Two years after that we were engaged. (Sorry mama!)

DATE NIGHT NYC: Taking D to eat “southern” in NYC is not bad. He’s curious but skeptical, having reminded me at least once that he was “raised on good food.” The Redhead is a bar that has morphed into a bar-ish-restaurant serving Sunday dinner comfort food and known for its bacon peanut brittle and its chicken fried pork rib “Devil Bones.” The décor is clean and minimal and the staff is ultra-accomodating.

There is something in the butter. And D refuses to let it leave the table. It’s that good. As is our shrimp & grits appetizer. These grits are substantial, more of a rough chop than a fine mill, with perfectly seasoned shrimp and a chunky sprinkling of andouille sausage. My main course fried chicken is light and juicy with a crackly/crispy crust and served with a savory/sweet multi-textured spinach salad. The best thing about the cornbread was it gave me an excuse to eat more of that crack-butter. For desert, we split the salted caramel Ho Ho. It is a weird mix of sweet and chocolaty with a hint of saltiness in the caramel cream filling. Heaven!

After dinner, we strolled thru the East Village until we stumbled upon a scrappy dive on the corner of 9th St. & Avenue C. Banjo Jim’s is awash in the reddish glow of Christmas tree lights. A garland of green mylar cacti dangle from the ceiling and posters for the upcoming mandolin contest stud the walls. The L shaped corner bar is lined with ladies and sweaty cans of PBR. All the while, crooner Megan Palmer fiddles old-timey originals and covers in the front corner by the door. Here, in the belly of Alphabet City, a whiff away from Latin-fare mainstays Casa Adele and Esperanto and across the street from La Plaza Cultural community garden, we found a honky tonk.

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