While the road is long and sometimes narrow, I never feel alone. The almost universal magic in communities, whether parts of a big city or small villages waiting for a visitor, provide unlimited opportunities for new friendships, cultural enrichment and, of course, flavors you never dreamed possible.
I like to mix everything, moving from well-planned thrills to tempting fate with spontaneity.
When lady luck on my side, something new will appear. James Beard and Julia Child often described it as a higher life.
Restaurants of the highest order can be found almost everywhere. Over the past months, I’ve been blessed with remarkable meals prepared by chefs and cooks of varying degrees from the very famous to rising stars and home kitchen wizards. If there is a constant, it would be the popularity of using locally grown farm products. In the Deep South, almost everything cooked is with few exceptions, available near most restaurants.
Local grown shouldn’t be a marketing gimmick. Promoting food as local when it’s obviously out of season is deceptive. Fortunately, those I deal with are proud of local relationships and many list their farm sources on their menus. It adds good will.
Cypress Restaurant in Tallahassee hosted a dinner recently. Not your ordinary fare, but a wine dinner where each course had ingredients from local farms. The sources were identified and one in particular caught my eye. Koinonia Farms, a stone’s throw south of Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, Georgia, supplied some of the ingredients. Known throughout the planet as the birthplace of Habitat for Humanity, I’ve visited often and enjoyed writing about this South Georgia Eden. For those looking for a life-changing experience, here’s your destination.
People live and work in harmony here, honoring the earth and serving the greater good, Koinonia Farm is a testament to organic farming surrounded by the sounds of laughter.
As a longtime fan of Cypress Restaurant and owners David and Elizabeth Gwenn, I wasn’t surprised to discover their local grower’s wine dinner menu was equal to or above their high professional standards. It featured a Pelican Oyster Trio – Pickled Watermelon Mignonette, Shiso-Ginger Granita and Green Tomato-Serrano Chutney followed by Coffee Rubbed Pork Grillades and Grits accompanied by a red wine, Tyrrell’s, “Rufus Stone” Shiraz, Heathcote, Australia. There was a tomato and goat cheese tart with lemon basil pesto vinaigrette dressed in Arugula made into magic with a sparking Rose from Austria.
The pièce de résistance was Grady Ranch beef tenderloin, scalloped potato and carrots, mushroom ragout made even better with a Chilean delight, Cousiño-Macul, “Finis Terrae”, Central Valley 2013.
An important footnote is the selection of wines. Variety coupled with a little informed daring makes the pairing experience meaningful. We don’t expand our wine horizons by serving wines that are too easy to locate.
The Gourmet Highway weaves through large cities and small villages indiscriminately. Corinth is a lovely northeast Mississippi town widely known for a local dish called slugburgers. Borroum’s Drug Store and Soda Fountain, a Corinth landmark, is not only the oldest Drugstore in Mississippi according to the great sage of the South Reggie Churchwell, but “the place to be if you want to go back in time, enjoy a cherry coke or a great milkshake.” Reggie, who is the go-to guy on Nashville’s Music Row, introduced me to Corinth-based artist Tony Bullard and his painting of Elvis and his first band, “The Blue Moon Boys,” leaving Borroum’s after a post-concert feast of Deep South delicacies.
Bullard, an accomplished artist, lives in Corinth, Mississippi and, Churchwell observes, “Is very much tied to the community with his art.”
The Gourmet Highway embraces both the traditional and contemporary beverages as essential components of gracious daily living whether sweet iced tea or Jack Daniel’s over ice. Wines came into America through the South beginning with the Spanish and later through the efforts of Thomas Jefferson who truly expanded our wine horizons, welcoming anything that paired with his local farm products.
In that spirit, I marveled at my good fortune to enjoy a wine made from an Old World wine grape. Assyrtiko, native to Greece, is made in a New World style by Australia’s Jim Barry. Served with wild white Georgia shrimp spectacularly prepared in a native Geechee-Gullah style, the wine soared on the palate, bringing out the subtle flavors of a thousand years ago. The exciting wine seemed perfect for the luxurious dining experience in a plantation house dinner deep in the wilds of South Georgia.
Since the last edition of Flavors and More, we’ve visited 25 cities. It’s almost unfair to single out any, but some were captivating like Virginia Beach, the coastal home of seer/philosopher Edgar Cayce where fine dining is exemplified by the haute cuisine of Le Yaca, an epicurean shrine with a world-class wine program.
Beaufort, the gem of a city on North Carolina’s fabled Crystal Coast provided outdoor joys like fishing and wildlife. Dining there is a continuous adventure from first light. We fished for our dinner, enjoyed watching wild horses grazing and swimming and devoured fresh Atlantic oysters at Sanitary Restaurant in Morehead City. (I longed for another bottle of Assyrtiko.)
We’ll be in your hometown soon. The Gourmet Highway leads to new discoveries and there is no better forum for introductions than a dinner table.
Please join us.