Mr. Miller’s Neighborhood

Glenn and Jan Miller serve up a little deep-fried affection for friends and neighbors at this annual Southside soireé

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Luisa Porter

The dress code extends to hunting vests and long johns; the menu is finger-lickin’ hearty. But don’t be misled — the annual Miller Marine shop party may well be the social event of the year’s end for Columbus’ Southside neighborhood.

To hear Glenn Miller joke, the whole thing began as “an excuse to fry something.” But eight years into its run, the annual gathering has grown into a heralded fête.

“Really, it started around 2004 or 2005 as a way to say thanks,” said Glenn, owner of the boat repair business and a part-time pastor on the Macon Methodist church circuit. He explained about the passing Good Samaritan, the one who noticed the shop door open one night all those years ago and alerted the Millers, whose home is also on Southside.

“Everybody here kinda looks out after everything, and we just wanted to do something to say ‘thank you’ to the neighborhood,” Glenn remarked.

He and his wife, Jan, who serves as district director of the Mississippi Main Street Association, estimate about 200 people attended the 2011 event. That’s a far cry from the shop party’s quiet debut.

“We probably had about 50 folks the first year; I just went to the butcher and got a box of chickens and a box of ribs,” recalled Glenn, wearing an expression of perpetual mirth. Now, a volunteer crew of good friends pitch in to man the cookers and fryers required to feed a small village.

DOWN HOME
Falling every year between Christmas and New Year’s, the shop party is a welcome antidote after a hectic season of glittering social scenes. No pretensions here: Surrounded by warehouse ambiance and portable heaters, guests armed with paper towels feast on fresh barbecued and smoked chicken, ribs, fried catfish, deer wraps and pork tenderloin, all cooked on the spot and served from coolers. Potato salad, hush puppies, “hot” coleslaw and a signature white barbecue sauce round out the repast. And for dessert? Redneck beignets and an assortment of Southern delicacies the crew can’t resist coating in pancake batter and dropping in a fryer.

“Twinkies, Moon Pies, Oreos — you name it, it’s been tried,” Jan said, with an indulgent roll of expressive eyes.

“And I always say, ‘Why not?’” quipped her husband.

He credited Jan with sprucing up the annual affair.

“She got a hold of it a couple of years into it and got things a little more organized. We got tables and chairs, and even moist towelettes,” he chuckled.

Southside neighbor Tommy Hunt has been to his share of shop parties.

“Kind of like the great food, the people are such a wide variety, too,” Hunt said. “What a wonderful chance to visit with some of the folks you don’t see that often. Like so many other Southside things, it just highlights the appreciation of those relationships.”

By late October every year, people start asking, “When are we eatin’?” Glenn reported. When the date is settled, he distributes flyers around the area and even does a little door-to-door to help spread the word.

“And once you’re invited, you’re always invited,” he said, dropping a hand on the tabletop for emphasis. “You know, it’s not rocket science, but I really like to see people eat what we cooked and say, ‘That was the best thing I’ve ever eaten.’ I do.”

The biggest reward, the Millers said, is seeing the cavernous workshop filled with friends, family and customers feeling right at home, enjoying themselves.

“This is just something we love to do together as a family,” smiled Jan. “We like to eat and we like to share.”

“And nobody,” Glenn added, “goes home hungry.”


DEEP FRIED TWINKIES

6 Twinkies, frozen (adjust according to number of people you’re serving)
4 cups vegetable oil
Flour for dusting

• Freeze Twinkies for several hours or overnight.
• Make your favorite pancake batter and refrigerate while grease is heating.
• Dust frozen Twinkies with flour and dip into batter, covering entire cake.
• Place carefully in hot oil in deep fat fryer, about 375 degrees. Twinkies will float; hold under with a utensil to ensure even browning. Cakes should turn golden brown in three to four minutes.
• Drain Twinkies on paper towels. Hot filling! Let sit for five minutes before serving.

(Note: Depending on size of your deep fat fryer, you may be able to fry only one at a time, two at the most.)


REDNECK BEIGNETS

Package of biscuits
4 cups vegetable oil
1 box powdered sugar

• Heal oil to 375 degrees.
• Break open biscuits and plop into heated oil, turning as they brown.
• Take out and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with powdered sugar; serve hot.


KEITH SPELL’S HOT COLESLAW

Serves 12-20 people

1 can drained chopped black olives
3 bags precut slaw mix
1 bottle Green Goddess dressing
1 large jar drained banana pepper rings (save some juice to add to Green Goddess dressing)
Thinly sliced onions (optional)

• Mix together and refrigerate until ready to serve.


WHITE BARBECUE DIPPING SAUCE

Makes 3 cups (enough to cover eight chicken halves)

2 cups mayonnaise
1 cup apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons black pepper
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper

• Mix together and serve over cooked chicken. (Also great as a dip for chicken fingers or chicken wings.)


BOAT SHOP BARBECUE SAUCE

Makes one gallon

32 ounce distilled red vinegar or red wine vinegar
96 ounce ketchup (store brand)
3/4 stick butter
1 cup sugar
1 1/4 ounces Louisiana Hot Sauce
1/8 cup salt
1 1/4 ounces Worcestershire sauce
1/2 lemon, cut into four sections (squeeze and cook with rind)
1/8 cup black pepper

• Slow boil uncovered for 30 minutes, stirring constantly.

(Note: It takes 1 1/2 gallon-pot to hold uncooked ingredients.)