Sam Burnham, Curator
A few months ago I stumbled across Jed Portman’s Garden & Gun article on the old breakfast delicacy of scrambled pork brains and eggs. It was not a new concept to me. I had heard of this dish on more than one occasion. Portman’s article stirred something in me. It was like a challenge. This was a piece of Southern culture just waiting to be explored.
Like the prophet Jonah, I walked the other way.
But neither the article nor the dish would leave me be. The article would pop up here and there. And the can of pork brains glared down at me from its high perch above the Spam, the canned chili, the sardines, and the Vienna sausages on Aisle 3 of my local Food Lion. It taunted me. The canned oysters and bulk sausage seemed to snicker in agreement as they flanked my tormentor on the top shelf. On more than one occasion I picked it up and looked at it, much like Frodo gazing at the ring.
How could I continue to serve as the curator of this journal, how could I claim to defend Southern culture, how could I join Birdmane in his quest for “from the rooter to the tooter” if I did not do this thing?
So like Igor before me, I brought home some brains.
So I cracked open the can and suddenly smell a pungent aroma not unlike Vienna sausages, of which I am not particularly fond. But this was important work. So I finished opening the can and raked the contents into my preheated skillet. There was some sizzle and I worked with the spatula to get the cooking started. I added the eggs and worked the two into a mixture until I reached the consistency I like for my eggs.
Plated up it looked pretty simple. The name is quite descriptive. Brains and eggs. That’s what it was. The Vienna smell has either dissipated or I had grown accustomed to it like a diligent paper mill employee. I had an increase in confidence. This was going to be ok. I was going to enjoy it, do a pleasant write up, might even eat it again occasionally. It was another step in my journey toward curmudgeonism.
So with a splash of coffee in the trusty James Longstreet mug I sat down at the table to cap off an ABG Test Kitchen success. I took a bite. It was different. I took another bite. It was certainly unique. I took another bite. I figured I didn’t have to eat it all. I took another bite. That was enough. I had done my duty. I scrapped my plate into a trash-bound container, walked out the door and deposited it all in the outside trash can. I didn’t even want it in the house.
I won’t do or say anything to disparage the hard working folks at Rose but I have no intentions of ever eating canned pork brains again. Check that one off the list.
However, I am now curious about fresh brains and farm fresh eggs. I’ll give that a whirl one day, given the chance.
Now to finish ventilating the Test Kitchen.
Sam Burnham, Curator
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
Sam Burnham, Curator
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.
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire