Sam Burnham, Curator
If you aren’t familiar with Cartersville, Georgia or if your familiarity is a recent development, you probably wouldn’t imagine a sleepy little town of mostly miners and farmers. In the 1980s Cartersville was still a quiet little town, so if we go back to the 1940s, mentally, it will help set the stage for this story. This one is a legend passed to us as fact. The source is reputable so we’ll take it as fact until convinced otherwise.
This story begins in 1931. Herbert Hoover was President. A man named Fred Garrison set up shop, slinging burgers at the corner of Main Street and Gilmer Street in Downtown Cartersville. It seems an unlikely time to be opening a small business in a sleepy small town of miners and farmers. But 89 years later, 4-Way Lunch is still slinging burgers. In all that time they’ve never had a telephone.
Sometime in the 1930s, 4-Way hired a young man named Butter Ross. I don’t think his mama named him “Butter” but I don’t ask Superman what his real name is so I’m not asking for Butter’s birth certificate either.
Shortly thereafter the entire world went to war and Butter Ross went went with it. He did his duty and served his country. He fought honorably against the Axis powers. He returned to Cartersville as a hero with a dream. He wanted to open his own diner, sling his own burgers, be his own man. He wanted to hang his own name over his own door. So he announced his intentions to open his own place just around the corner.
In 2020, Cartersville is becoming a happening place. They have two world class museums and a Kroger with a bar in it but it’s still a relatively small town. In 1946 Cartersville was barely on the map. The idea of two diners operating less than the length of Weinman Stadium apart was unthinkable. The competition would be brutal. This town just wasn’t big enough for the both of them.
The management at the 4-Way begged Butter not to do it. They even warned him, “you’re gonna start a war!” But Butter was determined. “It won’t be my first war. And I ain’t never lost.” True to his words, Butter didn’t lose. In fact, his diner is still open as well. For both places to survive 74 years in such proximity in a small town is astonishing. The biggest takeaway is that they both had to be on top of their game every day. A bad day for one could mean its demise.
Today you can find a dozen or so places to eat within walking distance of this metaphorical battlefield. Regionally recognized chains and excellent local choices have added serious competition for the lunch crowd. There are more comfortable options with much larger menus. Despite the added pressure, the original two belligerents are still going strong.
The 4-Way boasts 10 diner stools at the bar in the main room. The back room, a remnant of segregation days, can hold two or three customers. No one cares what color you are now, all seats are first come, first serve. The only color that matters is green, as in cash. Your card is worthless here. They don’t even have a phone, much less a card reader. With so few seats the menu is small. All meals are made to order, meaning they make it, you order it, they immediately place it in front of you. No waiting. Ain’t nobody got time for that. Enjoy it but get to eating because someone is probably waiting on your seat. A gravy burger with chili cheese fries and a sweet tea is a fine meal.
Over at Ross Diner the setting is a bit more relaxed. With at least twice the seating things aren’t quite as rushed. Everyone sits around a u-shaped bar while the waitresses work through the middle. There’s a full kitchen in the back as opposed to just cooking everything right behind the bar like they do at 4-Way. It takes longer to get your food but it is made fresh. A fried pie with ice cream is an excellent choice and give you a chance to eat at both diners on the same visit to town.
So ABG has now given you a tip on how to get lunch and desert at two places but only using one parking space. You can add in some great shopping as well as enjoying the fantastic architecture of historic downtown. You’ll also be doing your part, serving honorably in the Great Cartersville Diner War, 74 years and still going strong.
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
Historian, self-proclaimed gentleman, agrarian-at-heart, & curator extraordinaire