By Doc Lawrence –
Charleston, New Orleans, Miami Beach, Memphis, Nashville, Louisville, Montgomery and Atlanta were a few of the large cities we visited along the Gourmet Highway. There were glorious stopovers at wonderful destinations like Highlands and Cashiers in the mountains of Western North Carolina and the grand city of Thomasville deep in south Georgia near the Florida border. Each place offers wonderful locally owned restaurants with chefs who find and incorporate local products into their menu items. The Gourmet Highway is broader than food and wine, however.
It is a state of mind exemplified by notables like Ernest Hemingway who wrote, fished, soldiered and dined with equal amounts of gusto. Where you find excellence in a restaurant culture, you invariably find a community that supports the arts-galleries, museums, theatre and music from chamber orchestras to symphonies, plus jazz and more. There is a recognizable thread of community, a soul-binding agent where life is generally good. The vox populli is a chorus singing of happiness where visitors love to come and discover how these good people do what they do so well.
Louisville is a city that will remain Southern even though the Ohio River meanders downtown. The fictional home of The Great Gatsby, it is gracious, polite, and blessed with a commendable civic loyalty, it is forever the home and final resting place of Muhammed Ali and Col. Harland Sanders. Both are buried in the same magnificent cemetery. The Kentucky Derby defines the city and the grand hotels are luxurious enough to accommodate all who come. Favorite restaurants remain Jack Fry’s, The Oakroom, and at Dish on Market Street, you can start your day with the Harry Truman breakfast: fried eggs, rye toast and a glass of Kentucky Bourbon.
Nashville, relatively close enough to Louisville, is culturally very different. Music City is a badge worn proudly here. The Hermitage Hotel which hosted President Kennedy, all members of the Clooney clan, pool shark Minnesota Fats, Hollywood cowboy Gene Autry, has a gourmet restaurant, Capitol Grille that earns international acclaim. Jack Daniel’s, not Bourbon, is the whiskey of choice here.
Montgomery, the capital of Alabama, is home to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival and headquarters of the Southern Writers Project where Broadway plays are often created. The city boasts major fine dining restaurants like Jerry Kyser’s epicurean masterpiece Central plus soul and Korean cuisine and ubiquitous barbecue stops. A major arts center dotted with great museums ranging from the Rosa Parks Museum, the Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald Museum to the Hank Williams Museum.
The Gourmet Highway includes the wonders of so many smaller towns like Thomasville, Georgia. The “City of Roses,” is surrounded by legendary plantations like Pebble Hill and the downtown showcases Victorian homes with many converted to luxury B & B’s. Liam’s Restaurant is a Deep South gourmet landmark where the menu includes dishes with the very rare Pecan Truffles harvested nearby. For lunch, Jonah’s Fish and Grits provides a worthy dining adventure. Sweet Grass is a wine bar and gourmet cheese store that would be welcome in South Beach or New York. An unforgettable experience in a beautiful city.
Memphis, a barbecue and blues center, fascinates everyone. Some things remain the same and you can depend on Sun Studio to always attract crowds. After barbecue at Neely’s for lunch, a trip to Sun, the birthplace of Rock and Roll, brings memories of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Wanda Jackson, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and BB King. A walk through Graceland is obligatory before heading back to the Peabody Hotel for salutary Champagne as the ducks head to the elevator at 5 pm.
Dinner at the Peabody is a journey into international cuisine with a bit of southern flavor, a memorable feat under the wizardry of Executive Chef Andreas Kisler.
Another cozy stay along the Gourmet Highway was Highlands and nearby Cashiers. High elevations, clean air, top restaurants share sidewalk space with fine art galleries, auction houses, ice cream parlors with the Highlands Playhouse looking down on the city. Lakeside, On the Veranda and Old Edwards Inn satisfy the longings of any sophisticated diner.
Charleston is the fictional home of Captain Rhett Butler, the dashing smuggler who kept the aristocracy supplied with Champagne during the Civil War. Long ago, Low Country and Haute Cuisine cross-pollinated here and the results are amazing. Lunch at Poogan’s Porch with their miniature biscuits is nice a prelude to dinner at Peninsula Grill where only the brave finish the meal with a slice of their 12-layer coconut cake.
The Gourmet Highway is a fun-filled road show. Your favorite places may well be something we want to visit. Just let us know: firstname.lastname@example.org. Whether its Cracker or Cuban, Southern, French or Spanish or the result of American imagination, we are ready to dine, enjoy and share the news.