Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Cathy Pickens

Good Eatin': (Previously published Sept. 24. Retrieved from lost blog.)
Greetings from Cathy Pickens

It’s been fun meeting the fellow Southern bloggers as we get started on this adventure, so, by way of “how-do,” I write the Southern Fried mysteries, featuring small-town South Carolina lawyer Avery Andrews. The first in the series, Southern Fried, won the St. Martin’s Malice Domestic Award for Best Traditional Mystery.

The first cover featured a picnic basket with some appetizing fried chicken any Southerner would have been pleased and proud to carry off on a tailgate or a hike in the woods. Frankly, though, all things Southern ended at that point. Instead of potato salad, the basket had some lovely – fruit? Oddest of all, instead of a flaky, golden cat’s head biscuit (translation for the uninitiated: “big as a cat’s head”), it had a baguette.

With all due deference to the benefits of bunches of servings of fruit in your daily diet, to the crunchy softness of a fresh baguette, and to the artistic enterprise of cover artists everywhere, that ain’t no Southern picnic. But it was a fun cover.

So fun, the next two books had food on the covers, too, even though the pictures had nothing to do with the book, the title, or even what Southerners would actually eat.

I love the internet age, and I love emails from readers, even when they want to know why there are no &*(!@ recipes in the books. “There’s food on the cover, I expect recipes, you hear?”

I’m not really much of a cook. True, I’ve had recipes appear in regional cookbooks, but I stole them. From my mother. I sent them in because I like to eat them and thought other people might, too. I can cook them in a pinch, but my real talent is knowing where to head when I’m hungry – and it’s rarely my own kitchen.

That’s when I hit on an idea: I’ll tell you some of the places I like to eat. Then maybe you’ll tell me (and whoever else is reading) your favorite places to eat good Southern cooking.

A note on terminology: Some people call it Soul Food. Good name, of course, because it feeds your soul – along with your cholesterol and sugar levels. But down here, black folks and white folks pretty much eat the same food, and we just call it “good.” Not good for you because we like all four of our basic food groups fried. But definitely good.

I live in Charlotte, North Carolina now, and top of my list in town is La’wan’s Soul Food Restaurant, in a strip shopping center on South Tryon at Arrowood Road, just a bit north of I-485. THE BEST macaroni and cheese anywhere, cornbread that’ll melt in your mouth, and the nicest people ever. La’Wan’s is a finalist in the Steve Harvey Hoodie Awards, to be announced in Las Vegas in October 2007. Wish I could’ve told you to vote for them. I’ll just tell you to visit them instead. Address: 7705 S Tryon St., Charlotte, NC 28217 Phone: (704)665-7225

The essential of any Southern cook’s repertoire is fried chicken, and the pinnacle is Price’s Chicken Coop in Charlotte. Don’t come expecting to sit and eat, ‘cuz you have to take it with you. And don’t be discouraged by the line out the door, ‘cuz those folks know how to move chickens and people out the door. I don’t know what makes it so good – maybe it’s because it doesn’t have time to sit around after they fry it, in huge fryers right in front of you. Take it to the park, to your hotel, to a friend’s house (with a greasy cardboard box that says “Price’s,” trust me, you’ll have friends), add some fixings (maybe from La’Wan’s?), and prepare to be addicted. Located a block off Tryon Street (which, incidentally, would be Charlotte’s Main Street, if Charlotte was down-home enough to have a Main Street). Address: 1614 Camden Rd., Charlotte, NC 28203 Phone: (704)333-9866

Speaking of fried chicken, another must-stop is in Walhalla, South Carolina, my hometown (and a place that looks amazingly like imaginary Dacus, Avery Andrews’ hometown – but that’s only so I can keep the streets straight). Legions of Clemson University alums, dating back to the days when it was an all-male military school, know The Steak House.

Back in the day, that’s what they served: steak. Now, they’re even better known for their fried chicken. That’s what happens when a fellow from Saudi Arabia marries a local Oconee County girl and they start selling Arabian Rooster Fried Chicken. The cafeteria lines wrap around the restaurant on busy days, which is most days, but it’s worth the short wait. They’ll have somewhere to sit by the time you get your tray so full you can’t carry it. Address: 316 E. Main St., Walhalla, SC 29691 Phone: (864) 638-3311

Need some other ideas? Try my new friend Fred W. Sauceman’s books The Place Setting: Timeless Tastes of the Mountain South (Mercer Univ. Press: 2006) and The Place Setting: Second Serving (2007). He knows where the good stuff is and doesn’t mind telling you.

Older books (so you’ll have to hunt up a copy and call ahead since some of the good places are no more) include:

Backroad Buffets and Country Cafes: A Southern Guide to Meat-and-Threes & Downhome Dining by Don O’Briant (John F. Blair: 1998, 1999)

Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South by John T. Edge (Hill Street Press, Athens, GA: 2000)

A Local’s Guide to South Carolina’s Best Kept Dining Secrets by Brian Katonak with Lynne Katonak (Sandlapper: 1999).

If a place is still in business, you know it’s probably good.

Let me know where your favorite Southern homecooking places are. After all, you have to eat to read, don’t you?

I really got to go now. I’m starvin’.

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