The Ultimate Southern Adventure: Eat Local
Savor a sampling of the American South’s homegrown and down-home dishes.
Along Alabama’s 53 miles (85 kilometers) of coastline, seafood restaurants advertise, “You hook ’em, we’ll cook ’em.” Shipp’s Harbour Grill in Orange Beach has a $15 and up catch-and-cook menu (plus a regular one), and Mikee’s in Gulf Shores fries, broils, blackens, pan grills, or sautés your catch—or you can order off the menu. Sample some southern-style potato salad—different for its spicy-sweet taste from creole or Dijon mustard and added sweet pickles or pickle relish—at Homewood Gourmet, in Homewood near Birmingham. In Montgomery, Mrs. B’s Home Cooking serves southern comfort foods like oxtails, sweet potatoes, collard greens, and corn bread.
Best Bets: Celebrate berry season at the Cullman StrawberryFest in May in Cullman or the Alabama Blueberry Festival in June in Brewton.
Insider Tip: Taste true soul food at Birmingham’s Eagle’s Restaurant (closed Saturdays), which holds only about 30 people. Get there before noon for lunch plates that feature fried chicken, steamed cabbage, and candied yams.
Don’t Miss: In Millbrook, Barber Berry Farm grows over two acres (0.8 hectares) of pick-your-own, pesticide-free blackberries, blueberries, and grapes. Days and hours it’s open vary; check the website in advance or order online.
It’s nicknamed the Peach State, but Georgia produces bounties of fresh fruits, vegetables, and nuts. In the North Georgia mountains, acres upon acres of vineyards grow grapes for visitor-friendly Georgia wineries such as Tiger Mountain Vineyards and Crane Creek Vineyards, which offers beautiful scenery, a tapas menu, and acoustic music on the tasting decks Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m. (reservations advised). Georgia is also the leading producer of pecans in the United States. Look for roadside stands from October to December, or visit a permanent produce market such as Mark’s Melon Patch in Dawson. Travel to Vidalia in Toombs County—one of 20 counties that grow sweet Vidalia onions—for the annual Vidalia Onion Festival in April. For peaches, go to Dickey Farms in Musella during the summer harvest season.
Best Bet: For Georgia’s famous fruit cobblers, head to Mary Mac’s Tearoom in Atlanta or Donovan’s Irish Cobbler in Woodstock.
Insider Tip: Arguably the most famous homegrown Georgia product is Coca-Cola, invented by an Atlanta pharmacist in 1886. Learn about all things Coke at the World of Coca-Cola in downtown Atlanta. Visit the second-floor “Taste It!” exhibit area for free and unlimited samples of Coke products from around the world.
Don’t Miss: Authentic pulled pork barbecue (plate or sandwich) at local favorites like Pink Pig (open Thursday to Sunday) in Cherry Log and Wiley’s Championship BBQ in Savannah.
From fine bourbon and fried chicken to beer cheese and burgoo (a savory stew), Kentucky has plenty on the menu to tempt the taste buds. See how bourbon is made (and get samples) on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The trail’s nine distilleries include the state’s biggest, Jim Beam, and the oldest and smallest, Woodford Reserve. On the trail, you can dip the tip of your own bottle into the distillery’s trademark red wax at the Maker’s Mark gift shop. Alternatively, follow the Beer Cheese Trail in Clark County to taste Kentucky’s favorite spicy cheese spread at places such as Hall’s on the River. Get your fill of beer cheese, beer, and barbecue at June’s Beer Cheese Festival in Winchester.
Best Bet: In Louisville, order a Hot Brown—an open-faced turkey sandwich on thick-cut toast, topped with Mornay sauce and Romano cheese, and garnished with bacon—at its birthplace, the Brown Hotel.
Insider Tip: Colonel Harland Sanders made Kentucky synonymous with fried chicken, and the elegant Claudia Sanders Dinner House (named for the colonel’s wife) in Shelbyville is the place to taste some of the best chicken in the state. Order the family-style option for all-you-can-eat fried chicken, vegetables, and homemade bread.
Don’t Miss: Two Kentucky Derby culinary classics: a slice of Kern’s Kitchen Derby-Pie (chocolate nut pie) and a Mint Julep.
Mississippi loves down-home cooking. The state is the largest producer of farm-raised catfish; the favorite way to prepare it is fried, coated in yellow cornmeal and seasonings. Try it at a true catfish place, Taylor Grocery and Restaurant (open Thursday to Sunday) in Taylor, served with hush puppies and fried okra, plus sweet tea, of course. Aptly named Mississippi mud pie or cake, because it resembles the mud of the Delta, the dessert can be found at the Crown in Indianola (where they serve two versions, Mississippi Delta Fudge Pie and Mississippi Mud Cake) and Roux 61 Seafood & Grill in Natchez.
Best Bets: Cheese straws are another Mississippi favorite, made with cheddar cheese and dough twisted and cooked into a strawlike or crinkle-cut shape. For a taste, head to Indianola Pecan House in Indianola, or order online from the Mississippi Cheese Straw Factory in Yazoo City.
Insider Tip: The slugburger is not made of slugs, but of ground beef with cornmeal, deep-fried and served with mustard, pickles, and a pile of onions on a bun. Eat a slugburger hot and fresh, as cold ones congeal quickly. Try one at July’s Slugburger Festival in Corinth, tucked in the northeastern part of the state.
Don’t Miss: Follow the Mississippi Delta Hot Tamale Trail, a project of the Southern Foodways Alliance.
From Kansas City to St. Louis, Missouri is filled with flavor. The most famous eats are Kansas City barbecue—pork, beef, chicken, lamb, or fish smoked slowly over wood-stoked flames and covered in a sweet sauce of tomatoes, molasses, and spices. Get a taste at Arthur Bryant’s, opened in the 1920s; and Jack Stack Barbecue, noted for its hickory-fired smoked meats. At the other end of I-70, St. Louis lays claim to unique pizza made with unleavened thin crust and a processed cheese named Provel (mainly a mix of cheddar, Swiss, and provolone)—find it at Guido’s Pizzeria and Tapas or Frank & Helen’s Pizzeria.
Best Bet: Visit Missouri wine country and travel the Hermann Wine Trail to seven wineries between Hermann and New Haven.
Insider Tip: Special culinary events—such as the Wild Bacon Wine Trail, during which vintage vino is paired with dishes featuring bacon the first weekend in May (tickets are $30 per person for 2017 and go on sale October 1, 2016)—are held year-round across the state.
Don’t Miss: South of St. Louis in Sikeston, Lambert’s Café is famous for its “throwed” yeast rolls—pieces of bread literally tossed across the dining room to servers—and “pass arounds,” side dishes such as macaroni and tomatoes, fried potatoes, and fried okra served in buckets are wheeled between tables by waitstaff.
South Carolina cuisine has deep cultural roots and links to the sea. She-crab soup, fried green tomatoes, and upcountry shrimp and grits are found in the Blue Ridge Mountains region at Soby’s New South Cuisine in Greenville. From May to November, roadside stands sell boiled peanuts in places like Pelion in the Midlands near Columbia, where the South Carolina Peanut Party (celebrating 35 years in 2016) is held each August. In the food-rich Coast region, sample Low Country and Gullah Geechee dishes—such as fish chowder and sweet potato pie—at Gullah Grub Restaurant and Catering on St. Helena Island.
Best Bets: Charleston favorites serving authentic southern fare include Husk, where specials sometimes include South Carolina shrimp and grits; Hominy Grill, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and the Grocery, serving such dishes as roasted and fried okra and German butterball potatoes.
Insider Tip: For oysters by the shovelful, head to Bowens Island Restaurant, a no-frills, graffiti-covered fish camp in the marsh on James Island outside Charleston. Show up before the 5 p.m. opening time to avoid waiting an hour or so for a table.
Don’t Miss: Get grits—ground whole corn kernels or hominy—at the World Grits Festival in St. George in April 2017, or visit Geechie Boy Grits Market and Mill on Edisto Island where grits are ground in historic mills on the family farm. The store is only open Thursday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., in warm-weather months.
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Biscuits, barbecue, and hot chicken are but a few of the delectable dishes to try on a Tennessee tasting tour. In upper East Tennessee, Johnson City’s Gourmet and Company serves such dishes as yee haw dunkel grilled pork tenderloin, cast iron skillet Sunburst Farms trout, and wood grilled Colorado Bison hanger steak. More nouveau Southern cuisine—such as cornmeal-crusted Mississippi catfish with creamy Shelton Farm grits, house tasso ham, and Tennessee chow chow remoulade—is what’s for dinner at Knoxville’s Knox Mason. In Middle Tennessee, the Jack Daniel’s Distillery, celebrating 150 years in 2016, offers tours and tastings. Savor southern hospitality at Nashville’s Biscuit Love, Hattie B’s Hot Chicken, and the Loveless Café. In West Tennessee, Memphis is the place for Tennessee-style barbeque—pork dry-rubbed with seasoning and eaten wet (with sauce) or dry (without). Sample some at the Rendezvous restaurant or Central BBQ.
Best Bets: Check out Nashville’s Music City Food and Wine Festival in September and Knoxville’s International Biscuit Festival in May.
Insider Tips: Get foodie favorite Benton’s Bacon directly from the source at Allan Benton’s roadside store in Madisonville. Further south in Chattanooga, enjoy a Tennessee classic combo—RC Cola and a MoonPie—at the MoonPie General Store. This famous Tennessee treat turns 100 in 2017.
Don’t Miss: Dutch Maid Bakery and Café in Tracy City, established in 1902 and the oldest family-owned bakery in the state.
Pawpaw, ramps, buckwheat: Try them all—and some more conventional ingredients, too—on a homegrown West Virginia food tour. Pawpaw—green-skinned fruit with yellow-orange pulp—is in season September and October. Eat it fresh or blended into a creamy scoop as a store special in season at Ellen’s Homemade Ice Cream in Charleston. Ramps, aka wild leeks, are like onions with a more pungent punch. Richwood hosts the yearly Feast of the Ramson (the European name for ramps), with its Ramps Recipe contest. For a list of West Virginia ramp dinners, visit Ramps! The King of Stink.
Best Bet: Pepperoni rolls—pepperoni baked into dough—are a more familiar West Virginia favorite. Get your snack on at the Country Club Bakery in Fairmont, which whips up as many as 900 rolls each weekday.
Insider Tip: Buckwheat, a onetime booming crop, is still grown in West Virginia and celebrated at September’s Buckwheat Festival in Kingwood, near Morgantown. Becky’s Café in Kingwood serves buckwheat pancakes throughout the year.
Don’t Miss: Celebrate the state’s local farm heritage by picking your own homegrown crops (such as pumpkins in the fall and blackberries in late summer) at Orr’s Farm Market in Martinsburg.