5 things to eat in the American South

Dreamland BBQ

The classics, and where to find the best.

The American South is its own country in so many ways, and most of all in its culinary heritage. This list could’ve been 500 things, given all the innovative chefs and hybrid food cultures in the diverse states south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

Go South with an appetite….

Barbecue

Each Southern state has its own unique style of barbecue, which is most commonly associated with a particular region: Carolina, Kansas City, Texas, and Memphis. It’s serious business in the South, and often used as a societal weed-out cue. “Wait, Kansas City? Bless your heart, Darlin’. You must be a Yankee, with all that sauce.” Memphis-style ribs are blessed with a dry-rub that’s the equivalent of savory glitter. If you’re into vinegar, Carolina is the pork shoulder for you. Texas is sweet, smoky beef, and while most Southerners aren’t exactly sure if it technically counts as barbecue, we’re afraid to mess with Texas so it gets a pass.

There is no gospel for “Must Eat Barbecue Restaurants,” but as a general rule, you should ask yourself, “Is this place sterile?” If the answer is, “Yes! Look at the stainless-steel tabletops,” you need to turn around and walk straight out that door. The dingier and sketchier the joint, the better the food. Bonus points if the whole building looks like a sneeze would take it down.

A few things y’all must try when you’re down here:

Jack’s Bar-B-Que, Downtown Nashville, Tennessee
Pork Shoulder Sandwich

Jack’s has been feeding hungry tourists, athletes, rock legends and country music superstars since opening its doors in 1989. On any given day, a line forms down Broadway and folks happily wait outside in the Hades that is a Southern summer just for a sandwich. Perhaps the best part about Jack’s is the wide range of authentic sauces — Tennessee, Kansas City, Texas Sweet Hot, Carolina, and Music City White Sauce (which is mayonnaise and horseradish based).

The Bar-B-Q Shop, Memphis, Tennessee 
Bar-B-Q Spaghetti

This dish is so uniquely Memphis, we’re not even sure it should be attempted anywhere else. It’s exactly as it sounds — a barbecue-based sauce, with smoked pork and spaghetti noodles. Railroad cook Brady Vincent gets the credit for inventing this hot magic, and his secret was sold to The Bar-B-Q Shop’s owners in 1980 when he retired.

Coletta’s Restaurant, Memphis, Tennessee
The Original Barbecue Pizza

Coletta’s is an Italian restaurant in Memphis that’s been serving up authentic fare since 1923, so why the mention here? Horest Coletta was determined to introduce pizza to Memphis in the 1950s, but no dice. It was a foreign concept to Memphians at the time — what is this saucy cheese bread? Coletta didn’t give up though — he installed a pit in the basement of his restaurant to smoke pork shoulder and birthed the Italian/Southern mashup that is barbecue pizza. Elvis was in love; the Memphis Mafia and squealing women soon followed suit.

Dreamland Bar-B-Que, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Dreamland BBQ Ribs

John “Big Daddy” Bishop’s career as a brick mason wasn’t cutting it. He was restless and wanted to find another way to support his family, either by opening a restaurant or a mortuary. God intervened, and Big Daddy started smoking his famous ribs for the masses in 1958 at a restaurant he built next to his home in Tuscaloosa. The ribs gained such a following, that ten Dreamlands are now open in Alabama, Georgia and Florida. You can also have those ribs shipped to your home.

Comeback Sauce

If mayonnaise is a Southerner’s best friend, then comeback sauce is Mississippi’s excuse for obesity. Fried green tomatoes? Drizzle a little on top. Fried shrimp? Dunk that bad boy head-first into a ramekin (a small condiment bowl, for the uninitiated) and pretend he’s swimming. Salad? We’re not sure what you mean by that, but here’s some orange mayonnaise that’s ripe for globbing on top. While its exact origins are a hotly debated topic, the general consensus is that it was created in the 1930s by Greek immigrants who settled in Jackson, MS as a poor man’s version of remoulade. (Let’s be honest, remoulade is hard for us to pronounce.) Basic ingredients include our buddy mayonnaise as a base, paprika, garlic, hot sauce, Worcestershire, and whatever pepper is hiding in your spice cabinet.

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