Bacon Press's Southern-Fried Bar-B-Q Road Trip 2007
I've been practicing my Southern accent.
There are so many, but the one I'm practicing now is slightly twangy, not heavy, and for the most part generic. I'm also trying to speak more slowly, which is hard for me to do. I can't help it: I speak fast, eat fast, walk fast...and type a little too fast, which might explain why some of my past blog posts seem to ramble on and on without nary an end in sight.
In this respect, I am the king of Too Much Information.
I'm not sure what all of this is suppose to accomplish. I mean, whose good graces am I suppose to fall in to? My family loves me regardless of how I speak. And I stopped doing things to please my mother long, long before I left Asheville, North Carolina.
Heck, I can't walk past 10 people in downtown San Francisco without some of them looking at me like I ain't right, so you know I won't be blending in with the local Good Ol' Boys and them fine Southern ladies. I imagine they'll be casting a suspicious eye on me the second my foot hits the ground because, like Jesco White, I am the devil hisself, but with a hybrid California accent.
This is America and I don't have to blend in or conform to anyone's standards. Remember? "Rugged Individualism"? I'm gonna wear my white tube socks at dinner and my tight thrift store polyester blends and freak you out with the tattoos on my hands, arms, and legs – and I'm gonna talk fast with my worldly ways, cuss on Sunday and bulge my eyes, and if that gets your goat then it's been brought.
Kiss the goat, Dixie. I'm touring the South with a vengeance only a prodigal Southern freak can deliver. Bruce, with his full beard, olive skin, and that black cap he wears looking like a Muslim, is coming along and with him as my co-pilot it will be the Freak and the Muslim puttering from town to town in a fuel-efficient economy-sized car. Let's just hope we're not the inspiration for the sequel to Mississippi Burning.
Nostalgic stop number one. I can't believe how many times, through snow, rain, and freezing temperatures, I drove to Atlanta when I was a lonely punk rock teenager in search of my people. I use to park my VW beetle behind some building in Little Five Points and attempt to sleep in the back (it's then, and only then, that one truly realizes how small these cars are). Many sore backs later, I never really found my people, but I did see a few great bands like the then-unknown Screeching Weasel (only 14 people showed up) and the Exploited. Jesus, there was so much Aqua Net Super Hold in the hair of that audience a stray match could've blown the building off its foundation.
The difference between then and now: my hair isn't green and Punk, actually, is Dead. Believe me - it is. The Internet killed it (I'm not lamenting this). Also, my eternal search for what makes me happy has shifted from my ears to my stomach.
It's there that the spirit of punk lives, menu locked in clenched fist – stage diving it's way from one meal to another, and often landing smack dab in the center of the pit. If punk had a menu, it might look something like what you'd find at The Varsity or the Silver Skillet – two of the places we're checking out for our brief first night in ATL.
"Whad'ya Have?", as they're fond of saying at the Varsity, is music to my ears and I'm liable to say "give me everything!" if I'm not careful. Chilli cheese dogs, slaw dogs, and the best onion rings in Atlanta are all to be found at the Varsity, and like any good punk rock club, it's open past midnight and it's all-ages. After being treated worse than a prisoner and a subhuman terrorist by the staff at SFO and the airline industry – a fact of life for any American who must travel by air in the United States – I'll need a slaw dog to take the edge off.
In the morning, the Silver Skillet; which I'm guessing will be one of those classic American coffee shops/breakfast joints. Judging by the photos I've seen on their website (luckily the Internet hasn't killed dives), it could pass for the Golden Coffee Shop.
And then we hit the road. We're taking a leisurely drive through the Peach state and passing through Augusta, where you'll find us experiencing the Southern/Soul goodness that is Hot Foods by Calvin for lunch.
The civil war started in Charleston and South Carolina was the first state to secede from the United States. There's a lot of tourism that revolves around plantations and the Confederacy here, but I'd rather skip those as we're here for only two nights and frankly I'm glad the Plantation Owners/Confederates were defeated, because slavery is fucked up. Nevertheless, the city of Charleston is much older than the Civil War and has a rich and diverse history, and of course is a hot bed of regional cuisine, notably Lowcountry and Gullah cuisine. Lots of food to try here but only a limited amount of time. Some of the food I'm hoping to try: She Crab Soup, Shrimp and Grits, Country Captain, Frogmore Stew, Boiled Peanuts, Oysters, Purloo, and other lowcountry goodies.
After Charleston, we head up the coast on Route 17, through the town of Georgetown, through Myrtle Beach, and eventually to Calabash where we're having lunch. Calabash is a big gastro-tourist destination, most notably for their fresh, fried shrimp, oysters, and other seafood. This is hushpuppy country. "Calabash-style" seafood is a big draw at the Fish Camp restaurants scattered throughout North Carolina, but here we're going to the source. I can't wait!
Next, we're off to:
3. Wilmington/Carolina Beach
Okay, the real reason we're here isn't the food. But it is about food. Actually, it's about plants that eat insects. We're headed to Carolina Beach State Park to see carnivorous plants in the wild. These plants include Venus Flytraps and Trumpet Pitcher Plants, which we've never viewed in the wild before (although we own and grow several species ourselves). Again, it's all about going to the source, and the last remaining native habitat for Dionaea muscipula is within 150 miles of Wilmington.
As well as being plant geeks for a day, we're going to enjoy the beach and swim in the ocean, which is something we can't do here in SF (too cold). I hope no one laughs at my he-breasts, aka man-maries; they're quite embarrassing.
There is a barbecue joint near where we're staying, but we may opt for seafood. We're leaving it up in the air at this point. Besides, we're going to be in hog heaven the very next day as we make our way from the Wilmington area up to Goldsboro for Eastern-style barbecue at Wilbur's. Wilbur's Barbecue is legendary for their "cue" and it would be a shame to be in this part of NC and not stop to enjoy one of the finest representatives of Eastern-style NC barbecue, which is known for it's spicy-tangy vinegar and hot pepper sauce.
It will be a real East Meets West challenge that day as we travel through the state, bypassing all major towns and cities in order to make our way to the capital of Western-style NC barbecue:
There we will eat dinner at the famous Lexington Barbecue #1. Lexington is a real barbecue lovers town, so long as you prefer barbecue in the Lexington style – whole hog slowly roasted and smoked over wood, chopped and served with a ketchup-based barbecue sauce.
And yes, we are traveling here all the way from California just to eat Carolina barbecue. All else is secondary. We'll probably eat barbecue for breakfast, hit the road, and scoot on up to Winston-Salem to check out the old Moravian settlement and that cool-ass Shell station and then eat lunch at Bell and Sons Cafeteria, which supposedly serves the best fried chicken, beef stew, and banana pudding.
From here it's kind of up in the air whether we'll go through Mt. Airy (and check out Snappy Lunch), but we'll probably wind up somewhere in Virginia around Galax (one of the stops along the Crooked Road) before we head to where we're staying for the night:
5. Shatley Springs
Here, we'll be deep into the Appalachians and surrounded by the Mountain South culture. Besides the dirt-cheap accommodations and cool surroundings, we'll be enjoying the fantastic food at Shatley Springs Inn. We're talking country ham, biscuits and gravy, and a wide array of Southern home cooking. I think we're going to try and make the live bluegrass show up in Galax on Friday night and then check out the farmers' market in West Jefferson on Saturday morning. Expect ramps sightings!
For the next two days we'll be seeing my family down in:
And I have these days marked on my calendar as two big black squares. Seriously though, I'll be glad to see my cousins and aunts/uncles and, oh yeah, my Mom and Dad. On Mother's Day I'll be in Hickory laying flowers on my grandmother's grave, and then probably eating barbecue somewhere later that night.
After the family stuff, we're headed up to
Which is where I grew up.
Asheville's an anomaly in the South in that, being primarily a resort town for wealthy non-Southerners, academic transplants, and New Age hippy anglo detritis, it doesn’t have a regional cuisine in the way that Charleston, Calabash, Lexington, or even East Tennessee does. Sure, it sits in the mountains and is an urban Appalachian town, but it's never been known for it's Appalachian or Southern cuisine.
I grew up eating food from China Buffet, Pizza Hut, Wendys, Western Sizzlin' steakhouse, Long John Silver's and TGIF-type establishments. Ashevillains prefer chains, like the Olive Garden or Joe's Crab Shack, and thankfully for them these places have a smoking section because this is the fucking Tobacco State after all. Bucking North Carolina tradition, beef is favored over pork (I know: shocking; worse than being vegetarian). Those who don't prefer chains prefer what they ate before they moved from San Francisco or Raleigh or some other Vortex town: Burritos, "Irish pub" food, vegetarian con-Fusion, sushi, Thai, Vietnamese, and duck confit – all at San Francisco prices (there's even a restaurant called "Bouchon" – lame).
And yet, for a town busy boasting how "with it we are, Man", it is incredibly insular and small-towny, as evidenced by the membership requirements necessary to enter many of the nightclubs and bars. No one boasts of having the oldest restaurant, like a Tadich Grill or Fior d'Italia would, because A) they probably don't see that as a positive attribute, B) no one knows or cares, and C) there probably isn't one older than 50 years, despite the town being over 200 years old.
Like most of the South, many of the bars and restaurants are closed on the "Lord's Day" and a just a county or two over it's completely dry. Buying booze means succumbing to the hours of operation of the state-run liquor stores, instead of just moseying on in to Safeway whenever you feel like. And drug testing for jobs that don't require working with kids or operating heavy machinery is common (by the way, drug testing doesn't weed out the alcoholics.) Until the Supreme Court struck it down recently, certain kinds of sex between two consenting adults in the privacy of their own home was illegal in North Carolina (including such liberal bastions as Asheville and the Research Triangle) and those caught doing so were punished as first class felons. North Carolina was also dragged kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages by the Supreme Court when the high court ruled miscegenation laws were unconstitutional in 1967.
Only in the South can you have a population that professes to despise government interference but who live, breathe, and beg for it at every hour of every day.
And only in easy-breezey Asheville can you have such contradictions as being a liberal Red State town in the middle of the foodie South but without a regional cuisine to call your own. Land of The Contradictions: I once knew a melungeon who was a White Power skinhead. His girlfriend was Jewish.
Anyway, foodwise we're winging it here (no, not Buffalo Wings, although I'm sure at least one Asheville restaurant boasts of having the best). We aren't going to Asheville to eat. We're going there because it's a beautiful area and there are lots of things to see and do. Yeah, we'll do the Biltmore House (on whose land I was caught trespassing once) and we'll drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. The downtown is very walkable and they do have a few good antiques stores.
After Asheville, we're back to:
For half a day. There are a few bookstores we've been meaning to check out and I'd like to find a good lunch counter/pharmacy soda fountain before we leave.
We leave ATL at 7AM and are back at SFO at 9:30 AM.
At that point, I'm heading straight towards the first Chez Panisse glass of tap water, loaf of good bread, cup of dark coffee, plate of chow fun, or glass of unsweetened ice tea I see!