Thursday, February 17, 2011



People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
                           Rogers Hornsby, Baseball Hall of Fame

Sandpearl Resort Offers Fine Dining After the Game

CLEARWATER, FL. Since the early 1900’s, springtime in Florida resonates with the shout, “play ball.” Today, in cities that host Major League baseball exhibition games, “bon appetite” has equal billing. The gourmet relationship is deep and the possibilities endless.

Clearwater has the Phillies and, tucked seamlessly into the Gulf, the incomparable Sandpearl Resort. After a Yankees–Phillies game, fans have luxury dining options ranging from upscale to toes-in-the-sand. Sandpearl's restaurants have hosted many baseball stars and celebrities, including Chipper Jones, Pedro Martinez and Chase Utley along with comedians Bill Maher, Ron White and Chris Rock. Named for the Loggerhead Sea Turtle, Caretta on the Gulf offers a fine dining experience featuring seasonal cuisine. Chef Kyle Latsha’s tasting menu with wine pairings and dessert is one of my Florida favorites.

The Atlanta Braves play for a month in  Disneyworld. Mickey Mouse and pals are Braves’ fans, cheering them on in a facility nest to unsurpassed entertainment amenities. A perfect dining experience is Luma on Park in Winter Park, one of America’s loveliest cities, Before dinner, take in the Morse Museum which features the most comprehensive collection of the stunningly-beautiful works by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Where else can you watch the Braves play archrival Mets, hook a trophy billfish in the Gulf Stream and enjoy real barbeque?  St. Lucie County is comprised of two cities on the mainland and a barrier island with the Indian River Lagoon, the most diverse estuary in North America and home to over 4,000 species of plants and animals, in between. Port St. Lucie hosts the Mets during spring training while Fort Pierce offers a renewed and revitalized downtown.

After baseball or fishing, there’s good barbeque. Entering Dale’s BBQ, a prophetic sign greets diners:  Through these portals pass the most critical Bar-B-Q eaters on Earth.  May the Lord Have Mercy on Our Competitors. Smoky’s BBQ & Grill specializes in “Hog Size,” menu items, while Boomer’s BBQ encompasses true St. Lucie flavor--the meat is marinated in Indian River citrus fruit.  St. Lucie’s offshore waters are home to a wide variety of game fish: Permit, tarpon, jacks, grouper, snapper, cobia, sailfish, dolphin, wahoo, kingfish, tuna and swordfish. The Indian River Lagoon offers anglers abundant snook, trout, jacks, snapper, tarpon, ladyfish, flounder and reds.  

The Pittsburgh Pirates train at McKechnie Field in Bradenton. Mattison’s Riverside features a spectacular riverfront location.  Both the Sandbar on Anna Maria Island and Beachhouse Restaurant on Bradenton Beach are owned by Ed Chiles, son of Florida's legendary Governor, Lawton Chiles. Diners at the Sandbar who guess the time of the sunset win a bottle of champagne.  

Jupiter is home to the St. Louis Cardinals and the Florida Marlins. Palm Beach County is the epicenter of great dining and legendary watering holes. What could be finer than an afternoon game between the Cards and the Braves, then dressing up for an evening at L’Escalier, the flagship restaurant in The Breakers, America’s luxury hotel? Virginia Philip, the internationally respected Master Sommelier, oversees an impressive cellar.


Yankees players and fans have access to the epicurean wonders of Tampa, their home away from home. Tampa’s Ybor City offers New World Spanish and Cuban cuisine. Gems include The Columbian and Copa’s Latin American Café. The right to be called a gourmet should require at least one meal at Bern’s Steak House. An American legend, Bern’s features a cellar with more than 6,800 impressive wine labels and the wine list, chained to a lectern, is the size of a Guttenberg Bible. Give it up for Bern’s! Five gold stars.

Lakeland’s 74-year relationship with the Detroit Tigers is part of the cultural core of this charming, pedestrian friendly city. Popular with tourists, Lakeland harkens to original Florida, showcasing the majestic Florida Southern College, the only institution designed and built by Frank Lloyd Wright.  Built in the 1920’s, The Terrace Hotel, restored to its original splendor, has the Terrace Grille for exceptional dining and the adjacent bar serves remarkable cocktails. For steak lovers like me, Texas Cattle Company has a national following.

Sarasota is the Baltimore Oriole’s spring training home and the dining mecca where, among many other restaurants, Phillippi Creek serves fresh Gulf seafood and Ophelia’s near Siesta Key presents wonderful food surrounded by romantic ambience. Anna Marie Island’s Beach Bistro remains a gourmet hot spot. The Ringling Museum and Asolo Theater make Sarasota a popular destination for visitors.

Major League baseball combined with fine Florida dining is a home run for tourists. The many cities with major league baseball and fabulous restaurants are just part of the adventure. In the words of Yogi Berra, “If you can’t find it, you ain’t there.”



Saturday, February 12, 2011




 By Doc Lawrence

CHEROKEE, NC—No right-minded Southern boy would turn down an invitation to be with Paula Deen. I left the snow and ice of Atlanta, headed to the Smoky Mountains of Western North Carolina, entering the ancient land of the Cherokee to join an auspicious celebration, a ribbon cutting ceremony for the history-making opening of Paula Deen’s Kitchen in the $630 million Harrah’s Cherokee expansion. There was some icing on the cake: I was able to dine there and even appear onstage with her.

Paula Deen and Chief Michell Hicks Cut the Ribbon

After an earlier event with the ebullient Paula last summer in Atlanta, I began to believe that she and country music star Dolly Parton were meant to be sisters. Both have a magnetic stage presence, audiences connect with them immediately and they are talented daughters of the South who embrace their heritage. Their naturalness, easygoing manner, good-natured humor, songs and food bring joy to the masses. What you see, hear or eat is precisely what you get.

The ceremonies began with Michell Hicks, the eloquent principal chief of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Nation joining Ms. Dean in a press conference welcome with his overview of the Harrah’s expansion and the opening of what already is one of the most popular restaurants this side of Nashville and Atlanta. “We believe in risks,” said Chief Hicks, “and our belief in where we wanted to go is right here with us today.”

One reporter asked Ms. Deen if the new restaurant was the realization of a big dream. “Not exactly,” responded Ms. Deen, one of the most accessible celebrities around. “I had little dreams. I had responsibilities, worked hard and took steps carefully. And, everything started coming together.”

Following the ribbon cutting, I joined other writers for lunch in Paula Deen’s Kitchen, a full-service, 404-seat restaurant serving a la carte breakfast, lunch and dinner, decorated in a style reminiscent of Savannah, Georgia.  I began with a wedge iceberg lettuce blue cheese and bacon salad, a Paula Deen signature dish. Following this was meat loaf (my portion would bring a smile to Henry VIII) along with the best collard greens I’ve had since my baby days in Grandma Stella’s country kitchen. With collard greens, the magic is in the seasoning and the pot likker (a traditional folk tonic for Southerners) had enough mojo to ward off winter flu.

I joined the Food Network star along with her family and friends on stage before three thousand adoring fans, devouring Paula’s filet mignon prepared with a remarkable Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey gravy and sautéed mushrooms, all while she continued to cook and tease the audience.  Paula’s star-power sold out the event center and Harrah's donated $25,000 proceeds to the Cherokee Indian Hospital Foundation for a Digital Mammography Unit. 

The next morning meant breakfast at Paula Deen’s Kitchen. It was appropriately called “The Kitchen Sink,” an assemblage of pancakes, maple syrup, eggs, country sausage and ham, hot biscuits and gravy along with endless cups of good coffee.

I left filled with more than just precious memories of delicious food from this wonderful restaurant, but also with some reflections. From the moment I left my Atlanta home to travel here, I was on land that once belonged to the Cherokee people. I still feel outrage over the horrors of the Trail of Tears, an ugly scar on our country. After the infamous “Trail of Tears,” this North Carolina land actually had to be purchased and for generations the Cherokee lived under the yoke of poverty and all the ills it carries. Today, Harrah’s Cherokee Casino offers more than hope. This enormous investment of private capital (with no counterpart in the South), the completed facilities, all accomplished during difficult economic times, is a testament to the working partnership between the Cherokee leaders and Harrah’s that is having a beneficial ripple effect throughout this region.

There are jobs where not long ago, hopelessness and unemployment reigned. The growing economic ripple benefits cities and counties throughout Western North Carolina, East Tennessee, North Georgia and beyond. This is a magnet for new tourism, an enormous resource almost too huge to measure. Here is the very embodiment of the American Dream.

Paula Deen has teamed with Harrah’s Cherokee to bring a lot of good to this land and these deserving people.

My country at her best.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Hiking, Biking, Paddling and Horseback

Bring Along A Camera!

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. Hardwood hammocks, rookeriesnurturing stork and ibis, palmetto prairies, and the world-famous River of Grass – unique places that make Florida the “Best Trails State” in America– can now be visited online to sample real treks by foot, bicycle, mountain bike, horse, canoe and kayak. Florida’s nationally acclaimed trail system is 8,000 miles of land-based trails and more than 4,000 miles of water trails traversing the Sunshine State, all now profiled online. VISIT FLORIDA and its trail-wise partners offer a new website – details, maps and images of this wonderland of trails. The site provides all the information we need to choose a hiking, biking, equestrian or paddling vacation in Florida, plus online interactions with trails experts and suggestions for booking.

While traveling on trails, all senses are engaged as visitors enjoy up-close views of nature and historical sites, experience life at a slower pace, and reap the fitness benefits of
exercise and fresh air. Trail-goers of all ages can journey along marked and managed trails that led the American Trails organization to name Florida its first-ever “Best Trails State in America.” Paddle down the spring-fed waters of the Wekiva River or gallop through the shady woods of Goethe State Forest. Breathe the salty breezes of the Florida Keys while biking the Florida Overseas Heritage Trail. Or, hike through the Blackwater River State Forest and camp beside this tranquil river to refresh body and mind.

At, viewers can also learn about the Great CalusaBlueway, the Tallahassee-St. Marks Historic Railroad State Trail, Loxahatchee River Canoe Trail, the Cross Florida Greenway and many other splendid trails. The site provides interactive maps, slide shows, videos, links to near-trail campgrounds, hotels and outfitters, and online access to VISIT FLORIDA Outdoors & Nature Insider Kevin Mims, in the field with first-hand reports of what there is to see and do.

Sunday, February 6, 2011



By Doc Lawrence

Along the banks of Alabama’s Black Warrior River near Tuscaloosa, I first met some of the giants of American folk art. The Kentuck Festival of the Arts, one of the finest events of its kind, provided the opportunity to meet Jimmy Lee Sudduth, Reverend Howard Finster, Danny the Bucketman, Myrtice West and many others. The experiences were profound and memorable. Just a few years back while strolling the amazing displays of art at Kentuck, I saw a group of heavy stone carvings which I found irresistible. The artist stood over them and my first meeting with Tim Lewis began.

"Adam and Eve," by Tim Lewis

This was the first of many meetings and dialogues with the gifted Lewis, a self-taught American original whose creations suggest that he will continue to be a growing force in the folk art world. Although Lewis has his stone carvings in the collections of contemporary art superstar Red Grooms and in the homes of scores of other prominent collectors, he is not yet a household name.

That can be explained in part because of the stone medium that is so difficult to shape and not fully understood by many folk art enthusiasts. However, many of the cognoscenti knew enough to trust their instincts about this modest man with the astonishing ability to create such powerful stone carvings, as well as a few museums – among them the Smithsonian Museum of American Art, The Huntington Museum (West Virginia), Columbus Museum of Art (Ohio), the High Museum of Art (Atlanta, Georgia) and the Mennello Museum of American Art (Orlando, Florida) – strong and early perceivers of Lewis’s talent that own examples of his work. The Folk Art Society of America also knew, and they bestowed upon him a special honor – ‘Artist of the Year,’ in October 2007.

As if all that were not enough to validate him it seems that now one thing finally has. Tim Lewis was given a one-man travelling museum exhibition focusing exclusively on his works in stone – ‘Time Made Real: the Carvings of Tim Lewis’.

NOTE: This is excerpted from a feature article by Doc Lawrence in the winter 2011 edition of the international magazine Raw Vision, available on newsstands, by subscription and online at

Lewis’ works can be seen in Nashville at Shelton Gallery:; Bruce Shelton- (615) 477.6221;

Tuesday, February 1, 2011




I was riveted to my seat. It was much more than another meaningful play; it was my home in Decatur, Georgia during my adolescence. My parents, our occasional domestic help, our religious practices and within a short time, the death of my brother and the crumbling of my parent’s marriage. Even today, I look away from mirrors in the morning, preferring to avoid the pain of seeking answers. Horton Foote’s masterpiece garnered a Pulitzer, but it is more than an acclaimed drama. A revelation would be more appropriate. It runs through February at Theatrical Outfit at Atlanta’s Balzer Theatre. There will be no finer production of a wonderfully told story anytime soon. Tom Key, who heads Theatrical Outfit and shines as Will Kidder in the play, offers this insight you will find stimulating.

What is the measure of a great play?  Is it commercial success, critical raves, winning a Tony or Pulitzer?  As powerful as those standards appear when achieved, one is sobered to read the long lists of award-winning “hits,” of which only a comparative few are actually familiar.

My own measure of a great play occurred on my first visit to London.  As I crossed the River Thames on the Waterloo Bridge toward The National Theatre, I saw an enormous marquee displaying the programming of the day:  Hamlet by William Shakespeare that afternoon and The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams that evening.

I was struck with how amazed either playwright might have been to realize that years after their lifetimes, their scripts were still being produced and thousands were seeing their works.  Such longevity and relevance over the course of time and place surely is a mark of greatness.

Even though many of those National Theatre ticket buyers that day knew Hamlet would die by the end of the play and that The Gentleman Caller would not be a good date for Laura, still they came, with the trust that the story would move them.