Feast on the Highway: Eat Your Way South
Food and drink are an important part of the American experience in the South. This isn’t somewhere where you come to eat light. From BBQ kings to the French influence of New Orleans, there’s a culinary adventure to be had at every stop through Mississippi and Louisiana. Just remember to bring your big pants for the drive home.
Making charcoal at the Jack Daniel Distillery, Lynchburg.
Photo via Wikipedia
Starting off in Tennessee, you have to go and see Jack. Jack Daniels that is. A tour of the distillery in Lynchburg will tell you all you need to know about the world’s best-selling American whiskey. Despite not being able to consume Jack locally (Moore County having been a dry country since prohibition) sampling tours are available on site. To line your stomach before (or after) you’ve tasted the good stuff, go a few blocks to Miss Mary Bobo Boarding House Restaurant to enjoy fried okra, corn, relish, meatloaf and fried chicken.
There are many ‘meat and three’ places in the south (that’s a meat dish – fried chicken, beef or meatloaf – with three sides, in case you didn’t know) but not all are as welcoming as Arnold’s Country Kitchen. Owners Jack and Rose Arnold create home-cooked country classics like mac and cheese, catfish, yummy puppies (cornbread balls) and pecan pie. You might have to wait in line to enjoy the feast, but you‘ll leave totally charmed and completely stuffed.
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No one loved a good burger more than Elvis. His infamous demise is a reminder of just how much he loved the buns. So where to go in Memphis for the best burger? Like a lot of good American cooking, it’s somewhere with a bit of influence from outside the US. Hog & Hominy is a mix of Italian and Southern fair, which just so happens to serve some of the best burgers in town, along with peanut butter pie, stuffed with banana, peanut butter crème and piled with whipped cream on a cookie crust. We think The King would approve.
But you can’t come to the south without a barbeque experience – the area is known as the BBQ capital of the world. So get yourself down to A&R Bar-B-Q for ribs that are seasoned beautifully and glide away from the bone. Sauce comes on the side – so you can really enjoy the flavour.
Photo by Tobin via Flickr
Gumbo. You’ve heard of it, but what it is? Basically flavoured stock, with meat, shellfish, vegetables (normally including celery, bell peppers and onions – known in Cajun cooking as ‘The Holy Trinity’). Dating from the 18th century, different versions are cooked up all over the south. As well as hearing the Blues, many head to Clarksdale to eat at The Ranchero (known locally as ‘The Ranch’), where the Nelms family have been serving up bone ribs, tender steaks and BBQ since 1959. The Ranch has also become a treasure trove of sports memorabilia and local history.
Voted in magazine lists as one of the top ten romantic destinations in the US, Natchez is a little nugget of Southern charm, with unspoilt views of the Mississippi river. As a result, seafood is a big staple. Enjoy both the romance and the seafood with a meal at Stanton Hall’s Carriage House Restaurant, on the former home of cotton merchant, Frederick Stanton. In July there’s a 3-day Food & Wine festival in Natchez which draws the South’s best chefs and restaurants to the area.
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Worth the detour en route to New Orleans, Avery Island is home to one of five salt domes and the home of Tabasco sauce. Named after the Avery family who first settled there in the 1830s, the McIlhenny family began producing the sauce in 1868. A visit to the Pepper Sauce Factory includes samples and tastings of all seven varieties including the hottest, Habanero (water is on hand should your mouth catch fire). Afterwards you can explore the island’s 170-acre Jungle Gardens, where you might spot an alligators, deer and raccoons.
New Orleans has much to offer the hungry traveller, so it’s easy to get you Cajun and Creole in a twist. Creole treats have a definite French influence. The roux method (cooking with fat and flour to thicken a dish) is favoured, as are local delicacies Turtle Soup and Pralines. At Arnauds, 19 dining rooms take over a whole block of the French Quarter. Such grandeur is deserved – it was the birthplace of the locally famous Remoulade shrimp sauce. Another highlight is the Oyster Rockefeller dish at Antoine’s, the oldest family owned restaurant in the States. End your trip with many a slice of King Cake. The braided Danish pastry (laced with cinnamon and stuffed with a variety of fillings) is traditionally made from 6 January to Ash Wednesday. Grab one at Gambino’s Bakery before the drive home.
Photo by Pat David via Flickr