There’s no denying that the American South has a culture all its own. And, like many places, a big part of that culture centers on food. I grew up on this cuisine and always look forward to my visits back home to indulge in biscuits and gravy, shrimp and grits, fried chicken and all that goes with it—things like fried green tomatoes and greens. Yum! Here are some of my favorite spots for indulging across the South.
Starting your day with biscuits and gravy is a long time tradition in the South. Biscuit Head in Asheville, North Carolina kicks that tradition up a notch. Husband and wife team, Jason and Carolyn are good people. Aiming to leave as small a carbon footprint on the planet as possible, everything used in their restaurants is either compostable or recyclable. They also work as much as possible with local providers and participate in community projects to help feed the hungry. Biscuit Head was born as a way for them to share their love of southern cooking.
The menu has all kinds of delicious choices. Indulge in the big flaky biscuits by ordering a gravy flight. Choose from three of these incredible options: pork espresso red eye gravy, fried chicken gravy, pork sausage gravy, house-made veggie “chorizo” gravy, sweet potato coconut gravy and mushroom medley gravy. If you’d prefer a breakfast sandwich, give the biscuit, country ham and fried green tomato sandwich a try. And whatever you do, don’t leave without trying the biscuit donut—trust me on this one.
Mildred Cotton Council opened Mama Dip’s on a Sunday in November 1976 with just $40 for purchasing food and $24 to make change. It worked out just fine and now over 40 years later, Mama Dip’s is one of the most beloved restaurants in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Mama Dip (Mildred) is still working there alongside her children and grandchildren.
I visited with a group of writers from around the country—none of them southern. So it was up to me to explain what they needed to try. Things like fried okra, squash casserole, lima beans, pulled pork barbecue, fried chicken and fried catfish. And when it was time for dessert, of course they had to sample the pecan pie and banana pudding.
Located on a shady lot in downtown Chapel Hill just blocks from the University of North Carolina, Mama Dip’s is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Come hungry—you definitely won’t leave that way.
“Meat and three” restaurants are a time-honored tradition in Nashville, Tennessee, and one of the best in the city is Dandgure’s Cafeteria. A meat and three is exactly what it sounds like: choose a meat and three sides and they’ll slap it on the tray for you. Add to that some cornbread and sweet tea, and you have yourself an abundance of good “vittles” to get you through the day. Opened since 1991, Dandgure’s doesn’t look like anything special with a smattering of tables with mismatched chairs and a cafeteria line. Pick up your tray just like when you were in elementary school, choose your meat from the daily offerings (things like country ham, fried whiting, meatloaf, beef tips and rice and fried chicken) noted on the chalk board above the line and pick your three vegetables. It’s simple, delicious food just like your mama would make—if your mama was from the South that is.
If you’ve ever been to Charleston, South Carolina, you know that it is a foodie’s dream. But if you’re looking for good basic southern fare, look no further than Jestine’s in downtown Charleston on Meeting Street. You’ll know it by the line of hungry locals and tourists waiting outside for a table. It’s worth the wait.
Jestine’s is named for Jestine Matthews who was born in the low country in 1885. Her mother was a Native American and her father was the son of a freed slave. Jestine went to work for the Ellison family in Charlotte and became a life-long friend of the family. Dana Berlin, owner of Jestine’s Kitchen, is the Ellison’s granddaughter and the restaurant is her way of sharing the home cooking and warm atmosphere Jestine provided for generations of friends and family.
On the menu you’ll find sweet chicken and lima beans, sausage gumbo, shrimp and grits, meatloaf and pecan fried chicken and catfish. Sandwich choices include a BLT made with fried green tomatoes and a true southern choice: peanut butter and banana. The beverage menu includes southern classics like YooHoo, RC Cola, Cheerwine and Jestine’s “Table Wine” a/k/a sweet tea. Save room for dessert because Jestine’s Sweet Shop has daily choices you won’t want to miss—it’s a slice of pie heaven.
When Over Yonder is the restaurant’s name, you just know it’s going to be serving up some tasty southern specialties. Through his creations, Chef Andy Long tells the story of historic Appalachian cuisine. Located in the pretty little village of Valle Crucis, North Carolina, Over Yonder is housed in the former homestead of the Taylor family, one of the founding families of Valle Crucis. Chef Andy says his mission is to source the best products he can then do his best not to screw it up. He’s definitely not screwing it up.
Menu choices include such good things like Iron Grilled Pork and Beef Meatloaf with cheesy grits and butter beans. And if you want something truly decadent, order the tomato cobbler—stewed tomatoes and onions layered with cheddar, parmesan, and a biscuit crust. It’s like an upside down southern pizza in a bowl.
The drink menu has a selection of refreshing cocktails with a moonshine base. I tried the Shinearita—the South’s version of a margarita made with paw paw’s moonshine, orange liqueur, Meyer lemon and key lime sour topped with a pickled okra. Oh my!
James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock’s restaurant, Husk in Nashville, Tennessee has one rule about food: if it isn’t from the South, it’s not coming through the door. Located in Rutledge Hill just a few blocks south of Historic Broadway in the heart of downtown Nashville, Husk is housed in the former home of Dr. John Bunyan Stephens. Built between 1879 and 1882, the home’s history includes such important residents as Mayor Richard Houston Dudley when he was elected in 1897. Husk’s interior space enhances the building’s roots with a cosmopolitan flair.
And the food, well, let’s just say it elevates those traditional southern favorites to an entirely new level. The menu changes daily but there are a few things that are always present—things you shouldn’t miss like the house made pimento cheese topped with pickled jalapenos and served with Benne wafers. The menu always includes fish, chicken and beef options: things like “Supper Grilled NC Catfish” or some of the best shrimp and grits you’ll ever taste. Look for the daily menu on Husk’s website along with featured suppliers. At Husk no matter what’s for supper, it’s going to be incredible.
What’s your favorite southern dish?
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Terri Marshall is a New York City based freelance writer whose work includes travel, spirits, and all things chocolate. Terri's work appears in several publications. She has been a featured guest on Peter Greenberg's Worldwide Travel radio program and Denver's KZKO Radio Morning Express show. Terri will not hesitate to go to the source for great chocolate - even if that means hiking through the jungle and picking cacao pods herself.
Happiest when she's globetrotting, Terri has covered destinations all over the United States, Europe, and into Central and South America. Favorite adventures include reindeer driving in Norway and fishing for piranhas in the Amazon jungle of Peru. You can keep up with Terri's adventures on her website www.TrippingwithTerri.com. You can also find her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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