John T. Edge's Top Ten Dishes of 2013

by John T. Edge - December/January 2014

From boudin that's gone global to a Caesar that's all Florida to smoke-kissed chicken with an Alabama shimmer, these 2013 favorites from the hungriest man in the South are a serious helping of Dixie flavor—classic and contemporary

Fried Rabbit Plate
Southern Fried Rabbit
Columbia, MS

In white-tablecloth restaurants across the region, I’ve eaten bacon-wrapped saddles of rabbit, pepper-jelly-glazed rabbit livers, and Easter specials of jelly-bean-garnished rabbit thighs. All have been good. But none have been better than the eight-dollar plates of fried rabbit sold from the drive-through at this former dairy bar across from Cheepo Depot Mattress and Furniture.

The owner, Stacey Morgan, began frying rabbits not long after her husband took a job as a meat inspector and came home one day to report that Rabbit-man Farms, down the road in Sandy Hook, Mississippi, was doing a brisk business. “If they’re processing that many rabbits,” Eddie Morgan told her, “somebody must be eating a lot of rabbits.” Besides plate lunches of delicately crusted bunny, ham-flecked butter beans, and mounds of white rice drenched in brown gravy, Southern Fried Rabbit serves fried rabbit po’boys, and you can also snag a foam bowl of gumbo, rich with chicken, sausage, and shrimp bobbing in a roux-thickened, chocolate-colored broth.

Beauregarde Blueberry Pie
Hog & Hominy
Memphis, TN

The curd is dense. And dark. So purple it’s almost black. Made from pounded hazelnuts and pulverized graham crackers, the crust, on the other hand, is loose, seemingly held together by softened butter and the will of Alex Willis, the sous chef at Michael Hudman and Andrew Ticer’s playful Italian-Southern hybrid. Faced with a surfeit of blueberries, he conceived this celebration of summer fruit.

Loops of candied orange peel, scattered across the surface, bestow a welcome brightness. Piled high, they call to mind a free-form sculptural tribute to a ruined Slinky, but taste a far sight better. Asked to explain the name, Willis will tell you the story of Violet Beauregarde, the Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory character who chewed a defective piece of bubble gum, swelled into a purple blueberry, and got rolled away to be juiced by a band of Oompa Loompas.

The Perennial
Popeyes Fried Chicken
Fast food chicken worth slowing down for

Look in the kitchen trash can of that woman or man you know to be a great fried chicken cook. Dig deep. Under those cabbage leaves she peeled away before hand-chopping the head for coleslaw. Beneath that bag of flour he mixed with buttermilk before baking a batch of cat-head biscuits. That flash of orange you spy is a Popeyes box. Let's face it: Everybody in the South cheats. And when they cheat, they cheat with Popeyes, the Louisiana-born chain that does right by legs and thighs, cooks red beans down to a righteous legume lava flow, and employs drive-through clerks who know how to keep secrets.


Photo credit (from top): Rush Jagoe; Robert Rausch; Antony Hare