The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: December/January 2016

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Illustration: Tim Bower

Middleburg, Virginia
Christmas Comes to Horse and Hound Country
December 5

Nothing against candy throws and Christmas carols, but nobody puts on a holiday parade like Middleburg. The horse town has the required floats representing innumerable civic groups, and Santa Claus still brings up the rear, but the bundled masses who make the trip to this historic hamlet each December don’t come to watch what they can easily get at home. Instead, visitors join locals lining Washington Street to see one of the oldest fox hunting clubs in the country ride in full dress down the main drag during the town’s famous hunt review. Packs of dogs and dozens more horses from nearby farms process along behind the riders and their mounts—the vanguard of the more traditional holiday parade that follows. “When the Corgi Corps comes through, that’s probably a hundred and fifty corgis with their owners,” says Jim Herbert, the organizer of Christmas in Middleburg. “You’ll see draft horses pulling wagons, and ponies with carts full of presents. Between the hunt parade and the main parade, there are more animals than at the circus.” Folks come for the spectacle, but also for the small-town welcome. “If you need joy, come get some,” Herbert says. “If you have joy, come spread it.” The more the merrier, as they say.—


On Point

It’s quail season in the Black Belt, a fertile strip of soil across Alabama’s midsection. The rolling country roads are lined with millet fields, scrubby briar patches, and islands of pine—prime hunting habitat, especially when it comes to wing shooting. Pam Swanner of Alabama Black Belt Adventures, which works with the folks behind the statewide Quail Trail and other conservation groups to promote the region’s bird hunting, has a few suggestions to help make your trip one for the books. Seek out the award-winning bird dogs schooled by legendary trainer Colvin Davis, at Davis Quail Hunts in Minter, or pick High Log Creek Preserve in Rutherford for a traditional mule-drawn wagon hunt. Shenandoah Plantation in Union Springs, a spot famous for field trials, is home to a pair of nesting bald eagles and offers one of the region’s best-appointed lodges. For a little local flavor, take a side trip to the riverside antebellum cabin in Lavaca that has housed Ezell’s Fish Camp for the last seventy-eight years. Order the catfish—you won’t be sorry—and save your birds for the freezer.—


Portraits of Place

Southerners have a long history of living close to the land—whether it’s in the Appalachian highlands or the Carolina Lowcountry. The current show at Bentonville’s Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, Picturing the Americas: Landscape Painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic (through January 18), speaks to that tradition—even if the subject matter stretches well beyond our region. The exhibit includes more than one hundred natural scenes depicting wild, wide-open landscapes from Quebec to Buenos Aires. You’ll find work from the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, Félix-Émile Taunay, Martin Johnson Heade, and José María Velasco. Grounded in the natural beauty of the Americas (North and South), the artists’ canvases capture the heart of each place, communicating an appreciation for the land that knows no border or language barrier.—


Pastel Perfect

In September 1926, a devastating Category 4 hurricane tore through Miami. Buildings collapsed. Hundreds died. As residents rebuilt, they did so in the architectural style that was then sweeping the nation: art deco, in which opulent combinations of geometric patterns, smooth lines, gleaming chrome, and neon converged with Florida’s sun-bleached pastels. In South Beach alone, there are more than eight hundred art deco relics within one square mile. Admirers of the genre will descend on the city January 15–17 for the Miami Design Preservation League’s annual Art Deco Weekend. There will be pop-up speakeasies, jazz performances, and a classic car show, all celebrating the glittering time that gave us Miami’s pre–World War II masterpieces. Reserve a spot to explore South Beach’s Ocean Drive landmarks with an architecture expert.Or book a nighttime neon tour to see the historic district’s buildings come alive after sundown. Double-breasted vest and straw boater purely optional.—


Cold Comfort

It doesn’t take much to make a memorable meal with juicy heirloom tomatoes and ripe summer peaches. Honestly, all you’ve got to do is slice them. What requires real skill is cooking with fresh ingredients in the depths of winter, when it’s too frosty to grow much besides sweet potatoes and greens. But Matt Adolfi can help. Formerly the chef de cuisine at Bacchanalia in Atlanta—one of the South’s early farm-to-table temples—he is now the chef in residence at Serenbe, the high-end residential community and namesake inn built around a productive farm in Chattahoochee Hills, and he uses the produce grown there for the Right off the Farm cooking classes. On Adolfi’s syllabus for Sunday, December 6: prime rib, warm roasted cauliflower and broccoli salad, and sweet potato popovers. (Sounds like a meal we’d sit down to any time of year.) As a seasonal bonus, he’ll also host a special Holiday Class (December 13) focusing on simple party snacks. The course includes cured meats, a twist on the tea sandwich, and a tutorial on make-your-own crackers. With recipes like those in your apron pocket, your get-together just might be the hottest ticket on this year’s holiday-party circuit.—


Distilled Wisdom

December 5 marks eighty-two years since Americans regained their imbibing privileges after the so-called “noble experiment” of Prohibition came to its merciful end. On Friday, December 4—thoughtfully scheduled a day ahead of the anniversary so as not to impede the celebrating—Moonshine University in Louisville will host a condensed version of its regular days-long course on the making and drinking of distilled spirits. The special Repeal Day Bourbon-Making Workshop dives deep into the basic ingredients of a barrel. “We’ll talk about different types of whiskey, made with wheat, rye, and corn, and taste them side by side,” says founder David Dafoe, a beverage industry veteran. Best of all: You’ll actually cook and distill a batch, too. And there’ll still be plenty of time left over the weekend to put your newfound knowledge to use at the nearest bourbon bar. In this region, you won’t have to look far.—



Masked and Generous

It’s a rare occurrence to have such Southern star chefs as Frank Stitt, Mike Lata, Donald Link, and Andrea Reusing together in the same kitchen. But stranger things have happened at the Orpheum Theater in New Orleans, a faded Beaux-Arts vaudeville palace that was wrecked by Hurricane Katrina. It had deteriorated into a mess of peeling paint and waterlogged foundations before new owners spent millions to bring the grande dame back. Now the painstakingly restored theater is hosting the Crescent City social event of the season. The inaugural Bal Masqué (January 8–9), a fund-raiser for the Link Stryjewski Foundation, which works to provide education and support to New Orleans youth, is well worth the price of admission. There’s a Mario Batali–helmed seated dinner on January 8. The black-tie bash on the following night—complete with haute cuisine party snacks from that all-star roster of Southern culinary luminaries—is an old-fashioned soiree. Masks are required. But before you confuse festive for fussy, consider the evening’s entertainment: Jimmy Buffett. Doesn’t get much more laid-back than that.—


A Mess of Matisse

Henri Matisse was still a struggling modernist when he met Claribel and Etta Cone of Baltimore, in 1906. Flush with money from their family’s textile mill (their elder brothers founded Cone Mills in Greensboro, North Carolina, which is still operating today and helping drive the American-made denim revival), the sisters were among the artist’s most loyal supporters in the decades to follow—scooping up paintings, sculpture, and drawings. Thanks to the civic-mindedness of those turn-of-the-century Southern socialites, who donated their priceless holdings, the world’s largest collection of Matisse’s work now resides at the Baltimore Museum of Art. An upcoming exhibit, New Arrivals: Matisse Prints & Drawings (December 9–July 3), will display several of them, along with thirty other recently acquired works bestowed by the Matisse family in recognition of the sisters’ (and by extension, the museum’s) relationship with the artist. The newcomers are a fresh addition to an already remarkable collection, meaning you don’t have to travel to France to see the best of a French master.—



The Big 3-0-0

Natchez is stacked with as much Southern history as the city docks along the Mississippi River are laden with freight. Built on the foundation of a colonial fort that dates back to 1716, and claimed by three different countries (France, Great Britain, and Spain) in as many centuries, the Bluff City is home to some of the South’s most magnificent pre–Civil War mansions. Today it’s both living museum and a thriving twenty-first-century town—one with a major anniversary ahead. Beginning with fireworks the night of December 31, the Natchez Tricentennial starts with a bang. In addition to near-nightly Mardi Gras parades and parties, January is packed with programming, including a New Year’s Day celebration of the city’s music heritage and an art exhibit, Coming Home: Twelve Renowned Natchez Artists (opening January 28). A partnership with the National Park Service, which also celebrates a big anniversary in 2016 (its centennial), will result in a new Natchez national park and a series of 366 videos on Natchez history recorded by handpicked locals. There’s a music festival in May, a big birthday bash come August, and an anniversary-themed holiday parade, too. In fact, city officials promise some sort of event every day until the end of the year. It’s an ambitious plan, but the past three hundred years have given them plenty of material to work with.—

Tim Bower


North Carolina
Home(made) for the Holidays

At the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, you can learn how to do anything from pick a dulcimer to make a scrap quilt. For ninety years, the mountain school has been an incubator for traditional Appalachian crafts and culture. Even if you can’t find the time to take a class in blacksmithing or pine-needle basketry, you can still support the school and find old-timey crafts at the annual Fireside Sale on December 6, inside the historic Keith House. Over homemade cookies and hot coffee, shop the holiday market, where area craftspeople will sell ceramics and jewelry, textiles and turned wood—the type of one-of-a-kind gifts you won’t find on Amazon. If your calendar is already crammed, don’t worry; the Craft Shop stays open until December 24, so even holiday-shopping procrastinators can still get the goods.—


Heavy Metal

James Surls is an acclaimed modern artist with works in some of the country’s most sophisticated museums—the Whitney, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian. But if you look a little closer at the Texas native’s sculptures, you’ll find a healthy dose of old-fashioned prairie grit. His large-scale yet minimalist structures—surreal constructions of wood, steel, and bronze, inspired by flowers and rock formations—resemble giant industrial tumbleweeds. Three of them landed on the manicured grounds of the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma in Norman as permanent fixtures. And this fall, three more arrived on campus as part of a months-long collaboration between the frontier surrealist and the university. There’s also a new exhibit, Distinguished Visiting Artist: James Surls, which will remain at the museum until January 3. With sculptures and drawings both, the show is a look at the stark but playful reality of an award-winning artist who has spent decades re-imagining the shapes and materials of his heartland home.—


South Carolina
South by Farther South

Charleston’s Upper King Street corridor—the new center of the Holy City’s ever-expanding dining scene—gives you yet another reason to head norte of Calhoun Street in search of your supper when Pancito & Lefty, named for the Willie Nelson/Merle Haggard classic, opens in late December. It’s no run-of-the-mill trendy taco shop. “Mexican food is so rich and deep,” says chef Robert Berry, formerly of Indaco. There will be tacos, yes, served with tortillas made from local corn that’s processed and ground in-house. But Berry, who this summer hopscotched from Oaxaca to Jalisco to Mexico City in the name of research, also plans on serving up chilaquiles, posole, fish crudo, and more, and is stocking the bar heavily with the tequilas and mezcals he sampled on his culinary adventure. It’s not such a far leap from South to south of the border. “The ingredients we have here are actually very similar,” Berry says of such Mexican cooking staples as pork, corn, beans, and tomatoes. Buen provecho, y’all.—


Scenic City Scene

Erik and Amanda Niel, owners of Easy Bistro & Bar in Chattanooga, got tired of losing local culinary talent to bigger neighboring cities—Nashville, Knoxville, Atlanta—so they decided to do something about it. “We looked at Charleston, South Carolina, which is roughly the same size as Chattanooga, and at the community they have created,” Amanda says. “They uplift one another. There’s competition but also camaraderie. To be a standout Southern food city, you need that.” Step one in their talent-retention plan: Throw a party. Last year, the couple started a friendly supper club to highlight the skills of the city’s homegrown chefs and bartenders. Each season, the Scenic City Supper Club invites diners to some of Chattanooga’s prettiest spots and presents them with menus that showcase the likes of smoked lamb shoulder with green strawberries and foraged flowers, and sweet corn panna cotta with peaches, bourbon caramel, and sage shortbread. Everything that hits your plate will celebrate the flavors of this quiet corner of the Volunteer State—and the talent that produces it. The winter dinner is scheduled for January 31, and although the details are still under wraps, if past dinners are any indication, we have a feeling folks will be coming to Chattanooga for this one.—


San Antonio Sips

Inside the Dorothy Draper–decorated St. Anthony Club, which recently reopened after a major face-lift, Herb Kelleher famously sketched out plans for Southwest Airlines on a napkin. This winter, it will be one of dozens of cocktail dens hosting discerning drinkers, along with chefs and bartenders, from all over the country to toast the liquid arts during the San Antonio Cocktail Conference (January 14–17). With paired dinners hosted by local and regional chefs, such as Jason Dady of Tre Enoteca, and some forty seminars, guided tastings, and cocktail parties all around town focusing on everything from highballs to hashtags, it’s an approachable conference for industry veterans and aspiring cocktail experts alike. “We try to take that intimidation factor down, and to offer seminars for everyone,” says organizer Cathy Siegel, “some for cocktail enthusiasts, and some for total novices.” All profits benefit children’s charities. We’ll drink to that.—


Washington, D.C.
Zen Again

Years before the term locavore entered our everyday dining vocabulary, the award-winning D.C. chef Eric Ziebold of CityZen was charming critics with the creative likes of Chesapeake Bay Sugar Toad (a puffer fish, not an amphibian) with okra blossoms and green tomato coulis, and attracting a cult following among residents for his addictive Parker House rolls. CityZen closed last year, but now Ziebold is reentering the city’s exploding dining scene with two new restaurants on Seventh Street NW, which is establishing itself as a destination for clued-in capital city diners. Near Mount Vernon Square, Kinship, which is set to welcome diners on December 15, and Métier, which is scheduled for a late-January opening, will share a building and a dedication to the best regional ingredients. The former will be the sort of place you might count on for a casual weeknight supper; the latter will serve a seven-course tasting menu in a more intimate thirty-six-seat dining room. With that kind of appeal, it might be a good idea to start looking into reservations…well, yesterday.—


West Virginia
The Carbon Class

At least a dozen millionaires once lived in Bramwell, whose current population totals 363. Surrounded by deposits, the mountain town was an outpost where coal barons and their families enjoyed conveniences like indoor plumbing, electric streetlights, and even central vacuum systems in the late nineteenth century. The money didn’t survive the Depression, but their stately homes did. With turrets, gables, wide porches, fancy woodwork, and copper roofs, the mansions open for tours just twice a year. So if you want to see how the 1 percent lived more than a century ago, you’ll need to arrive on December 12 for the Bramwell Christmas Tour of Historic Homes. Local guides will narrate the trek, which takes you from indoor pools to elaborate ballrooms to a full-size home once used as a playhouse by the children of one wealthy Bramwell businessman. Before you leave town, make sure to stop by the old drugstore, known to natives as the Corner Shop, for a shake and a burger.—