Arts & Culture
Celebrate the South: The Ultimate Southern Bucket List
Fifty great things Southerners should see, do, cook, read, and drink—at least once
photo: Johnny Autry
Juleps at the derby, check. Quail hunting in the Red Hills, check.Tailgating at the Grove, check. But beyond these quintessential experiences, a world of under-the-radar adventures awaits.
N° 1: Master Cornbread in a Skillet
Start with a ripping-hot cast-iron pan, preheated in the oven—you should hear a sizzle when you pour in the batter. Skillet cornbread began as a make-do dish for frontier cooks with an abundance of native corn, and has become the region’s beloved bread of choice, rivaled only by biscuits. Coarse-ground cornmeal, buttermilk, baking powder, salt, and bacon fat are all you need. Maybe an egg or two. Boost the quality by sourcing cornmeal from a regional operation such as Anson Mills in Columbia, South Carolina, or Weisenberger Mill near Midway, Kentucky. Fine-tuning your own version of that timeless balance of shatteringly crisp crust and soft, custardy crumb should be a Southern rite of passage.
>Get G&G‘s recipe for skillet cornbread
N° 2: Get Crafty at Alabama Chanin
Perhaps no one has set the standard for “slow fashion” in the modern era like Natalie Chanin—planting organic cotton with Billy Reid for a product line; employing local women to do the hand stitching from their homes in and around Florence, Alabama, the site of Chanin’s headquarters; and placing an emphasis on fabric and craftsmanship. No wonder sewing-circle types flock to her one-day to weeklong hands-on workshops, at which small groups of all levels come together to learn stitching techniques. Start by choosing a kit (all materials provided), then follow along as Chanin or a member of her studio walks you through the process of making the likes of embroidered scarves, baby blankets, swing skirts, or corsets in the signature Alabama Chanin style—an aesthetic that appeals to the Southern woman who likes her femininity with a touch of badass. alabamachanin.com
N° 3: Tap Your Foot at Thacker Mountain
“Can’t you feel it? Down in your bones. Can ya feel it? Lord only knows, I can feel it. Put your hands on the radio!” House band the Yalobushwhackers kick off the with these words every Thursday night during the summer and fall, before singing in the witty master of ceremonies: “Here comes Jim Deeees!” Broadcast live from Oxford, Mississippi’s quirky Off Square Books, this paean to old-fashioned radio shows packs in both the college town’s AARP and Snapchat crowds with readings and sets by the likes of Elvis Costello, Donna Tartt, and the Drive-By Truckers. Seats are first-come, first-served, so scoot in a half hour before the six o’clock start to grab a spot near the front (the narrow shop holds just upwards of a hundred). Be ready to hoot and holler and cheer—after all, the rollicking atmosphere is the best reason to travel there rather than tuning in. thackermountain.com
N° 4: Warm a Pew at Jimmy Carter’s Sunday School Class
The thirty-ninth president of the United States first taught Sunday school as a teen. More than seven decades later, on most Sundays James Earl “Jimmy” Carter, Jr., still stands at the front of the Maranatha Baptist Church sanctuary in his hometown of Plains, worn Bible in hand, South Georgia drawl enunciating scripture. Multitudes from across the political spectrum wait before dawn for one of the 10:00 a.m. class’s 275 spots (the Fellowship Hall can fit about a hundred more). Jan Williams, manager of the Plains Historic Inn, has wrangled pilgrims through security checks and photo ops since the 1990s. While Carter’s opening remarks are always topical, she says, his prevailing message never wavers: “Leave and be better people to your fellow man.” mbcplains.org
N° 5: Hit Soft-Shell Crabs Hard
Chefs up and down the Atlantic coast anticipate the moment each spring when the moon conspires with the weather to bring coveted blue crabs out of their shells. But to experience the phenomenon at fever pitch, head to Charleston, South Carolina, in early April, when chefs cozy up to Holy City seafood dealers in an informal competition to serve up the first softie. By the thick of the two-week-long harvest, the sweet delicacy is listed on more than forty local menus, each restaurant—many within walking distance of one another—trying to outdo the other, from the fried crabs at Cypress, served with crab roe and purloo, to the hot-chicken-style crab on a biscuit at Poogan’s Porch. Try them all, with a glass of rosé.
N° 6: Be Inspired by a Historic Garden
For almost a century, horticultural enthusiasts have poured into the public and private homes that open their gates across the commonwealth, from Richmond to Roanoke, for the Garden Club of Virginia’s annual Historic Garden Week in April. But those in the know prioritize the Lynchburg leg, a group of twelve residences and historical sites tucked in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. In the morning, see wisteria drape the pergola at the late poet and civil rights activist Anne Spencer’s patch of earth. Then admire English boxwood parterres at Villa Maria, a 1911 mansion with grounds planned by Colonial Revival landscape architect Charles Gillette. Finish the day at Poplar Forest, Thomas Jefferson’s summer home, where archaeologists dig to reveal the noted green thumb’s landscaping schemes. vagardenweek.org
N° 7: Spend a Night in the Past
For the past seven years, Joseph McGill, Jr., has brought the significance and preservation of cabins that housed the enslaved into the light through his nonprofit, the Slave Dwelling Project. In addition to giving lectures, McGill often spends the night in the homes, from Rhode Island to Louisiana, and allows visitors to join him on some of the weekend sleepovers, which he announces on his website. As the night draws on, McGill may tell stories, or special guests might drop by, such as food historian Jerome Bias, who cooks over an open fire dishes the enslaved may have eaten—pork jambalaya, succotash, pumpkin custard. It’s a chance to honor and remember. slavedwellingproject.org
N° 8: Shell Peas on a Porch
A memorable Southern meal is just as much about the journey as the destination. Settle a pot between your knees. Tear off one end of the pod and pull the string down the back, opening the pod and loosening the peas into the pan. Tell stories, sing songs, shell till your fingers are sore.
N° 9: Exalt in the Lessons and Carols
Sewanee’s Advent tradition since 1960 by Jon Meacham
N° 10: Land a Brown Trout on the White River
You could spend a lifetime, and have a lifetime well spent, chasing Appalachian mountain trout in their pristine, primeval high-country waters. But every serious angler needs to walk on the dark side at least once. The big brown trout of Arkansas’s White River can reach the size of a Boykin spaniel—ten pounders are common, but thirty pounders aren’t unknown—and eat foot-long rainbow trout like movie popcorn. The hundred-mile tailwater stretch of the White River below Bull Shoals Dam, where they’re plentiful, stuns with morning fog hanging low under river bluffs. But make no mistake: Folks don’t come here for the postcard surroundings, but for the chance to land an Alaska-size trout in the South.
N° 11: Dig in to Carolina Hash
Never heard of hash? You’re not alone. The gravy-like mustard-spiked pork, regularly ladled over white rice, is rarely served outside of South Carolina, where cooks came up with the dish as a way to use up hogs’ heads and organs. But to truly feel like a whole-hog connoisseur, you’ll want to seek out spots that render the smokehouse staple the old-fashioned way: over coals in a cast-iron kettle. Jackie Hite’s in Leesville, for instance. Then swing by the Bi-Lo grocery store just north in Prosperity on your way out of town. There you’ll find containers of Dowd’s, a superlative take-home hash out of Newberry.
N° 12: Stargaze in the Lone Star State
Along the Rio Grande in Texas, you’ll find one of the most remote areas in North America—and a jaw-dropping panorama of the heavens. On one side of the river looms the 800,000-plus-acre Big Bend National Park, and on the other, some 1.2 million acres of Mexican national parkland. The closest cities are hours away, which means the night sky is as clear as the long views across plains dotted with creosote bush, sotol, and the occasional mule deer. Grab a backcountry-hiking permit and trek through the Chisos Mountains, up steep trails and down cool limestone canyons (in winter, to dodge the worst of the hot, arid climate). Step out of your tent after dark and marvel at the crystal-clear cosmos, interrupted only by the dark silhouettes of desert peaks. nps.gov/bibe
N° 13: Suit Up at Sid Mashburn
The English language lacks a single word that captures Sid Mashburn’s flagship men’s store in Atlanta, and so we must turn to the Italian. Sprezzatura—a studied carelessness, an effortless cool—permeates the place, from the sockless associates to the vintage football laid casually between the stacks of Mongolian cashmere sweaters. But the real reason to travel there for a suit is the service. Three cuts are on hand, ready-made by Mashburn’s suit makers in Italy, including the slim-fitting Kincaid in classic Oxford Grey sharkskin; the $1,150 starting price includes the work of in-house tailors who have their own thread-spooled nook in the corner. Better yet, say yes to a tumbler of Buffalo Trace while you flip through the fabric book and, together with an associate, design the suit of your dreams. In ten minutes the tailors will have your measurements, and in two to three weeks your suit will be ready. sidmashburn.com
N° 14: Slice into a Smith Island Cake
The layers keep the Smith Island cake from drying out. That mattered decades ago, back when women on this defiant Maryland island stacked cakes in nine to fourteen pancake-thin layers for men to take with them during the long autumn oyster season on the Chesapeake. And it matters today, as the 250 or so remaining residents work to preserve the integrity of their dessert, often made as a yellow cake with fudgy icing. Others can copy a recipe and sell all they want, locals say, but real Smith Island cakes are baked by Smith Islanders on Smith Island, where no two are ever identical or stale. Order one by calling Drum Point Market (drumpointmarket.com), one of three restaurants on the island serving the cake. Or, hop the ferry that leaves from Crisfield for a fresh slice of history. visitsmithisland.com
N° 15: Plant a Rare Southern Seed
The best gardens are full of stories. That watermelon patch sprouted from your mother’s favorite variety. Perfect peas shared from your neighbor’s prized crop. Southern Exposure Seed Exchange—the region’s top heirloom veggie, herb, and flower guardians, located in the Virginia hills—works with small farms to trace and preserve hard-to-find seeds that can enrich the tale your land tells, too. Try these three:
Radiator Charlie’s Mortgage Lifter Tomato
In the 1930s, a Logan, West Virginia, man repaired radiators at the bottom of a steep hill where trucks often overheated. He also cultivated this esteemed beefy tomato, selling the plants to pay off his house.
Fife Creek Cowhorn Okra
A Creek woman staying with the Fife family of Mississippi shared this strain, featuring a curved pod that remains
tender even as it grows and a light, delicate flavor. The Fifes tended the plant down through their extended family tree, all the way to Kentucky.
Carolina African Runner Peanut
Seed savers in the Carolinas discovered a cache of these groundnuts—brought to the colonies by West African slaves and thought to be extinct since the 1930s—and recently reintroduced the dense, sweet variety, which flourishes just as well in a postage-stamp plot as it does on a farm. southernexposure.com
N° 16: Dwell on Dreams at Room 306
Author Hampton Sides pays homage to Memphis’ Lorraine Motel—home of the National Civil Rights Museum.
N° 17: Find Your Inner Huckleberry
For thousands of years, before there was an America, people have paddled the mighty Mississippi. That makes doing so no less magnificent these days, especially when you cast off as those natives might have, in a handmade canoe. The legendary John Ruskey and his Quapaw Canoe Company, out of Clarksdale, Mississippi, will guide your excursion down the lower portion of the waterway, by the day or week, past cotton fields and tree groves and deer and bears as the river pumps through the heart of the Delta. Disembark on one of the remote islands, so pristine they’ll seem plucked from the Caribbean, that dot this stretch to camp and dream—but not of being Huck Finn. That part has already come true. island63.com
N° 18: Buy a Book from Larry McMurtry
You just might find the grizzled author of Lonesome Dove (and Oscar-winning writer of the Brokeback Mountain screenplay) walking among the shelves of Booked Up in his hometown, Archer City, Texas. Larry McMurtry owns the place, one of four storefronts he opened around the square to peddle his more than four hundred thousand antiquarian titles; he has since shuttered half of the spots and sold off a big chunk of his collection, but still spends many days at the shop, pricing hardbacks and whatnot. The chance to interact with a legend alone would be worth the trip, but the tomes are their own draw: Les Larrons, for instance—a French translation of William Faulkner’s last novel, The Reivers. Or, a fitting souvenir: a signed McMurtry first edition. bookedupac.com
N° 19: Hobnob with the Horse Crowd
Before the dew dries and the fog lifts, the daily workouts at Keeneland begin. Prize Thoroughbreds pound by the early risers dotting the grandstands of the historic Lexington, Kentucky, racecourse—admission is waived for the training, a hushed ritual rendered electric before the hullabaloo of a race day. After watching the dirt fly, rub elbows with top-tier trainers, Triple Crown–winning jockeys, owners, breeders, grooms, and track rats, as most make their way toward the black water tower to the Track Kitchen. At the modest cafeteria, hidden among the stables on the east side of the property, five bucks gets you the rib-sticking house special of scrambled eggs, bacon or sausage, toast or a biscuit, and home fries or grits. Get the home fries. keeneland.com
N° 20: Party at Willie’s Place
Each spring, kindred souls descend upon a small-town Texas estate for the Luck Reunion, a chance to commune, break bread, and swap stories from the previous year. But this is no ordinary gathering. The patriarch is Willie Nelson, and the location is a cinematic Western wonderland built for Nelson’s 1986 film Red Headed Stranger. In addition to a saloon, a post office, and even a quaint country church, the Spicewood property, just south of Austin, hosts soundstages, food trucks, and artisan booths—all of which makes it an ideal setting for the two-day event held during South x Southwest. Nelson family concerts featuring sister Bobbie and son Luke fill the bill along with indie rock shows fronted by the likes of Conor Oberst. Sign up for e-mails to get the secret code you’ll need when tickets are released in January; they go quickly. But it’s the kind of hootenanny that inspires everyone to, as the Braided One is wont to say, count their blessings. luckreunion.com
N° 21: Bop Around for Boudin
Lean against your car. Squeeze the boudin—a Cajun variation of old-world blood sausage, typically sans blood—still warm from the chafing dish, out of the casing and into your mouth. Savor. People from afar tend to think of boudin as homogeneous: the same old mix of cooked meats and rice and spices, encased. But travel in and around Lafayette in Southwest Louisiana and make frequent stops—at restaurants, butchers, and convenience stores, such as Best Stop in Scott, or Bourque’s in Port Barre—for the delicacy. A road trip is the best way to experience the tastes and cultures that will emerge, one parking lot at a time. When finished, ask the person leaning against the closest car where you should go next. Repeat.
N° 22: Hunt Ramps in the Mountains
Appalachian cooks know it’s spring when the wild onions known as ramps start poking their flat green leaves and purplish stalks out of the hillsides where they’ve been slumbering all winter. Pungent and garlicky, chopped ramps have livened up skillets of potatoes and scrambled eggs for generations. Now that chefs have caught on, you’ll find them on menus across the country—you might even see a few bundles in your local upscale supermarket. But there’s nothing like stalking them yourself in the wild. Scan forests at elevations between three thousand and five thousand feet in April and May. Harvest them sustainably by digging around the bulb and leaving the roots. Sauté, grill, puree, or pickle them, but don’t eat ramps raw—you’ll smell like garlic and onion all day.
N° 23: Dance the Appalachian Square
How fiercely resistant are mountaineers to convention? The region’s traditional square dance begins with the call, “Let’s all join hands in one big circle!” The style, which fuses European, Native American, and African influences in high-spirited fashion, is still practiced at political rallies and barn raisings. But the best affair for first-timers looking to swing their partners convenes on select summer Fridays in Waynesville, North Carolina. The street gets blocked off and dusted with cornmeal for easy hoofing to live bluegrass, and the calls come courtesy of Joe Sam Queen, whose grandfather (who once called an Appalachian Square at FDR’s White House) helped start the social event in the 1930s. downtownwaynesville.com
N° 24: Get Down with Billy Reid
Let Billy Reid teach you how to throw a party. At his annual Shindig, in his adopted hometown of Florence, Alabama, the fashion designer brings together the best in Southern style, food, and music for an August weekend fete. Settle into the small-town spirit with a free Friday afternoon baseball game, once just a friendly match among Reid and his staff that has grown to an all-star event (last year, Jack White manned first base). Take in intimate concerts, also gratis, in Wilson Park by the likes of Nikki Lane and Dan Dyer and ticketed full-throttle rock shows in the Shoals Theatre from bands such as Alabama Shakes. Dive into elaborate spreads put on by a who’s who of Southern chefs (John Currence, John Besh, Chris Hastings). The final flourish? The designer’s annual Warehouse Sale, where you can score a serious deal on new threads. billyreid.com
N° 25: Take Flight at Kitty Hawk
Even though the “first in flight” title was claimed more than a century ago, thrill seekers still flock to the North Carolina spot Orville and Wilbur Wright made famous to lift off on their own first flights—harnessed beneath a hang glider’s wings. Taking advantage of the steady winds and soft sand that drew the Ohio aviators to the Outer Banks, rank beginners can soar above the rippled dunes thanks to local outfitter Kitty Hawk Kites. So long as those gliding keep their movements as soft and subtle as the cloud wisps they no doubt feel like they’re nearing, they can travel more than 120 feet—surpassing the pioneering duo’s initial trial run back in 1903. kittyhawk.com
N° 26: Book Galatoire’s for Mardi Gras
After 112 years, the reservation policy for the fabled first-floor dining room at Galatoire’s in New Orleans remains strictly first-come, first-served, leading to long lines and big crowds. Friday lunches in particular hum with a joie de vivre—few have any intention of going back to work. The end-of-week eating (and drinking) tradition became so popular that people were being paid to queue up as early as Tuesday; securing a table for the coveted Friday before Mardi Gras was practically a sport. In 2006, the folks at Galatoire’s decided to auction off reservations for that Friday before the city’s biggest celebration instead, to benefit local charities. The catch: You (or a friend) have to show up about a month before to bid for a table. But for a once-in-a-lifetime front seat to the spectacle, the sacrifice—including the four to five hundred bucks you’ll ante up per person—is worth it. galatoires.com
N° 27: Discover the Next Bill Monroe
Don’t you dare call the Station Inn’s Sunday Bluegrass Jam just another Nashville open-mic night. Held with churchly regularity since 1974, the free jamboree gives amateurs and old hands, regulars and out-of-towners, traditionalists and next-generation banjo, mandolin, Dobro, guitar, fiddle, and upright-bass players the chance to circle up in a crush of mismatched pews and folding chairs to improvise. Spectators stand and toe-tap. And like the threadbare festival bills papering the walls, the refreshments are simple: beer, popcorn, pizza, pimento cheese. But for all its nonchalance, the Inn—immortalized by artists such as Bill Monroe, Alison Krauss, and Béla Fleck—and its signature event have launched music careers. Country star Dierks Bentley’s, for one. stationinn.com
N° 28: Eat Smoked Mullet
Before the time of spring breakers and overblown theme parks, the Sunshine State charmed generations with its roadside alligator farms and orange groves—and smoked mullet stands. But dwindling populations of the rich and oily fish, along with modern palates that prefer options like mahimahi and grouper, mean mullet has gone out of fashion. You can still find the dish at spots like Ted Peters Famous Smoked Fish in St. Petersburg, or the Mullet Shack in Apollo Beach, where it’s rendered ethereal by wood-smoking and then served straight, or mixed with mayo or sour cream in a spread. Either way, it’s a memorable taste of Old Florida.
N° 29: Honor the Legacy of African Americans
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture is a mouthful, and some call it “the Blacksonian” instead. The latest of the museums to be built on the Mall in Washington, D.C., recounts not simply black history but American history, for the saga of African Americans forms an inextricable part of the fabric of the country. Telling it, knowing it, and celebrating it brings us all closer to mutual understanding. As a culinary historian, I consulted on the museum’s cafeteria, and enjoy returning to the NMAAHC time and again—but it’s difficult to make it through the thirty-seven thousand objects in one go. For now, these are my five favorite pieces to seek out with a connection to the South.—Jessica B. Harris
Slave Auction Block
An inscription on this simple stone from Hagerstown, Maryland—a standout in the museum’s section on African enslavement in the United States—says that Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson spoke on the spot in 1830. But that plaque hides in plain sight the significance of the piece: For years, men, women, and children were sold from the stone as chattel. As President Obama noted in his speech to open the museum, this object reminds us of a history too often overlooked.
Harriet Tubman’s Shawl
This cream-colored linen and lace shawl belonged to the famed abolitionist. That the gossamer garment survived the vicissitudes of time is extraordinary. That it belonged to Tubman is amazing. But that it was given to her by Queen Victoria, who admired her, is simply astonishing. The shawl is a witness to a little-known link between two powerful nineteenth-century women.
A Pullman Car
A segregated railroad sleeping car that had been operated by the Southern Railway Company—long headquartered in D.C., but composed of systems throughout the South—is one of the largest items on display. In fact, it was put in place before the building was complete so that the museum could be constructed around it. The car presents a vivid example of the trials of the segregation era.
Chuck Berry’s Caddy
African American contributions to music here range from one of Louis Armstrong’s trumpets to Parliament-Funkadelic’s Mothership. My favorite, though, is one of the bigger objects in the collection: Chuck Berry’s candy-apple-red Cadillac Eldorado. The great-grandchild of Southern slaves, whose family had moved north in the Great Migration, drove it on stage in triumph at a show at the Fox Theatre in St. Louis—a place where he had been refused entry as a child.
Leah Chase’s Chef’s Jacket
The doyenne of black Creole cooking in New Orleans donated this outerwear to the foodways exhibit, which cele-
brates contributions African Americans have made to this country’s culinary tradition. I had the honor of bringing it from Mrs. Chase and her acclaimed Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to the museum. nmaahc.si.edu
N° 30: Pay Homage to the Bear
A modest plaque makes no mention of the myth, only the man: “Paul William Bryant, Sr., Sept. 11, 1913–Jan. 26, 1983.” But more than thirty years after his death, “Bear” is still the biggest name in football, and fans far and wide make their way across the tidy lawn of Elmwood Cemetery in Birmingham, Alabama, almost daily to lay offerings—car flags, pom-poms, megaphones—at the family monument of the legendary coach with a record six national championships. Following the red lines to Block 30 yourself serves as a reminder: If you make a big enough impression here on earth, you don’t need to leave behind fancy memorials—the devoted will do it for you.
N° 31: Ring in the New Year at the Ryman
Some people just don’t feel right starting the week without church, and for country worshippers, the same could be said for welcoming the New Year without the church of music. The Ryman Auditorium’s New Year’s Eve show—for most of the last decade, headlined by Opry members Old Crow Medicine Show—has become a beloved Nashville tradition (last year, tickets went on sale in August; they can evaporate within the hour). So kiss your sweetheart at midnight, and sway to “Auld Lang Syne” as a baptism of balloons rains down. Drum on the pews in front of you, and the “Wagon Wheel”–ers will return for a benediction before turning the faithful loose on Broadway. ryman.com
N° 32: Taste the Delta of Old at Lusco’s
Author Wright Thompson visits a Mississippi Delta institution.
N° 33: Porch-Sit at the Neshoba County Fair
For a hot and sticky week in July, visitors gather near Philadelphia, Mississippi, for the Neshoba County Fair’s mash-up of quintessential Southern experiences. There, you can wager on a horse race at a red dirt track, hands wrapped around a cool slice of watermelon or a fried pickle. Democrats and Republicans alike turn up to kiss babies and do some good ole tree-stump politicking. Competitors cakewalk for layered caramel and chocolate masterpieces. And music lovers race each other across the track, colorful nylon lawn chairs in tow, to claim the closest views of the evening concerts. But the best part is the hospitality. Rural farmers first began meeting in 1889 for the fair, the grounds of which hold brightly painted family-owned row houses built to accommodate the kinfolk who return year after year. Those visiting for the day (or staying outside the property) are made to feel like part of the conversation—literally. Don’t be surprised if you’re invited up to chat over a glass of tea on a porch swing or for a late-night sing-along. neshobacountyfair.org
N° 34: Slurp a Drive-Through Daiquiri
We know what you’re thinking. Liquor to go? But in Louisiana, when the attendant hands you a straw along with your daiquiri in a lidded cup, that means the frozen drink you’re holding counts as a closed container. Though their ranks have thinned, drive-through daiquiri shops have been fixtures in southern Louisiana since the early 1980s, when the state did not prohibit drinking while driving. The laws may have changed, but Louisianans still like getting their libations on the run. Daiquiri has become a fungible word that Hemingway would not recognize, and so whiskey sours and “Jungle Juice” are sold alongside rum drinks. Have a designated driver order a White Russian at a spot like Daiquiri Island in Marksville for the passengers, drive to a backwoods road, get out to sit for a spell, and puncture those lids. 318-253-6436
N° 35: Hook a Redfish in the Hatteras Surf
There’s a sense of raw purity on North Carolina’s Cape Hatteras shore, where the unblemished Southern coast thrusts its jaw deep into the wild Atlantic Bight. That’s why, even though you can catch a redfish on any Southeastern coastline, you should journey here, to the greatest surf-fishing beach in the region. In fall and winter, schools of the species by the hundreds turn the nearshore breakers copper as they curl. These big reds can top fifty pounds, and fighting one with your wader boots in the sand and the tide pulling you seaward puts you on the edge of it all—the edge of the continent, the edge of the sea, the edge of your ability as an angler.
N° 36: Get the Blues at Red’s
Clarksdale, Mississippi, helped birth the blues—it’s where Robert Johnson supposedly cut his fabled deal with the devil. But to capture true Delta magic, head to Red’s Lounge, one of the few remaining clubs with a genuine juke-joint vibe. Crimson lights. No frills. Odds-and-ends chairs so close you can reach out and touch such ax icons as R. L. Boyce and Leo “Bud” Welch when local talent lays it down on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights. Strike up a conversation with some of the Brits or Germans who’ve made the pilgrimage, too, while pulling on a Budweiser tall boy dispensed by the owner, Red Paden. When the lovable curmudgeon isn’t behind the tiny bar, he’s tending the chicken and ribs he has going on a smoker out front. But the real sizzle is inside.
N° 37: Spot Hawks at Rockfish Gap
On a slow day in Rockfish Gap, a cleft in Virginia’s Afton Mountain, the birds might dribble by in twos and threes and a half dozen at a time. But on a good day, when the autumn thermals heat up and rush skyward along the Blue Ridge, the hawks soar southward by the hundreds and the thousands, and the bird-watchers below can hardly believe their eyes. Or keep tally. As an official station of the Hawk Migration Association of North America, Rockfish puts you in view of hordes of broad-winged and red-tailed hawks, kestrels, peregrine falcons, turkey vultures, black vultures, and bald eagles. Grab a lounge chair, a hot drink, and binoculars, and make your way to a grassy lawn near the old Inn at Afton, twenty miles west of Charlottesville. You’ll see the crowd. rockfishgaphawkwatch.org
N° 38: Rejoice at Watch Night
For a soulful alternative to a soused New Year’s Eve, track down one of the churches across the South that celebrate Watch Night—an annual service linked to the beginnings of the AME church. The chance to meditate on the past year and to bless the next bore extra weight for certain congregations when 1863 arrived and the Emancipation Proclamation took effect. Some services still nod to those harrowing minutes, when the enslaved didn’t know if the document would bring liberty or inflame their oppressors. Experiences vary. You could drop to your knees to pray just before the clock strikes twelve. The congregation might switch the lights off, or elders may chant the countdown. But as the year turns over, the life-affirming torrent of joy you’ll feel, as everyone jumps up to praise the coming year, is universal.
N° 39: Make Merry at the Greenbrier
Sleigh rides through the new-fallen West Virginia snow. Ice-skating under the stars. A stay at the storied Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs always feels special, but the 239-year-old resort’s holiday festivities have enchanted visitors for generations. Dozens of beribboned Christmas trees, garlands, and wreaths deck the halls, the reds and greens popping against the bold stripes and botanicals of the Dorothy Draper decor. Most events are open to the public, including Nutcracker performances, musicals in the chapel, trolley rides to see the acres of light displays, and tree lightings every Saturday in December, when visitors gather on the front lawn to sip hot chocolate and sing carols. Nestling in one of the resort’s beds come Christmas Eve? Guest services can bring a fir up to your suite, wrap your presents, or hang your stockings by the chimney (with care). greenbrier.com
N° 40: Stop by a Small-Town Festival
From Crisfield, Maryland’s Hard Crab Derby to Helen, Georgia’s lederhosen-heavy Oktoberfest, small-town festivals in the South are idiosyncratic ecosystems, each with its own rituals and customs. Take the Delta Hot Tamale Festival in Greenville, Mississippi. There, cornmeal-in-corn-husk dough packets are just part of the funky fun. Winners of the Miss Hot Tamale contest wear gowns made of corn shucks. Celebrity chefs compete in a cook-off. Roy Blount, Jr., cracks you up with his prelunch blessing. And the Hot Tamale Parade rolls through downtown, with blues musicians, Hot Tamale royalty, and children in tow.
N° 41: Savor the Bread Pudding Soufflé at Commander’s Palace
A signature New Orleans dish you can count on by Rick Bragg.
N° 42: See the Solar Eclipse in the Smokies
On August 21 this year, a total solar eclipse will cover a nearly seventy-mile-wide slash of sky from Oregon to South Carolina. Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits squarely in the path of total darkness, including the popular destinations Clingmans Dome and Cades Cove. Avoid the crowds by hiking up the newly restored five-and-a-half-mile (and sometimes steep) Alum Cave Trail on nearby Mount LeConte to the historic LeConte Lodge. Built in 1926, the smattering of rustic cabins, reachable only by foot, make up the highest backcountry retreat east of the Mississippi. And even though the lodge lays just a hair outside the “path of totality,” the peak’s height will afford a majestic view of the big event made even starker by the lack of electricity. The cabins have been booked solid from the time reservations opened in October, but day-trippers can grab a sack lunch from the dining room, then relax in rocking chairs on the deck to take in the show. Lights out just after 2:30 p.m. eastern. lecontelodge.com
N° 43: Hail the Gullah Geechee
The descendants of enslaved West and Central Africans, Gullah Geechee people have preserved one of America’s most extraordinary cultures, a unique treasury of folklore, food, art, music, and language that survived centuries due to the group’s relative isolation along the Lowcountry coast. For a two-day immersion in the heritage—one threatened by encroaching development—head south from Beaufort, South Carolina, on the Sea Island Parkway to St. Helena Island, Gullah central and home to the Penn Center.
The National Historic Landmark District, recently designated a national monument by President Obama, is composed of nineteen historic buildings, including one of the first schools for freed slaves; the York W. Bailey Museum, featuring Gullah photographs, artwork, and artifacts; and the Frissell Community House, a retreat used by Martin Luther King, Jr.—he planned the March on Washington there—that hosts traditional Gullah singing every third Sunday between September and May. Don’t forget to stop for a bite at Gullah Grub (gullahgrub.com), where chef Bill Green’s fish chowder will make your tongue beat your brains out.
Overnight in Beaufort, and then head an hour south to Hilton Head in the morning to catch the Calibogue Cruises (daufuskiefreeport.com) ferry to Daufuskie Island, which is on the National Register of Historic Places. Daufuskie offers one of the largest collections of Gullah architecture anywhere—simple yet striking churches, schools, and homes built by the first generation up from slavery. You can book a guided tour through the ferry operator, or poke along on a rented golf cart as you explore dirt roads, museums, lighthouses, and concrete-floor beer joints where the Gullah gumbo and deviled crab compel you to sweat.
N° 44: Two-Step at Gruene Hall
From the outside, this Texas landmark doesn’t look like much. Some wooden white doors and old dusty windows. Inside isn’t much different: a small stage, an old bar, some crackling neon beer signs, couples gliding across the dirty floor. But this dance hall reigns as the oldest, most authentic in the state, dating back to 1878. Since then, music lovers have been traveling to New Braunfels, floating down the nearby Guadalupe River, then spilling into Gruene for cold beer and concerts by up-and-comers that go on to become marquee names—George Strait and Lyle Lovett, for instance—and established stars working on new material or taking a break from the road, including Loretta Lynn, John Prine, LeAnn Rimes, and Jerry Jeff Walker, many of whom still regularly stop by. gruenehall.com
N° 45: Shoot Clays in Paradise
The Dominican Republic’s sprawling Casa de Campo has all the beauty you’d expect from a first-rate Caribbean resort—pristine beaches, azure water, luxe villas—and something you wouldn’t: a world-class shooting program. Its sporting clays course is a marvel, more than two hundred stations spread across 245 lush acres—a spread that had to be designed via helicopter, so thick was the jungle. The 110-foot red-and-white tower serves as the heart (and heartbreaker) of the course. Built to withstand hurricanes, the stand throws targets from three levels in four directions. And just to keep things interesting, flight patterns throughout the stations change frequently. casadecampo.com.do
N° 46: Salute a Southern Lady of Letters
By Frances Mayes
N° 47: Sip Seasonal Suds in North Carolina
The Tar Heel State has always relied on agriculture, but as the tobacco industry declined, another popular vice put farmers to work: beer. One of the country’s most dynamic brewing scenes makes full use of the state’s seasonal bounty, and it’s worth the drive to sample all that local flavor. A few standouts: Homegrown, a surprisingly delicious Eastern North Carolina tomato sandwich in a can—using juice from the summer staple—by Kinston’s Mother Earth Brewing; Carver, an easy-drinking sweet potato lager from the plow-to-pint pioneers at Fullsteam Brewery in Durham; Beets, Rhymes and Life, a beet saison that might be on tap alongside pawpaw or chanterelle brews at the experimental Fonta Flora Brewery in Morganton; and La Mûre Morte, a sour, wine barrel–aged blackberry ale available at Wicked Weed’s Funkatorium, a taproom devoted to sour and funky beers
in Asheville. Cheers.
N° 48: Grab Global Grub in the Queen City
Charlotte gets pegged as Button-Down Town. Bank City. As exciting as vanilla pudding at a church supper. But look closer, and you’ll find a thriving international community—along with global eats to rival Birmingham and Atlanta. Like those cities, Charlotte saw a steady stream of immigrants in the last century, from Greeks to Koreans to Vietnamese, Cambodians, and Laotians. Latin American and Middle Eastern influxes followed in the 1990s. To experience the best dining to emerge from these multinational influences, head to Central Avenue, which runs through East Charlotte, including the popular Plaza-Midwood neighborhood. Local development group Charlotte E.A.S.T. holds an annual Taste of the World tour each October, at which you can try bites from more than twenty-five restaurants—or strike out on your own to these five gems.—Kathleen Purvis
Pho Hoa Noodle Soup
Among a handful of Vietnamese restaurants along Central, the pho at this family-owned spot stands out. phohoa.com
Intermezzo Pizzeria & Café
At this pizzeria owned by Serbians, you can branch out from the familiar with bureks (stuffed pies with house-made phyllo), sarmas (cabbage rolls), or karadjordjevas (schnitzel rolls). intermezzopizzeria.com
Euro Grill & Café
Civil war in Yugoslavia fueled Charlotte’s Eastern European community. The Bosnian owners of this small café offer cevapi (small sausages), lepinje breads, and bureks. Finish with ginger-infused Bosnian coffee. 704-343-9828
Las Delicias Bakery
Charlotteans could argue all day (and do) about which taqueria, taco stand, or arepa joint to try. Instead, go here for a wide range of Latin American breads, tamales, pastries, and spectacular cakes. 704-568-2120
Mama is Jamaican and so is the menu, with toothsome jerks, curried goat, and beef patties, as well as rich macaroni and cheese. mamacaribbeangrill.webs.com
N° 49: Sample a Rare Whiskey
You can do no better than the 2,700 bottles—dating back to the early 1900s—at Jack Rose Dining Saloon, in Washington, D.C. Pace yourself. jackrosediningsaloon.com
N° 50: Unwrap a Pimento Cheese Sandwich at the Masters
The best $1.50 you’ll ever spend (tickets to Augusta National not included).
Contributors: Alex Brant, Drew Bratcher, Nic Brown, Rebecca Burns, Jennifer V. Cole, Wayne Curtis, Michael Graff, Amanda Heckert, Matt Hendrickson, Elizabeth Hutchison, Leoneda Inge, John Kessler, CJ Lotz, Anna McCollum, Jessica Mischner, Michael Mooney, T. Edward Nickens, Roger Pinckney, Jed Portman, and Hanna Raskin
Arts & Culture
Unearthing the Art of Cora Kelley Ward
A cache of paintings by the unsung Louisiana artist leads the author on a yearslong journey to fill in the details of her unconventional life—and understand why her work grabbed him and wouldn’t let go
Arts & Culture
The Wildly Creative Way New Orleans is Celebrating Mardi Gras
If parades can’t roll and we can’t leave the house, we’ll make Mardi Gras happen in—and on—our own homes
Remembering Mr. Mardi Gras
New Orleans photographer Chris Granger commemorates Blaine Kern and the joy tucked away at his public warehouse
Food & Drink
The Mad Scientist of Pawpaws
Largely the domain of foragers, the biggest edible fruit in the South has mostly been forgotten. A quietly obsessed Quaker from West Virginia has made it his life’s mission to change that
Food & Drink
How an Award-Winning Pastry Chef Doctors Up Boxed Cornbread
Even Kelly Fields whips up a box of Jiffy every once in a while. Here’s how she makes the store-bought stuff her own
Arts & Culture
The Top-of-2021 Reading List for Southerners
G&G contributors, editors, and Southern book lovers share new releases and old favorites to read right away this year—and a couple forthcoming releases already on preorder