Three episodes in and I’m pretty hooked. John T. Edge and Wright Thompson have teamed up to travel The South telling a visual story of food. Of course in The South food is never just food. And any time you tell a story of food you’re really telling a story of community, family, history, even art or a master craft. Food is just the common ground between all those topics. We don't do much of anything in the South without food being involved.
They started with stories from Birmingham highlighting the well-established Greek community in central Alabama. While the food elements involved two restaurants, Bessemer’s The Bright Star and Johnny’s in Homewood, the stories sprawled outside the walls of those establishments. Hearing the history of Greek immigrants in Alabama helped connect some dots for me. While attending college in Alabama I met several people with Greek heritage, people who attended Greek Orthodox churches, and I was introduced to a little place, also in Homewood, called Moneer’s. They had great Mediterranean food and a tasty mint tea.
Greek might not be your first thought as far as influences on Southern culture but this episode shows the scope of the impact that Greek immigrants have had. It brings that influence into the open and helps us understand it. It expands our understanding of our own culture.
The episode on Athens is excellent because they didn’t choose the typical, predictable places. Heading out of town to the "wide spot in the road" community of Norwood they turned off the highway, hit some small local places and risked getting some local on them. They chose two locally owned spots - Scott’s BBQ, a black owned business, and and Polleria Pablo, a Peruvian chicken restaurant in the back of gas station. Peruvian gas station chicken. Y'all know how we love the gas station food.
People who live in this community have little beyond these two options for dining out. The fresh quality ingredients and local connections make these two eateries about as Southern as it gets. The production of the episode (and after party) helped the two families who own these establishments meet and get to know each other. The production of the show helped bring this community closer together. That's a lot of winning coming out of one TV episode.
The show makes good use of music, especially groups from the area being highlighted. It enhances the show and adds to the artistic value of it. The camera angles and lighting effects alone could keep you entertained. They also bring in locals to help viewers understand the area. Seeing Andre Gallant and Nihilist Cheerleader both with a role in the Athens show let me know this isn't just your typical tourist show. This is really about the local culture.
I saw some criticism of the show online. There were comments that the SEC Network was becoming “another Turner South.” First of all, I don’t think that would necessarily be a terrible thing. But if this was what Turner South had at least mostly been, it might still be on the air.
The only criticism I even pondered was that it seemed to me at first that a longer episode would tell a more complete story. But when I thought more about it, I’m not sure that’s true. Part of the beauty is that the show isn’t huge, it’s not overthought, it's genuine. Simply put, it’s family, it's community, it’s even faith. In a word, it’s Southern. Stretching it to an hour would add content but is more always (or ever) better?
John T. Edge is known as a food writer. TrueSouth is described as a food show. But as I mentioned before, Southern food is never just about food. So this food show isn’t just about food. It’s about The South.
I highly reccomend the show show and I do hope it will continue. There are many stories to tell, and these folks are telling them well.
Episodes of TrueSouth are available online: Birmingham - Athens - Nashville
In the Charleston episode of Parts Unknown, Chef Sean Brock led Anthony Bourdain to Rodney Scott's famous joint out in the country. He made the point that there are BBQ joints all over the South but a minority of them are elite. He was actually a bit more harsh in his assessment. His statement was that if you want really good BBQ, you have to be willing to drive. And he is mostly right. But there might be another option.
Enter Matt Morris.
Matt had a successful previous career in the hospitality and entertainment industry. He has more recently followed a passion into a career in aviation. After reading some of my commercial flight complaints on Twitter, he suggested I take a flight with him. Getting in an airplane with a Twitter acquaintance might sound misguided but I figured I knew Matt better than any of the pilots on my previous flights and my previous Twitter meet-and-greet with Crackers and guns was safe enough. So why not?
We chose Huntsville as our flight destination. Matt was going to handle the flight end of it and I was going to find us somewhere to eat. Faced with locating a place to eat BBQ a reasonable distance from the Huntsville airport I knew exactly what to do. I contacted another Twitter friend, Dr. Sean Busick, guru of Southern History and BBQ. He provided me with a few options to choose from. Considering I was going to be in his neighborhood and have the opportunity to enjoy lunch with him, it seemed only appropriate to invite him along with us. He accepted an told us to meet him at his home.
I met Matt at the airport in Rome. After a walk around where he explained the working parts of the plane and their functions, we loaded up and took off. The experience of flying in a small plane is quite different than commercial. at roughly a sixth of the altitude you can identify landmarks much easier. The plane makes a good platform for some photography. And the headset allows you to carry on a conversation over the sound of the engine.
Matt interrupted the conversation to make contact with the tower in Huntsville to request landing instructions. Redstone answered immediately. We were approaching the restricted airspace over the arsenal and were instructed to reroute immediately. Matt's reaction was swift and effective, no fighter jets were scrambled and we were not blown out of the sky. That could have ruined our day. Instead, upon clearing the restricted airspace, we were given instructions to the appropriate runway.
After an uneventful landing, we taxied over to Signature. For those who have never experienced it, Signature is like walking into the lobby of the friendliest, most hospitable hotel around. a smiling face behind the desk, an impeccably clean restroom. A large flat screen TV hung on the wall near comfortable chairs and tables, several current magazines available, and and a well stocked old style popcorn machine over by the coffee pot and water pitchers. It's a hospitality center for pilots and their passengers. We were able to secure a courtesy car from signature to head over to Decatur and meet Sean.
This is more of an account of the day than it is a restaurant review but I would like to give a recommendation to Big Bob Gibson's BBQ in Decatur. Sean highly recommended it and I trust his input in many matter, not the least of which is BBQ. Great food, nice atmosphere, I especially enjoyed the unique Alabama white BBQ sauce. The most impressive parts of the decor are the numerous trophies and magazine articles highlighting the restaurant. If you are in the area, stop by Bob's and get a bite.
But the best part of the day was enjoying lunch with Matt and Sean. They are both fine gentlemen and we enjoyed many laughs. Given just a little more time, we could have solved all the world's problems.
Sean gave us a quick tour of downtown and explained some of the history of the area. There is a lot there for people interested in history and small towns. I imagine a return trip to Decatur will be needed.
In answer to Sean Brock's earlier quote, yes, you do have to drive sometimes. That is, unless you can fly. The flight, while not usually practical, cut the trip time by more than half. If fact, the round trip was probably shorter than the drive up there. And for this experience I am grateful for the hospitality of Matt Morris and Sean Busick.
So we went back to Ate Track beneath the bridge in downtown Cartersville. We just love the atmosphere in this quirky restaurant. We were looking for a quick bite while in Cartersville and this is one of our favorites.
Ate Track is decked out in so many signs and logos that I remember from the electronics store in the mall, windows of roadside bars, television commercials, and restaurants I remember visiting as a kid. It is like a museum of retro pop culture and it has the music to match. Pabst, Hamms. Stroh's, Old Milwaukee, JVC, and Panasonic. It's so retro you expect Johnny Bench to come up to bat in that ballgame.
There is an entire corner of old Schlitz logos and ads. They even have one in Spanish, complete with the 1970s mustache on the face of the hero. Old furnishings and decor team up to send you back to the Carter Administration.
Yes, that is a television. Yes it has rabbit ears...and a handle. Could they interest you in a Blatz or a Falstaff? Olympia?
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire