So there we were in one of our favorite haunts, the City Market in Brunswick. For years during our annual spring break camping trips on Jekyll Island, we have frequented the City Market to purchase fresh shrimp, fish and sometimes crab to take back and cook at our campsite.
The City Market is one of those comfortable old places. If you're there for your first time or your 100th time, you feel like you are right at home.
For years and years and years, a giant of a man with a red crew cut worked the counter, assisted by an ageless old guy with tattoos completely covering his deeply tanned forearms. I have never known his name, and he has never said much. Now, he mostly sits on a stool in the corner. I have tried to draw him into a conversation on numerous occasions, but he doesn't seem to be very interested in talking. A typical exchange would go something like this:
Me: "Shrimp running pretty good this year?"
Him: "Hmmmmp," which could mean yes, no, maybe or kiss my foot.
One time I asked him how many fish it would take to feed 20 people, and he answered, "Hard to say."
That was his longest response to date, but I've only been trading with him for about 28 years, so there is still hope.
Another thing I like about the City Market is the fact that they have Georgia paraphernalia all over the walls and counters. Can't go wrong in a place like that.
Well, Red has gone on to that great market in the sky, but judging from the tint of his hair, the fellow now running the place must be a descendant.
At any rate, the fish is always fresh, the prices are always reasonable and the conversation always friendly at the City Market, and I would go there any time I visited the coast, even if cooking shrimp, fish and crab weren't among my favorite things to do.
We have just returned from our annual pilgrimage to the Golden Isles, and this year we had an added treat while shopping for seafood. I got to meet a local celebrity - nay, make that a local legend. Let me tell you about it.
We were waiting for our flounder to be filleted when a great big, gregarious-looking fellow walked in. He was built like Babe Ruth and had gleaming black skin and a devilish twinkle in his eye. He wore one of the most stylish leather driving caps I had ever seen, and you could tell by the way he carried himself that he was somebody special. I immediately struck up a conversation about catfish, because that's what he was buying. Besides, catfish is one thing in the world that I know enough about to talk intelligently with any man.
My new friend grumbled about the price of filets a little and explained that he and his buddies used to throw catfish away when they caught it because it was considered such a poor fish. Then he bought a quart of select oysters and demanded that they be a "good quart, too" and "the best you got."
He explained to me that he was cooking them in brown gravy, along with some pan-seared catfish and some shrimp.
Then he promised me that if I went home with him to eat that I would never want to go back to my wife's cooking. While paying for his purchases, he grumbled a little more about the "high prices," but you could tell he didn't mean a word of it. I jumped in and told him, "A man that wears a hat like yours has to have plenty of money."
To which he replied, "Now you see, that's where you are wrong. I've got all my money tied up in this hat. You must be the one with the money 'cause the hat you are wearing couldn't have cost much at all."
After a come-back like that, I had to find out who he was - so I asked him.
He said, "I'm Alfonso," as if that answered everything. And in fact it did.
I was in the presence of Alfonso the Great of The Plantation Supper Club, long an institution on St. Simon's Island and one of the best places that ever served grits to purchase a meal at.
Alfonso closed his restaurant a few years back after some human garbage robbed him, beat him and left him for dead. I had never met Alfonso, but his reputation, as they say, preceded him, and I was thrilled to find myself in his presence. I even asked him about the robbery. He told me that "I was the last person in the world I thought would ever get robbed because I would give anybody anything I had."
But before we said our goodbyes, I made Alfonso promise to cook for me at his home one day, and I believe that he will, too.
A man who wears a hat like Alfonso's wouldn't think about lying. And I can't wait. I hope he has oysters in brown sauce the day I go to see him.
Happy Easter, y'all. I hope you enjoy your day as much as I plan on enjoying mine.
Darrell Huckaby is a local educator and author. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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