Thursday, December 24, 2009

24 DEC 09: The Butler's Done It

Right when I think I've visited every nice restaurant in Columbus, I'm reminded of one or two I've missed. My last chance to try one of them vanished Wednesday -- like so many potato peels down a garbage disposal.

The Butler's Pantry closed its two Columbus locations, after 24 years in business. The deli on Auburn Avenue was especially popular - and now the staff at Temple Israel may have to cast lots to determine the most kosher place left for lunch.

WLTZ showed a "memory wall" inside the Auburn Avenue location, where customers left going-away messages. Several heaped special praise on the chicken salad at The Butler's Pantry - which only proves we're in the South, where many residents are programmed to eat chicken at least every other day.

But if all goes well, the chicken salad will not disappear completely. The Butler's Pantry plans to shift its focus away from delis, to products for grocery stores and other restaurants. That seems to be a trend in the food business - although I'm still waiting for supermarkets to carry something from Dunkin Donuts other than coffee.

The Butler's Pantry will partner with Columbus Gourmet to put its most popular items in grocery stores. I knew Columbus Gourmet was over Kendrick Pecans - but I didn't realize until I checked online that it also offers "Dodge City Steaks." That's yet another sign we're in the South. I grew up in Kansas City, where no one ever referred to steaks as coming from western Kansas.

But there's an intriguing side story at The Butler's Pantry, which you might have overlooked. The business has been owned for about six years by Trip and Teresa Tomlinson - yes, the Teresa Tomlinson who's in charge of MidTown Inc. So she's closing her own deli in the heart of her own beloved neighborhood. But please, pay more attention to the nice new trees and brickwork on Wynnton Road.

On top of that, Columbus Gourmet opened a new office earlier this month in the Corporate Ridge Industrial Park. That's on Cargo Drive - well outside the MidTown Inc. boundaries. But come to think of it, Schatulga Road has had a shortage of retail shops for even more years than MidTown....

The Butler's Pantry web site was NOT updated Wednesday night, to reflect the closing of its retail shops. But it includes this quote from Teresa Tomlinson: "The Butler's Pantry is part of the character of this community." So was the Kinnett Dairy - which is now down to a wayward cow outside a Best Buy store.

Keep in mind that Teresa Tomlinson has been rumored as a possible candidate for Columbus Mayor next year. Could a shift in business strategy for The Butler's Pantry hurt Tomlinson's image with voters - that she doesn't love MidTown enough to keep her own business there? Or will male voters ignore that, and simply consider her the best-looking candidate in decades?

Fans of The Butler's Pantry will be able to make one last "pick-up" sometime in January, when the furnishings from the two locations go on sale. I'm more curious to learn who will get custody of what the web site calls "an extensive collection of small, eclectic" wines. Will the Tomlinsons keep them - or perhaps ship them to Eclectic, Alabama?

Now let's see if we can make chicken salad out of sense of other Wednesday news:

+ Which areas of Fort Benning are making employees work today, when they've supposedly been off on 24 December in other years? I really can't imagine soldiers are going to stage a Benning Tea Party, to mark the health care reform vote.

+ Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue asked Attorney General Thurbert Baker to examine whether the state can file suit, to block the Senate's health care reform bill. The governor should look on the bright side. The way it's written right now, low-income people could flee Georgia for Nebraska in record numbers.

+ Acquitted attorney Mark Shelnutt told WLTZ he put in "20-hour days" preparing for his federal trial. He shouldn't really complain about that - because all those "20 hours" kept him from receiving 20 years.

+ The Russell County Commission voted 4-3 to accept a merger agreement of animal shelters with Phenix City. Commissioner Peggy Martin said it came down whether the county would buy out the city's shelter, or the city would buy out the county's shelter. About 60 years ago, this might have been settled with a big poker game on Broad Street.

(Members of the Russell County Animal Shelter board don't like the merger. They say Phenix City doesn't want to pay for a veterinarian to visit the animals every day. Maybe city council members plan to stop by, after hanging around City Hall for hours each day.)

+ A nightclub on Broadway held a contest to find the "tackiest Christmas sweater." If you have one that's a mix of bright red and forest green, remember something -- it's also appropriate for Cinco de Mayo, because you'll look like the Mexican flag.

+ The University of Alabama announced a lack of money will prevent 25 alternate members of the marching band from traveling to California, for the Bowl Championship Series title game. Isn't this amazing? Even the "Million Dollar Band" has lost some value to inflation.

+ Roundball Night in Dixieland (tm) featured Georgia's men flattening Florida Atlantic 77-60. The Stegeman Coliseum scoreboard malfunctioned at one point, and showed 1:82 to play [True/WHAL-AM]. Die-hard Athens rock fans saw that time, and blinked.

(Am I the only one who thinks it's weird to hear Dennis Felton as an analyst on the Bulldog Radio Network? He was Georgia's head coach less than a year ago -- and he was fired, instead of resigning. Is Felton talking up the Bulldogs with severance payments, or hush money?)

+ Instant Message to the organizers of the Tour de Georgia bike race: Too bad you've called off the event again for 2010. Columbus has a challenging new course nearly ready to use - and I'm sure the contractors could leave a few railroad ties on it, to make things more challenging.

2009 IN REVIEW CON'D: May was marked by several major moves in Columbus. The Mildred Terry library branch was moved to a new location. Wayne Bennett moved off the TV anchor desk, and tried to move to Panama. But amazingly, no one seemed moved enough to protest a revival by Dr. Jeremiah Wright.

(We say "tried to move" because Wayne Bennett is telling friends he now lives in Florida. If I had to choose, the Panama City in Florida probably would be more in my comfort zone as well.)

This blog broke a big education story in May - the suspension of a Georgia teaching certificate for once-praised Rigdon Road School Principal Phyllis Jones. So does anyone know what she's doing these days? Is Jones living out her retirement dream, by attending the wrestling matches in Phenix City?

The Muscogee County School Board voted in May to begin a new health curriculum for ninth-graders, promoting abstinence. But it's being implemented over four years - so for awhile, "WAIT-Training" is more likely to refer to the Carver High School football team.

May also was the month when Mark Shelnutt was indicted on 40 federal counts -- including alleged bribes involving University of Georgia football tickets. Shelnutt wound up 40-0, while the Bulldogs went 7-5. So you tell me who's more likely to be the "hot ticket" in 2010.

May was a historic month in Phenix City. The mayor and council voted themselves a big pay raise, only weeks after two members quarreled in the middle of a meeting. Love may conquer all, but a profit-sharing plan can come pretty close....

But not all was well in Russell County during May. The Boys and Girls Clubs lost their charter. Phenix City Mayor Sonny Coulter declared the Phenixian project as good as dead. And the discovery of an eight-foot-long alligator in Fort Mitchell should have been a sign that many lawns would become swamps.

May was the month Columbus lost the Spanish-language radio station "Viva 1460." I miss that station at this time of year - because if they're playing annoying Christmas music, I'm much less likely to know it due to fast-talking singers.

But not all the news was depressing in May. Restaurateur Scott Ressmeyer went on a cross-country motorcycle ride for charity. Lance Foods announced an expansion in Columbus. And the "Fountain City" nickname gained new popularity - albeit when Deputy Fire Chief Jerry Fountain was arrested.

A new amateur baseball team for Columbus gained a nickname in May - the Woodbats. So far, the managers are living up to their promises. I've yet to hear a single threat to move the team to Kentucky.

SCHEDULED FRIDAY: Since so many others are doing it, we try a cost-cutting experiment....

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