Beckwith: A culinary tour of the South
As allergic as I am to guided tours, it’s nice to get to know a place with the help of a local or two. I’ve driven through the South before and even stopped in Atlanta for a couple of nights but it wasn’t my primary destination. The most you can gather from passing by is stereotypes and the cuisine offered off Interstate exits.
From my first couple of trips I learned via billboards that Jesus saves, the last chance for fireworks is every 15 miles and chicken is more popular than burgers. While that all remains true, the South is much more than poultry and Christianity. I experienced my first Southern wedding; Nash-Vegas; hot chicken; Chattanooga, Tennessee; and lemon pepper wings.
Being a guest at a wedding at which you know one person allows you to observe more than get over-served. This lets you pick up on little things like a priest using the phrase “By the power invested in me by the great state of (enter Southern state here).” I’m not sure how many states are great but apparently most of them are found in the South.
There’s also zero stigma in finding a spouse through a church group as opposed to swiping right and hoping you’re charming enough to actually meet in person. As great as God is in places where he’s not advertised roadside, meeting someone at church feels like lazy writing in a Judd Apatow movie where everyone is a 40-year-old virgin. I’m not saying I avoided snarky comments with people equally as tickled by lyrics like “His name is the greatest, Jesus Christ,” but the crowd was normal.
Also, shout out to the dad for his “I’d rather have her meet someone at church group than out at the bars downtown” line, and boo to the groom for admitting to skiing in jeans and not “those fancy waterproof pants,” as the priest so jerrily put it.
Aside from not embarrassing myself at the wedding, my vacation goals were to find hot chicken and go to a Waffle House. I had plenty of opportunities to eat at a Waffle House, but even my drunken self couldn’t get me to the diner. I did, however, find hot chicken, I just didn’t order the right level of heat. I was so intimidated by stories of hallucinating heat from podcasts and TV shows that I opted for medium spice, which wasn’t that hot at all. It was damn good, just not as hot as I wanted.
As much as I was let down by my choice in chicken, I was equally as impressed by Nashville, specifically Broadway Street. Every bar had live music and a few of them had a different act on each floor. My distaste for country music even abated for a few hours, well, until the sixth John Denver “West Virginia” sing-along. I know he has Aspen ties, but I wanted to fly a plane into the side of a mountain by the end of the night. (I wasn’t a fan of sweet tea, either.)
I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Champy’s chicken, even though I was over fried food by the time we reached Chattanooga. Despite ordering way too much, a theme of the trip, I finished all the bird on my plate. As I was eating, I knew I was full but inexplicably kept pulling bird from bone and dousing it in hot sauce.
When we arrived in Atlanta, soul food and I were not on speaking terms. We went to a steakhouse for a birthday celebration, ordered some underwhelming calamari, were saved by a buttery Delmonico steak and I found myself eating biscuits and chicken gravy the next morning. (Being a Nebraskan, it takes an exquisite cut of meat for me to endorse a steakhouse, and STK in Atlanta earned that distinction. The service was good, as well, because we were comped the calamari due to an extended wait time that I didn’t even think was that long.)
The final highlight was lemon pepper wings in Atlanta, which I ordered simply due to the aura created by their appearance in the show “Atlanta.” They weren’t the glowing lemon pepper wet wings that Paper Boi fawned over but are still a flavor Zane’s should look into adopting.
I’m always interested in travel but the intensity with which Aspenites travel — Vietnam, France, Cuba, Bali, etc. — kept the South off my radar. However, I’m glad I was able to get the full tour from a legitimate Southern belle. One thing I will never do, though, is sing “Rocky Top.” Go Big Red.
Sean Beckwith is a copy editor at The Aspen Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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