The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: August/September 2014

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Illustration: Tim Bower

On the Wagon
Clinton, Arkansas
August 23-31

Most of us mark Labor Day weekend with backyard barbecues and lazy beach days. Not so in Clinton, where tens of thousands of visitors descend upon Dan and Peggy Eoff’s Bar ōf Ranch to witness a hundred-plus chuckwagons barreling down hills and around tight corners at breakneck speed. A weeklong blowout, the annual Chuckwagon Races, a fast-paced homage to the covered horse-drawn carts that once carried food to hungry cowboys, also includes auctions, cattle drives, roping clinics, concerts, dances, rodeos, trail rides, and vendors from all over the country. The winners of the five race divisions—determined in spectacular sessions on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday—take home a collective $25,000 in prizes, presented in belt buckles, cash, and tack. But the races can be just as much fun for onlookers. Camp out on the ranch if you like, or if pitching a tent isn’t for you, it’s worth a day trip just to see these wagons back in action.—


Gulf Club

Swordfish, scallops, and fat, rémoulade-topped crab cakes populate the menu at Upstairs, the formal dining space at Fisher’s Restaurant in Orange Beach. At Dockside, the casual half of this two-sided tribute to the bounty of the Gulf, guests snack on peel-and-eat shrimp and crispy crab claws. Fisher’s head chef, Bill Briand, knows his seafood. This summer, though, he’s been partnering with a heavy-hitting cadre of guest chefs for the Southern Grace series, a lineup of Gulf-sourced
dinners that benefits the Southern Food-ways Alliance. On August 14, Oxford, Mississippi–based chef and G&G contributor John Currence, who grew up fishing on the Gulf with his father, will man the kitchen, serving five courses to nearly two hundred diners. And keep an eye out for more special guests in Orange Beach. Restaurant owner Johnny Fisher is already considering chefs from Nashville and Charleston, South Carolina. “This series has been such a hit,” he says. “There will be more to come.”—


Coast with the Most

Nothing against a classic fried shrimp basket, but there’s more than one way to serve up good seafood. On September 13, the folks at the West Palm Beach Feast of the Sea prove it with a massive spread of internationally inspired treats from the briny deep, laid out under a series of tents along the waterfront. Chefs from some of the city’s best restaurants are assigned a different geographic category—North America, South America, Europe, or the Caribbean—and tasked with crafting region-specific dishes, which are free to the public throughout the day. Imagine Peruvian seafood stew and Spanish-style ceviche, along with island beers and French wines. Hungry for more? Pick up tickets to one of the seated lunches or dinners, where four local chefs who have already won their respective heats in the city’s Maestro del Mar contest (a four-month-long seafood showdown) compete for the championship. Test out their winning dishes, and decide for yourself who deserves the seafood crown.—


Mixed Company

So you don’t know the difference between bitters and tinctures, or sherry and vermouth, or when to shake or stir a mixed drink. Fear not, future cocktailian. The experts at Holeman & Finch can help. The Academy of Bartending, a monthly series of mixology classes at the popular Atlanta restaurant, covers the essentials with two late-summer sessions. Enroll in Bar Basics (August 23) for an introduction to base spirits, bar tools, and classic cocktails that any host worth his or her shaker ought to know how to pour. At Beyond Basics (September 27), you’ll delve deeper into cocktail history and learn to master more advanced drink styles such as the cobbler, the flip, and the fizz. Of course, there’s only one way to make sure the lessons stick: plenty of practice.—


Sweet Thing(s)

If the only decision you regularly make regarding bourbon is ice or no ice, prepare to expand your horizons. Veteran food writer Lynn Marie Hulsman takes the South’s native spirit from behind the bar and into the kitchen with Bourbon Desserts (University Press of Kentucky), a new collection of recipes for whiskey-soused sweets. Raised in the Blue-grass State, Hulsman is no newbie to cooking with brown liquor. Even so, filling an entire cookbook with bourbon-based desserts spawned dozens of tasty creations that run the gamut from refreshing watermelon julep ice pops to burnt sugar and bourbon pudding. Grab a copy when it hits shelves in August and start practicing for the holidays.


Have a Rice Day

Fewer than 10,000 people live in Breaux Bridge, where the phone book still lists residents’ nicknames. But you can bet just about all of them knew how to whip up a proper roux by the time they could reach the stovetop. The sleepy bayou town, just west of New Orleans, has a reputation for serving some of the best Cajun food in the state, which makes it a fitting home for the Jambalaya Cook-Off (September 27). Contenders compete in two categories: meat (usually chicken or sausage) and wild game, which can be duck, venison, boar, game birds, or gator. If you plan on entering, just show up at 8 a.m. and have your submission ready for the judges by noon. Or if you’d rather taste than man the stew pot, come hungry and sample liberally.—


Plow to Plate

Behind every great chef is a team of great farmers. Farm to Chef (September 29), an annual fund-raiser held within the colorful walls of Baltimore’s American Visionary Art Museum, honors both sides of that special relationship by bringing thirty chefs and farmers together to create dishes that celebrate the local bounty. Take, for example, last year’s prize-winning dessert from chef Bryan Sullivan, of the Lord Baltimore Hotel. Paired with Milburn Orchards in Elkton, he delivered an apple fritter topped with apple pie ice cream and finished with, you guessed it, apple butter syrup. Other prize-winning dishes have ranged from goat ravioli to a bánh mi stuffed with Maryland-grown vegetables. Proceeds benefit Days of Taste, a program from the American Institute of Wine & Food that brings chefs and farmers into elementary school classrooms to teach students about the benefits of food that doesn’t come in a wrapper.—


Delta Course

Not only is Steven Satterfield, of Atlanta’s Miller Union, one of the masters of Southern farm-fresh cuisine, he also happens to be one of the friendliest chefs around. And he’s not afraid to share his secrets. During the Viking Cooking School’s Satterfield-helmed Culinary Weekend (September 12–14) at the Alluvian Hotel in Greenwood, you’ll build simple, seasonal dishes alongside the laid-back chef, whose upcoming book is a guide to cooking with farmers’ market ingredients. After a couple of days in the kitchen, put your feet up at the hotel’s extensive spa. What better way to end a weekend of Southern-food immersion than with a sweet tea soak?—


North Carolina
Dixieland Delights

Simple foods rooted in tradition: That’s the real secret to good Southern cooking. At least that’s the thinking behind the University of North Carolina Press’s Savor the South series, a collection of single-subject cookbooks devoted to pillars of Southern cuisine—biscuits, bourbon, buttermilk, peaches, pecans, pickles—and penned by some of the South’s foremost food writers. Find out why good fried chicken really does need a buttermilk soak and why pralines should never be made on a rainy day, when the books’ authors, including chef Virginia Willis, Raleigh food critic Andrea Weigl, and Charlotte food writer Kathleen Purvis, gather at the O.Henry hotel for the inaugural Savor the South Weekend (September 26–28). The gathering includes meals, demos, a trip to the Greensboro farmers’ market with O.Henry chef Jay Pierce, a grand tasting of more than thirty dishes from the various cookbooks, and plenty of opportunities to talk shop with a crew of culinary obsessives.—


South Carolina
Fair Trade

Housed in a big red barn on acres of pasture grazed by cattle, sheep, and goats, the Farm Fresh Fair (September 20) near Fountain Inn is like a day-long circus of fresh, local, and scratch-made goods. Stop by to stock your pantry with everything from fruit preserves and pickles to freshly baked breads and local honey. Nosh on snacks from Tupelo Honey Café while you browse rows of furniture, jewelry, and antique glassware too. What’s more, the fair benefits Mill Village Farms, a nonprofit that’s fostering the next generation of farmers through a series of partnerships with rural landowners and urban gardens in nearby Greenville, where teens learn sustainable farming practices and entrepreneurial skills. With a little luck, it’ll only be easier to find fresh food in the Upstate five, ten, and fifteen years from now.—


Appalachian Appetite

Between the fly-fishing, the spa, and the scenery, it’s pretty hard to have a bad day at Blackberry Farm, set among the hills of East Tennessee in Walland. But it’s the resort’s devotion to preserving and interpreting Appalachian food traditions that has made it a star on the culinary scene. You (and your future dinner guests) can benefit from all that expertise by securing a space at the Smoky Mountain Table workshop (August 3–6), which includes hands-on sessions with Blackberry’s butcher, cheesemaker, gardeners, and full-time preservationist, who is responsible for the hotel’s stock of jams, jellies, pickles, and preserves. Plus, there’s the opportunity to step behind the stoves with chefs Joseph Lenn, last year’s James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Southeast, and Josh Feathers. Wine pairings from award-winning sommelier Andy Chabot and a grand, bonfire-lit dinner round out the weekend in style.—


Get Your Goat

Brisket may reign supreme in Austin, but in Brady, a tiny town at the state’s center, there’s another pit-roasted meat in contention for the title. Goat barbecue is a Texas tradition carried up from Mexico by norteño cowboys centuries ago, and for more than three decades, Brady has been home to the World Championship BBQ Goat Cook-Off (August 29–30). This year’s event will include 206 teams from Texas, Oklahoma, and New Mexico, each of which will be issued half a goat to cook for a panel of judges and any lucky attendees who make it to Richards Park before supplies run out. You might want to show up before the lunch rush if you plan on grabbing a helping fresh off the pits.—


Water Perks

You’ve got to hand it to the folks at River & Trail Outfitters for coming up with a pretty perfect way to spend a summer day. Their Paddle, Wine, Concert series (August 2 and 16, September 6) begins at Tarara Winery near Leesburg, where you’ll catch a shuttle upstream and jump into canoes or kayaks for a leisurely float down the Potomac. Then it’s back to Tarara to refuel with an alfresco dinner of pulled pork, brisket, and sides from local barbecue joint Monk’s, along with offerings from the winery, which has earned high marks from critics for its bottlings made with oft-overlooked (in Virginia) grape varieties such as Petit Manseng. Live music by the riverbank completes the summertime trifecta.—


Washington, D.C.
Weekend Update

The unofficial meal of summertime, brunch gets done right in the District. To celebrate the season’s final weekend, many local restaurants offer special Labor Day brunches, including D.C. bartender and restaurateur Derek Brown’s 7th Street outposts, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency. The buttermilk biscuits at Southern Efficiency, topped with everything from pecan butter to Virginia ham with red-eye gravy, are a sure cure for any long-weekend hangover. And since the holiday is as good an excuse as any to eat your way through the weekend, we asked Brown to share a few of his favorite brunch spots:

Cashion’s Eat Place
“You can get eggs Benedict with Old Bay hollandaise, or waffles with Virginia maple syrup, but I like the Greek yogurt with housemade granola and wildflower honey. The patio is a plus, too.”

Market Lunch at Eastern Market
“Two words: Blue Bucks. Wait in line for the fluffy, sweet blueberry buckwheat pancakes. Get a side of homemade sausage or fried green tomatoes.”

Rappahannock Oyster Bar 
at Union Market
“I love to slurp oysters for brunch alongside champagne, especially when they’re from the nearby Chesapeake Bay. Afterwards, shop at any of the great food and craft purveyors.”


West Virginia
Field Day

In the late 1990s, when farm-to-fork dining was the exception rather than the rule, Jim Denevan organized the first Outstanding in the Field dinner, in California. This year, the group is heading to the remaining five states it hasn’t visited, including West Virginia on September 18. A ticket gets you a seat at one of the long tables set between rows of apple trees at Orr’s Farm Market in Martinsburg for a late-afternoon meal prepared by award-winning chef Damian Heath, who runs the kitchen at Lot 12 Public House in Berkeley Springs. Local beers and wines accompany Heath’s regionally rooted cooking for a tasty tribute to the foods of West Virginia and the hardworking folks who produce them.—

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