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More to Southern cuisine than barbecue


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I love barbecue. I seek barbecue. I'm nonpartisan and open to all kinds -- even Texas. In my kitchen, I have a framed series of pictures that document my father feeding me my first spare rib when I was 14 months old. (Other people have pictures of their first step. My family took pictures of my first 'cue. This makes sense to me.)

But still . . . all every visitor to the great state of North Carolina wants to know is: Where's the barbecue? From the Food Network producers scouting locations to the guys coming in for the pharmacy convention, they all ask the same thing.

If I read one more Bon/Gour/Saveur piece that starts out "In the land of chicken-fried steak, who would have believed there would be (fill in the blank -- Vietnamese food, Mexican food, fine dining, sophisticated ingredients.)

I'm not really sure what my question is here. I guess I'm just wondering:

What will it take to get the South recognized for more than the sum of its cliches?

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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As someone who, not all that long ago, had to explain that in the South we not only had indoor plumbing, but that many of us had cell phones and cable TV, I am reluctant to defend those benighted souls whose refuge is stereotype.

But in fact, the juxtaposition of disparate elements can be played out all over the country, if not the world. Since it can't be avoided, Southerners, as the keepers of America's richest culinary heritage, should be working to correct this sort of thinking. For instance:

  • How many restaurants in Seattle can serve grits properly?
  • Is there a place in Chicago to get good Frogmore Stew?
  • What will it take to get better than mediocre barbecue in New York City?

Just to start.

Dave Scantland
Executive director
dscantland@eGstaff.org
eG Ethics signatory

Eat more chicken skin.

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Actually Kathi, probably my first meal in North Carolina when Rachel and I come down in a month or two to buy furniture, Barbeque will be my first and probably my second meal. And maybe even my third.

However, after I am sick of it, you and Varmint are more than welcome to show us what else you got. :biggrin:

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I don't necessarily get tired of that question, but I'm not the food editor of a major city's newspaper, either! However, I do think that people outside of the South ignore our region's culinary relevance.

Let me make myself perfectly clear:

The culinary history, legacy and relevance of the South is the strongest of any region in the United States.

I'll try my darnedest as moderator of this forum to demonstrate that this statement is correct. And this legacy is being carried on today by some of the top chefs in the country who would make a killing in New York, but they just don't want to live there. Yes, we are more than the some of our parts, and no, we don't have an inferiority complex. We know what we have and we like it. Some day, the others will learn.

And Jason, we'll take you to those other places, too!

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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What will it take to get the South recognized for more than the sum of its cliches?

I wonder if any of the Northeastern or West Coast newspapers would be willing to run an editorial by you on this subject.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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Well, the sort of condescension you're talking about is inexcusable. And as Dave points out, it's not limited to food, but rather is part of a general stereotyping of the South.

That said, it seems to me that it's the negative, flip side of a really wonderful phenomenon, namely Southern food traditions. Nobody visits Seattle or Minneapolis and asks about the best [insert local dish here] because those areas don't have distinctive regional cooking cultures. So I don't think it's wrong to look for Southern food in the South: when I plan a trip down to Savannah, I schedule in meals at Wall's BBQ or the Lady and Sons or Johnny Harris or the Crab Shack, not Elizabeth's. Elizabeth's is a terrific restaurant, but it's not terrific in a way that's significantly different from what I can get in Philly. But I can't get hoecakes or cornbread up here that compares to what I can get at the Lady.

It is obnoxious that perception of what constitutes Southern food tends to start and finish with barbecue and a few other dishes. (Though let's be honest- most Americans west of Missouri or north of Virginia have no idea what barbecue is (or how it differs from grilling), let alone the regional variations.) So that's an argument for further proselytizing, on the part of eGulletteers, as well as others.

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What will it take to get the South recognized for more than the sum of its cliches?

A couple more decades of massive immigration from civilized parts of the country. But that's just a theory.

What will it take to get better than mediocre barbecue in New York City?

A couple more decades of massive immigration from the less-civilized parts of the country. But that's just another theory.

Edited by Stone (log)
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What will it take to get the South recognized for more than the sum of its cliches?

A couple more decades of massive immigration from civilized parts of the country. But that's just a theory.

What will it take to get better than mediocre barbecue in New York City?

A couple more decades of massive immigration from the less-civilized parts of the country. But that's just another theory.

Actually, as much as I might like to see this sort of melding, I think its even odds that such in migration could as easily hurt the regional cusine and lead to further globalization/los angelesation/assimilation.

I'm hollywood and I approve this message.

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born & raised n the south, but having lived "up north" for many yrs - i am still a southerner mentally & @ heart. to answer your question kpurvis - no 1 will ever come up with a satisfactory answer. particularly those who have never spent much time "down south", but somehow feel compelled to provide their insights (?).

its sort of like why is it there is not really a very parisian-like bistro in nyc? is it simply because we are NOT n paris? is it because that with most every french bistro here - u are greeted by someone, served by, table cleared - by those who are NOT french? is it because almost no one speaks french in all these faux pas french bistros? to save unnecessary replies, obviously there are a few - ex. - la goulue, but generally that statement is true. i'm hard pressed to think of 1 that is remotely reminiscent of sitting in chez josephine. one could say balthazar/pastis; one would not understand. they are movie sets with the wrong actors, orchestrated by a brit, no less! although both are fun, have buzz, but french - mais non!!

one may ask - what is the south? very few can even agree on that, ex. is texas really southern??

regarding the best food ever "invented": bbq - what defines that delicacy? pork? beef? sauced via: vinegar-based? tomato-based? mustard-based? dry or wet ribs? cole slaw on bun or as a side? potato salad? white bread? sweetened or unsweetened tea? etc, etc ... the fact is - it's more of a "feeling" - tactile in nature, like tannin; either u have it or u don't. if u don't, one can't begin to comprehend what makes a "southerner" whether they live n nyc, paris, or camden, south carolina.

southern food, for some reason, is hard to travel. sylvia's, which many think is southern, is more about a history involving a cultural background, but that is way too deep to present here. jezabel's would be somewhat in the same category. blue smoke is, well "a joke", but danny meyer has been successful, so i guess no one really gets that joke. virgil''s? also a joke - no self respecting southerner would have a bbq "place" (not joint, btw) serving so many different bbq presentations; sort of like a cantonese, shanghai, szechuan, bejing restaurant under 1 roof!

somehow, southern food is considered not cosmopolitan enough, or perceived as simpler food. but oddly when people frequent restaurants in savannah & charleston, they rave & wonder why they can't succeed in manhattan. 1 case-in-point: several yrs ago on the uws, 'memphis' served a southern oriented menu which was excellent > went out-of-business!!?? even with a name chef (bill telepan)!! new orleans-style restaurants don't seem to be able to make it here - why not? so what are we left with: an amazing # of italian, chinese, greek, latin, indian, japanese, deli's, & fast-foods places + a sprinkling of french & upscale american.

so, my answer is: i go to france when i want french, i go to the "real" south when i want "real" bbq, i go to new orleans when i want - ummm - my new orleans' fix, i to to joe's when i have to have stone crabs.

so kpurvis, what will it take? AIRPLANE TICKETS!!!!! :biggrin:

Edited by baruch (log)
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However, after I am sick of it, you and Varmint are more than welcome to show us what else you got.  :biggrin:

Are you coming to High Point? (Just an educated guess.) If you are, let me know. I can probably round up a list of places for you. I don't get up there on eating trips all that often, but it's close to Winston-Salem and there are some good places up there. (And yes, Jason, it's located close enough to both Shelby and Lexington to do a comparative tasting of Honey Monk's, Bridges Barbecue Lodge and Alston Bridges.) If you come any closer to Charlotte, let me know.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I'm not sure why, but this suddenly reminded me of one of those interminable debates in the Italy forum.

In that forum, the question has been asked, "Why is there no quality haute cuisine in Italy?" The responses have varied, but a common refrain is, "Italian food is not about fancy eating, its about grandma's homemade pasta and other 'comfort food'." And, to that common refrain, you hear the response, "You are stereotyping Italian cuisine to say that it is all about, for lack of a better term, 'comfort food,' and that stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, resulting in fewer haute cuisine establishments."

What does all this have to do with Q and grits? Probably nothing, but the discussion in this thread seemed vaguely similar.

Do we Southerners have a kindred spirit in Italy?

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Well, the sort of condescension you're talking about is inexcusable.  And as Dave points out, it's not limited to food, but rather is part of a general stereotyping of the South.

I wonder if this stereotyping of the South is mostly a Northeastern trait, because during the years I lived in Seattle I never really ran into it. The people I met mostly didn't seem to give the idea of someone being Southern a second thought.

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To know and appreciate the history of some of the 'Classic' Southern dishes is to understand the evolution of the South in part. Not the gussied up stuff served at some of those high priced places in Atlanta, but to read the old church leagues and Junior leagues cookbooks. Those books contain the heart and soul of Southern Cuisine. Go back to the 1950's or earlier if you can. Then try making some of those recipes like the book describes. That is to be able to understand the kitchens of our mothers, grandmothers and greatgrandmothers.

It is good to be a BBQ Judge.  And now it is even gooder to be a Steak Cookoff Association Judge.  Life just got even better.  Woo Hoo!!!

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The South is, first and foremost, an agricultural society. Until the interstate system of the Eisenhower administration, the South was also fairly remote. Cities were often located around market centers, not necessarily waterways or other traditional locales. The South was poor, and Southerners made as much as it could out of very little and took great pride in what the land provided for them.

With the arrival of air conditioning and increased ease of transportion, the South began to lose many of its traditions. The fast-paced urban world of business and convenience displaced the farmers and slow-cooked food. Biscuits started coming from a can and barbecue establishments discovered electric and gas cookers. Fortunately, however, we recognized before it was too late what a wonderful heritage we have here, something worth saving. Like grandma's banana cake or Miss Katherine's watermelon rind pickles. A paper thin slice of Smithfield Ham on a buttermilk biscuit. And yes, a vegetable plate. This is our South and your South, too. I think you'll like it here.

Dean McCord

VarmintBites

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I wonder if this stereotyping of the South is mostly a Northeastern trait, because during the years I lived in Seattle I never really ran into it. The people I met mostly didn't seem to give the idea of someone being Southern a second thought.

I grew up in Seattle, and I can tell you that oh yeah, it's there too. Just start with the Deliverance jokes and work your way down...

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Do we Southerners have a kindred spirit in Italy?

I've noticed a lot of similarities in my relatives -- the hugging, talking with our hands, the way we focus on the next meal while eating the first one. I've even noticed, in my Irish-roots family in Georgia, similar coloring -- ruddy complexions and brown eyes. I pointed this out to Italian friend once and he had an explanation: There's a legend that Caesar's soldiers, on their way to northern England, got lost and were shipwrecked in Ireland, giving rise to the supposed "black Irish." He claims that Southerners with Irish backgrounds are still really Italian, because Italian blood is so strong, it never fades!

As lines of b.s. goes, I got a good laugh out of that one. :raz:

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Best BBQ? Easy, my back yard... :wink:

Being a subscriber to several BBQ mailing lists and forums over the years, this argument surpasses the "What constitutes true Chili" wars in Texas.

There are so many regional speciaties that the question itself is almost meaningless.

Beef? Chicken? Goat? Sausage? Pulled Pork? Ribs?

Dry rubbed? Wet Mopped? Nekkid?

North Carolina? Georgia? Kansas City? Texas? Everywhere in between?

There is also concern that the taking up of BBQ by the masses involved in the competition BBQ circuit threatens to homogenize the product across the country and erase regional specialties much the same what the national television networks have erased southern accents from the local news broadcasts. If it doesn't place at Memphis in May is it really BBQ?

Many traditionalists would consider the log burning mobile pits an abberation and the water smokers to be an abomination, the only true Q is done in open pits directly over hardwood burnt down to coals. Nobody's toting those cinder block behemoths to BBQ contests, so what is it that is being judged as "true" BBQ? Is the public who attends these events, who thought doggies and burgers on the Charmglow was a BBQ, coming away with a mistaken idea of what BBQ is?

=Mark

Give a man a fish, he eats for a Day.

Teach a man to fish, he eats for Life.

Teach a man to sell fish, he eats Steak

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Well, this is kind of a funny question in light of this thread, but, I'll be in Salisbury for a wedding on Saturday; so, "where's the best barbecue"?  Seriously.

:laugh: Hey, I would never stop anyone from seeking the barbecue-filled Grail. I'd just try to get them to keep an open mind about other possibilities.

Bob Garner's book refers to Salisbury to Albemarle as "the barbecue trail," and I'd agree with that. Since Salisbury is so close to Lexington, you could hit Lexington No. 1 (called Honey Monks locally, if you're finding your way by pulling into gas station and shouting out the window for directions). You could leave time to try a few others. Lexington is a good place to just walk into stores and ask people for their favorite place. You'll find a lot of strong opinions.

If you have time, jump over to Shelby for Bridges Barbecue Lodge on U.S. 74 and Alston Bridges downtown across from the hospital.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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Nobody's toting those cinder block behemoths to BBQ contests, so what is it that is being judged as "true" BBQ?  Is the public who attends these events, who thought doggies and burgers on the Charmglow was a BBQ, coming away with a mistaken idea of what BBQ is?

I've seen people with burn barrels at contests. I've also seen people using prepared hardwood charcoal with hickory chunks, which I don't think is a bad thing. The proof is in the eating and many of those barbecues are very good. Spectators at the Blue Ridge Barbecue Championship in Tryon, N.C., get to eat a lot of very good 'cue. I've judged there many times, and the contesters amaze me with the amount of work they're willing to put in.

Kathleen Purvis, food editor, The Charlotte (NC) Observer

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I never get tired of that question. I don't think that barbeque is uniquely southern. There is excellent barbeque in Kansas City (midwest) and Texas (the west). I think southern food is simply very good food utilizing the many foods that are produced in this region. Because the south was historically agricultural rather than industrial and had lesser population density, more people cultivated their own food. Not only did they grow crops, including vegetables, which they canned for winter, but they slaughtered their own meat and cured it for preservation. This closeness with the source of the food is the primary force behind what is considered "southern food or cookery".

Even though my grandparents were the first generation in their family to move from the farm to the city and took up white collar jobs, they still planted a huge vegetable garden in their suburban backyard. My grandmother "put up" all her own canned vegetables from that garden. She also made several different kinds of preserves from the fruit that she grew in the yard, including a trellis of grapes.

It is only natural that she was also a great cook. A Sunday dinner at her house would include fried chicken, mashed potatoes, green beans, sliced tomatoes with salt, fried corn, fried apples, squash, pork chops, slaw, biscuits, and custard and pie for dessert. This was every sunday, not just special occassions. Breakfast was grits, eggs, country ham in red eye gravy, biscuits, and fried apples. My mother has carried on this tradition.

I have not met many people from the industrialized areas of the north who grew up with food like that, and I attribute it to the fact that they did not have the same relationship with the source and cultivation of the food as many in the south.

I love being a southerner and wouldn't trade it for anything.

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Bob Garner's book refers to Salisbury to Albemarle as "the barbecue trail," and I'd agree with that. Since Salisbury is so close to Lexington, you could hit Lexington No. 1 (called Honey Monks locally, if you're finding your way by pulling into gas station and shouting out the window for directions). You could leave time to try a few others. Lexington is a good place to just walk into stores and ask people for their favorite place. You'll find a lot of strong opinions.

If you have time, jump over to Shelby for Bridges Barbecue Lodge on U.S. 74 and Alston Bridges downtown across from the hospital.

Thanks. I think that maybe we will devote Saturday pre-wedding to a search for Q--and Lexington seems like a good place to start.

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I have a friend who is a Lexington, NC native. I asked him for some recommendations, and here is what he told me:

Lexington BBQ (or the "Monk," as the locals call it) is a must-try.

You are guaranteed a good meal. It is where I usually go for Q and burgers

(best burgers in town). As a popular tourist spot, they mass produce the Q,

which, on occasion, means you receive some pork that is a little dry (heat

lamps) - but usually a solid choice. Try the "Smokehouse Sauce," an

original Monk-sauce, vinegar based, smokey and a little hot. A can't miss

destination.

The other popular tourist spot is Speedy's (the Highway 8 exit off

of business 85, one exit up from the Monk). Speedy's, unlike the Monk, uses

electric grills. In my opinion, the pork loses the hickory-smoke flavor.

Speedy's is a still a good choice nonetheless - largest sandwich in town,

seasoned fries. Speedy's usually provides a healthy serving of BBQ slaw on

a sandwich, which is a nice feature if you like slaw - as I do.

Two other lesser-knowns.

Smokey-Joes (exit before Monk off business 85 (west fifth avenue towards

town). They pit-cook their Q, very flavorful. The atmosphere is not as

pleasant as the Monk's, usually smokey, but unlike the Monk, you'll find

mostly locals eating at Smokey Joe's.

Lexington Style-Trimmings (my favorite selection off of regular 85 - old 64

exit, stay to left past the Timberlake gallery). When passing by the

L-town, I usually stop for curb-service and get a sandwich to go. While

often times hit or miss (and a more consistent misser than others),

Lexington Style Trimmings will occasionally produce some Q better than them

all.

A final tip: what to order. I usually get a "brown-sliced"

sandwich, more particularly described below in an email to another inquirer:

"I prefer the "brown slice." The brown refers to the pig meat closer to the

flame. It's a bit crispier and better retains the hickory smoke flavor than

regular chopped or sliced meat. I choose brown "sliced," as opposed to the

brown "chopped," because the sliced is itself a contained piece of pork,

which in my estimate is juicier in its center and ensures that you are

getting the pure "brown" meat (perhaps the analogy is a steak to a

hamburger). The "brown" choice is not on the menu, but the folks taking

your order are aware of it and will not blink when it is requested. Because

it is a special order, you're also more likely to get fresh Q (which makes a

big difference). While some orders are often better than others, if you

catch a brown sliced sandwich at the right time, I'll say there's no better

barbeque.

When traveling through Lexington this past fall, I caught a brown-slice

sandwich just right at the lesser-known Lexington Style Trimmings by the Bob

Timberlake gallery. Upon tasting its perfection, I nearly pulled over to

the side of Hwy 85 and took a knee."

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this is a great thread. question: how come no one mentions Q from so. carolina? seems most, if not all, the comments above deal only with Lex, NC & environs, "as if" that is the only area worthy??!!

seems cooking Q involves both the meat cooked INdirectly over preferably pure hickory &&& HOW the meat is treated. the so-called purists would have u believe in dry with vinegar-based sauce added after. however, basting with a mustard/vinegar-based sauce throughout, as well as injecting sauce as it cooks produces an amazing taste.

interesting as to sliced - vs - chopped/shredded - vs - minced - vs - pulled. personal preference is, if Q done properly, pulled seems to produce the best for sandwiches (plain white buns only! :biggrin:

hard for a true southerner to acknowledge Texas as part of the South - who started that anyway? :angry: & very difficult to understand the arthur bryant KC phenom, guess that could be attributed to calvin trillin's article. but, as an aside, did take a detour of ~ 100mi to partake. even bought the jar of sauce BEFORE ordering the sliced beef!! Q on white BREAD, slathered/"painted" with THE sauce. after 1 bite, gave the sauce to a tablemate, slugged down my iced tea, & wondered why i ever thought of venturing outside "THE SOUTH" for Q!!! :biggrin:

Edited by baruch (log)
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