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Monday, July 02, 2007

Praise the Lord and Pass the Biscuits

It's hard to get a feel for a city when you're only staying there overnight.

It's even harder when that city spreads out 132 square miles, with a metropolitan area four and a half times larger. Nevertheless, our stay in Midtown Atlanta was surprisingly pleasant; downtown and urban, but within close walking distance to large, palatial homes with large, old trees swaying in the Southern breeze. I say "surprisingly" because we didn't actually pick the location of our hotel based on its reputation or environs of the surrounding area, but rather how close it was to the Silver Skillet restaurant.

In fact, staying in Midtown was convenient for both dinner at the Varsity and breakfast at the Silver Skillet, especially if you happen to be paying the mortgage on one of those large and palatial homes – you may just have to eat there come the first of every month!

However, consider this a blessing in disguise since the Silver Skillet was and is everything I hoped it would be and more. It is what we Californians (who know the difference) often refer to as a "coffee shop" but what others often refer to as a diner. In fact, the Silver Skillet, in all of its pride and glory, is the Southern cousin of every fine coffee shop I've stepped into in my travails as a bona fide dive connoisseur.

It's appeal isn't lost on the locals. On a bright and early Sunday morning, when many fine citizens of Atlanta are still praising the Lord and passing the collection plate, you'll find Atlanta's other fine folks praising the lard in the pecan pie crust and passing the plate of butter here at the Silver Skillet. Not that the church folks don't stop in afterwards – that lard and sweet buttery goodness isn't lost on them neither.

Finding the Silver Skillet was easy as pie, especially when guided by our psychic pig/trip mascot whose divination powers in finding pork or pork products borders on the miraculous and just plain freakish. That little plastic pig hanging from our rental car's rear view mirror pointed us in the general direction of the restaurant and, despite getting distracted by the occasional whiff of bacon in the air, guided us to the shiny-car-filled lot of the Silver Skillet.

Once seated, the choices were daunting. I praised my higher power that we were seated in a booth, otherwise sitting at the counter would've placed us by the signs and menus hanging near the kitchen beckoning us to try the Fried Catfish, the Ham Steak, the Country Ham Steak, the Roast Beef Sandwich, the Fruit and Ice Box Pies, and something curiously called a Dutch Salad which, at least in San Francisco, could mean anything you might imagine and everything you'd never ever want to.

There are greater hazards in life to consider when curiosity gets the better of you.

One of those hazards could be the actual act of dining at the Silver Skillet if you're a supporter of Jesse Jackson, Senator Hillary Clinton, or anyone or anything to the Left of, say, Justice Antonin Scalia (who says there are no Italian fascists left?). Nothing, unfortunately, says you have arrived in a certain pocket of the Deep South better than these, ahem, choice words posted near the front counter, alongside a picture of Senator Clinton's head crudely pasted onto a dairy cow proclaiming her the first case of "mad cow" in New York:

"Women do not belch, women do not snore, women do not fart – therefore they must bitch or they will blow up."

Perhaps it just seems ironic to me that at the Silver Skillet, all of whom one sees doing the work are women – women who, according to this tasteless attempt at humor, are little more than bitching nags. It also doesn't escape my attention that, with the exception of one couple (a man and a woman), everyone in here is white – despite the fact that Atlanta is majority black. Could it be that Jesse Jackson is actually respected by the majority of black people in the South and, perhaps, still hated by the decaying old stalwarts of racial segregation?

But I’m not here to judge the politics of the owners or the people who eat here. However, I will say this: In the South, I think one of the reasons one doesn't see as many political bumper stickers on cars is that, for the most part, politics is "don't ask, don't tell." Or rather, "don't ask, don't offend." Running across something so opinionated here at the Silver Skillet seems to me to be an oddity of some sort, almost as odd as the retro feel and look of the restaurant itself.

And yet, for what it's worth, this is what makes the Silver Skillet not ordinary. Frankly, ordinary is boring.

It's definitely not a gourmet experience, but the Silver Skillet has what one needs in a solid breakfast, namely the Four Food groups: carbs, protein, fat, and hot coffee. Bruce and I basically ordered the same: eggs, grits, slices of country ham with red-eye gravy, and biscuits. He passes on the red-eye gravy, which is a thin sauce made by deglazing a skillet with black coffee.

The biscuits here are otherworldly. If you missed church to come here, you may just find Jesus between the butter and the biscuits. They are that good – fluffy and tasty and scrumptious in a way that is hard to describe, and why bother – can I just have some more please? All of the things we know about, which foods to avoid for example, if you want to live a long happy life – all of that stuff just flies out the door here.

Silver Skillet: just another two words for "nothing left to lose"?

Yes: you are going to have grits, and you're going to have them with butter and sugar. They're going to accompany your highly salty country ham, which you're going to eat with your non-certified, pretty damn unfair trade black coffee gravy or perhaps sandwich in between lard or Crisco-saturated, highly processed white flour biscuits. Please don't forget the cholesterol-rich eggs from chickens who've never seen the outside of a massive hen house, because they'll coat the lining of your stomach when you've decided to down yet another cup of that strong black coffee.

Right about now you'll start to piece together why there are so many churches in the South, and why at least one is always a hop, skip, and ambulance ride away.

The biggest reason: forgiveness.

Second reason: Death – and if you've noticed anything about Southern culture you'll notice that "death" tends to be a recurring theme, in particular "death", "sin", "guilty pleasures", "Heavenly retribution" and, most especially, "revenge". Because if the biscuits, grits, and ham doesn't shut you down like a gin joint in a dry county, the pecan pie just might.

It's true, Kevin: you didn't need that piece of pie, but it was brought to your table with such grace and kindness – how could you refuse? Why, that would be plain rude! And after all, you did order it. Admittedly, in the South it's odd to eat pie with breakfast, however I was afraid if I ordered the banana pudding someone might think I was weird, or God forbid a liberal!

Indeed, what would've raised a disapproving eyebrow or two would have been demanding Universal Healthcare to go with my slice.

But the Lord, He does work in mysterious ways.



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