Eight of the best culinary experiences in the American Deep South
Drawing on produce from the sultry bayous of Louisiana all the way to Georgia’s Atlantic coastline, and influenced by waves of immigration over the centuries, the gastronomic highlights of the Deep South vary region to region.
As a catch-all, the term ‘Deep South’ fails to convey the diversity of cooking on offer from the marshy, shellfish-rich bayou to the barbecue-mad Carolinas. The best flavours come with a story going back generations — a cheap way around rationing, a reaction to Prohibition or a canny way to use milk that’s gone sour. Often, you’ll hear this tale, unsolicited, after you’ve ordered. Chefs worldwide have co-opted and elevated the South’s greatest hits, but they never taste as good as when served simply with a ‘Hey y’all’ in the shade of an oak.
1. Café du Monde, New Orleans, Louisiana
Many of us are caught at some point in New Orleans with white powder on our face. It’s the beignets, silly, the world’s most moreish doughnut-style treats, dusted with more icing sugar than seems decent. Café du Monde has sold them for what seems like forever; at least, since the Acadians first brought the recipe down from Canada, in the mid-19th century anyway.
Top tip: The historic French Market location is open 24 hours. Come early to feed your jet lag and avoid the hordes, then watch the sun rise over the Mississippi.
2. Pecan Trail, Florence, South Carolina
If you want to experience the love small town America feels for its natural resources, visit Florence in November, when South Carolina’s mammoth pecans are literally falling from above. The town hosts its annual Pecan Festival the first Saturday, with eight live-music stages, a pie cook-off and attendance of roughly 100%. You can load up on pralines any time of year at Young Plantations or the Farmers’ Market.
Top tip: Peaches more your thing? Drive 30 minutes further to McLeod Farms in McBee for South Carolina’s finest, plumpest freestones.
3. Regina’s Kitchen, Natchez, Mississippi
Regina Charboneau, a decorated chef and celebrity in her native Natchez, Mississippi, launched a cooking academy after lockdown lifted in the town’s antebellum centre. Her slate of classes (from around £38 for an hour) covers souffles, sauces and buttermilk biscuits, the recipe that made her famous. Participants are kept to 12 or less and invited — urged — to bring their own Champagne or wine.
Don’t miss: The 1.5-hour Sunday Brunch & Biscuit session, with instruction for grits, shrimp and omelettes.
4. Mosquito Supper Club, New Orleans, Louisiana
Bayou-raised chef Melissa Martin launched Mosquito Supper Club as a weekly affair, then as a floating houseboat party. This year, she’s expanded her simple seafood suppers to four nights a week in her home dining room and opened the doors to incorporate the porches and garden. Her menu features the recipes of her foremothers: crab claws, gumbo and fried-shrimp boulettes (dumplings). Reservations are mandatory.
Don’t miss: The raw oyster platter, inspired by her oyster-fisherman father, and the briny oyster soup her mother concocted.
5. Good People Brewing, Birmingham, Alabama
Alabama’s oldest, largest, most central microbrewery has to fend off the superlatives. Yet the experience of sipping a pale ale on Good People’s porch is as low-key as it gets in Birmingham — nay, the South. Walk-in tours (£10) include a pint and the glass it comes in. Food trucks often roll up for theme nights, though you can BYO takeaway any time.
Top tip: The beloved Birmingham Barons play at the baseball stadium next door. Sync your visit with a home game, checking the schedule before your trip.
6. The Grey, Savannah, Georgia
Mashama Bailey is one of the most lauded black female chefs in America for good reason. Visit her converted Greyhound bus station on Savannah’s MLK Boulevard for the Southern fusion. Sit at the Art Deco bar for spicy bloody Marys and Cuban pork sandwiches blanketed with melted Swiss cheese or settle into a deep banquette for the four-course oysters-to-ribeye dinner (£54).
Don’t miss: Bailey’s plump, golden fried chicken – on the menu at every meal – and a side of hoe cakes (a cornbread variant).
7. Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall, Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta’s most festive new restaurant is also the social heart of the city, with the first terrace to open right on the BeltLine Eastside cycle trail, at mile-marker 9.25. Come at twilight for the ‘gather round the campfire’ seating and the house chili dogs (from £8), an Atlanta staple. The canned beers hail from Three Taverns Brewery, just up the road.
Top tip: The Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park, home to his family church, birthplace and tomb, is just a quick walk away.
8. Sweatman’s Bar-b-que, Holly Hill, South Carolina
Barbecue is a Deep South institution and South Carolina’s — dominated by pulled pork in tangy mustard sauce — is the most distinctive variety. Halfway between Charleston and Columbia, Bub and Margie Sweatman’s cultivates attention by roasting whole hogs over hand-split wood behind the shingled cabin, Fridays and Saturdays only. The all-you-can-eat buffet, supplemented with fried chicken, ribs and zero pretension, justifies Sweatman’s popularity. Doggie bags forbidden, alas.
Don’t miss: The banana pudding, another SC delicacy, heavy on custard and cream. Save room.
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