By Sarah West
It’s Friday evening. The crowd assembles, a line forms, zigzagging ‘round Bow & Arrow’s entrance. An eclectic blend of old country folk and newer grooves render the soundtrack for the staff who usher butcher trays down the line adding farm fresh soul-food sides to smoking cuts of brisket and ribs. Tonight is Friday, this means it is also fried catfish night.
While the crowd sways, peering to read the listed specials in advance, I’ve already made my decision. Who can resist the best catfish around? Light, flaky and hot, right out of the fryer and brought to my table with a refreshing spoonful of house made tartar sauce, my mind was made up.
Then, David appears asking enthusiastically “have you seen my post on Instagram?” Surprised to see this busy chef in front of house, boosting a jubilant social atmosphere along the line, I pause, reach for my phone and scroll. It has been a busy day, with little time for social media. As I search for the insta-news, he can’t resist sharing with us his new dish. I toss my previous decision aside. About the time I find the post, we’ve already heard first hand the delicious works that his team have been smoking for us all day.
Double cut, dry aged and smoked short ribs from Gold Hill Cattle Farm, paired with collard green colcannon and PBR onion rings with butter barbeque sauce. The chef proudly proclaims “I promise these are the best smoked short ribs in the state of Alabama at this very moment.” Like a miner who has just struck gold, or the all too familiar moment an artist paints with a stroke of genius, his enthusiasm for his work lights up the room. His staff shine with pride and the exuberance among the line spills forth. It is contagious and we are all overwhelmed with delight, eager to try his latest creation.
From my table, I can see into the kitchen. Two chefs stack and carefully arrange the components to this dish on a butcher tray. They pause for a photo opp. Although I’m anxious with anticipation, I wait somewhat patiently hoping they catch the right lighting, to share this image with fans and followers far and near. When David arrives, I ask if they captured a picture. In the current age, there is a benefit to imagery, affording all the opportunity to savor the memory of such extravagance long after the occasion. Aside from their intent to share, I too have my intentions. Anything worth writing about should be written, and accompanying pictorial content makes for a pleasant addition.
This occasion calls for special dishes which David pulls from the kitchen. We chat a moment about cutlery, and then retract any statement about it, as for this, none is needed. The meat falls from the bone with savory drips onto the pan. Rich and hearty collard green colcannon pair brilliantly with the butter barbeque sauce. PBR onion rings are a perfect accompaniment for this chef-curated meat and potatoes concoction that is simply satisfying.
Following a dinner of this magnitude, dessert is out of the question. However, recent visits to Bow & Arrow have provided opportunities to pair lighter fare with locally roasted Mama Mocha’s coffee, served conscientiously in your choice of a unique coffee mug. Bow & Arrow in their continued endeavors to be respectful stewards of people and planet have eliminated paper coffee cups and offer straw alternatives. The dessert menu reads like a grandmother’s well-worn cookbook, boasting selections fit for any luncheon on the grounds or lakeside picnic.
When looking for the best pecan or lemon meringue pie, you reach for the heirloom recipe box in the cupboard and you set to work making the faithful recipe passed down through time. The only other way to experience something of worthy resemblance is to make your way to Bow & Arrow and try whatever Chef Caleb Fischer has added to the menu. His banana pudding with homemade vanilla wafers is second to none.
Refreshing as the rain, and as honest as the farm harvest, the work of these Alabama chefs raises the bar.
-Art is Life Expressed- Sarah West
*special acknowledgements to Chef Bancroft, Bow & Arrow and the team of stewards who make every experience exemplary.
Sarah West serves the Opelika Observer as a contributing columnist, with written works of Cultural Arts relevance and prose. She is a preservation, and conservation advocate, activist, and visual artist of American Illustration with a focus on Regional Narrative Painting. She is founder of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art, A Center for Cultural Arts, Smiths Station, Alabama’s premier fine arts destination. She is the appointed Official Artist to the City of Smiths Station, a Lee County syndicated columnist, the director of her art center’s Cultural Arts Outreach Initiative which partners with local schools to make the arts accessible to all.
She also serves a chief curator to the City of Smiths Station, City Hall Art Galleries. She is a founding member of the Smith Station Historic Commission. She is a member of the Women’s Philanthropy Board- Cary Center, Auburn University College of Human Science. She is an elected member of the Society of Illustrators- NYC. She mentors art students of every age through weekly classes at her studio located in the heart of Smiths Station, Alabama. To learn more about her work and activism visit, www.thesarahwestgalleryoffineart.com.