The Southern Agenda

The Southern Agenda: April/May 2015

Goings-on in the South and beyond

Illustration: Illustrations by Tim Bower



  • Going (Way) Out for Dinner

    White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
    April 18

    Springtime in Appalachia: when months of ice and snow give way to warm breezes that drift through forests full of mushrooms, honeysuckle, fiddlehead ferns, and garlicky ramps. It’s a time of abundance for those lucky few who know how to find, clean, and cook the wild plants of the Southern mountains—folks like the Asheville, North Carolina–based forager Alan Muskat, whose expertise in all things edible and wild has made him a regional culinary celebrity. Let him lead the way at Wild Times at the Greenbrier (April 18, with additional treks on July 11 and September 19), a daylong exploration of the woods surrounding one of the South’s loveliest historic hotels, nestled in the Allegheny Mountains. Muskat and guests will set out from the Greenbrier first thing in the morning to gather ingredients for an evening feast prepared by the resort’s chef, Bryan Skelding, and his staff. The day’s harvest might range from wild onions to stinging nettles to dandelions, so come with an open mind. And a sturdy pair of boots.—


  • Alabama

    Flying Fish

    The premise of the annual Interstate Mullet Toss (April 24–26) at the Flora-Bama Lounge in Orange Beach is pretty simple. Toss a mullet—the fish, that is—as far as you can muster across the Florida-Alabama state line. A quick YouTube search will show you how to tackle the task. But there are a few basic techniques. Some people fold the fish in half and chuck it like a baseball. Others let it fly like a football. The real rebels just grab their mullet by the tail and fling it. Anybody can enter the oceanside contest—and thousands do. Tens of thousands more come to watch. The event draws more than 35,000 people to the Flora-Bama, from as far away as Canada, to party on the beach and watch grown men and women hurl fish.—


  • Arkansas

    May Flowers

    Some farmers take pride in their corn. Others like to brag on their sweet potatoes. Henry Chotkowski raises peonies, and he’ll be more than happy to tell you all about each of the thousand-plus varieties he grows on his farm outside Fayetteville. The big, showy blooms burst open each year during peony season, which—depending on the weather—starts sometime in late April and continues through the end of May. Botanists might recognize centuries-old European cultivars and hard-to-find heirlooms among the flowers on Chotkowski’s farm, but even the more mainstream varieties are worth a look, exploding in striking pinks and purples that will be on display during his annual Mother’s Day open house, on May 10. Score points with Mom by selecting a special specimen for her garden. Score even more by bringing her with you and making a day of it. —


  • Florida

    Making Waves

    You’ll know you’re getting close to Cocoa Beach when the concentration of surfboards strapped to the roofs of cars traveling south on scenic highway A1A begins to increase exponentially, even by Sunshine State standards. Long an East Coast surfing hot spot because of its easy access to some of Florida’s best breaks, the beach town is also home to the winningest competitor in the history of the sport, eleven-time world champion Kelly Slater, who at age fourteen took both the amateur- and pro-division prizes at the Easter Surfing Festival (April 3–5). Founded by International Surfing Hall of Famer Dick Catri, the fifty-one-year-old saltwater showdown still attracts some of the East Coast’s top brahs (translation: surfers) who compete in a handful of categories while the next generation of great American riders go head-to-head in the under-fourteen and under-twelve contests. Gapers (translation: nonsurfers) can find a seat on the beach to enjoy the action—or sign up for surfing lessons taught by the pros at the Ron Jon Surf School.—


  • Georgia

    Taco the Town

    In 2013 Sean Brock staked a claim to Nashville, dishing skillet cornbread and ember-roasted vegetables at the second location of his award-winning restaurant Husk. The busy Charleston, South Carolina–based chef will venture beyond the peninsula again this summer with an Atlanta extension of his well-trafficked Holy City Mexican joint, Minero. The menus at the two spots will not be identical, but diners can expect some baseline ingredients and techniques to carry over: fresh salsas, grilled meats, and house-made masa shaped on-site into fresh tortillas. Between good company and a great location—it’s situated next to restaurants helmed by well-known Atlanta chefs Linton Hopkins and Anne Quatrano in the historic Ponce City Market—not to mention the tasty tacos, you’ll feel like la familia in no time.—


  • Kentucky

    An Odds-On Favorite

    Thirty years ago, the vast majority of Bluegrass State-produced whiskeys on shelves today were not even slumbering in their barrels yet. That’s when the Kentucky Derby Museum opened its doors at Churchill Downs in Louisville. And like the brown spirit that surrounds the most exciting two minutes in sports, it has only improved with age—including a multimillion-dollar, top-to-bottom renovation in 2010. This spring, celebrate the museum’s thirtieth birthday for less than the price of a cup of burgoo on Rollback Day, on April 11, when admission drops to the 1985 price of $2.50 a head. Opening on the same day: Stars of the Stands, a two-year exhibit that follows the history of celebrities at the Derby, starting with luminaries from a mercifully pre-Kardashian era, 1875–1974. Today, you don’t even have to be anywhere near the steepled grandstands of Churchill Downs to mark Derby Day in style. But if you are, stop by the museum—before this year’s field of horses hits the track on May 2—to learn how the race grew from a charming local diversion to a megawatt international event.—


  • Louisiana

    A New Perspective

    President George W. Bush was not the first public figure to take up painting as a late-in-life hobby. Tennessee Williams, after making his name by writing A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and other plays, also turned to the easel in his twilight years. Was he as deft with brush and palette as he was with a pen? You can judge for yourself at New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s new exhibit, Tennessee Williams: The Playwright and the Painter (through May 31), which includes rarely seen oil portraits—often of Williams’s friends and neighbors in Key West—painted by the same creative mind that inked some of the most memorable characters in the history of American theater.—


  • Maryland

    Carving Station

    With a block of wood, some honing tools, a handful of chisels, and a basic lineup of paints, you can make a decoy, and you might even be able to lure a bird or two. But you’re better off practicing your shot. Leave the carving to the pros, like the veteran decoy makers who will ply their trade at the World Championship Wildfowl Carving Competition (April 24–26), now in its forty-fifth year. If you really want to learn, though, register for a class with one of the visiting master carvers. Afterward, walk the floor at the Roland E. Powell Convention Center, in Ocean City, to peruse more than a thousand carvings. Judges will pick winners in thirty-nine categories, from floating waterfowl to sculpture. The displayed birds might be fake, but the competition is very real.—


  • Mississippi

    Wood Works

    Fiberglass, aluminum, steel. They all get the job done. But for some boaters, there’s no substitute for wood, the stuff of sturdy watercraft since the days of dugout canoes. Ships of all shapes and sizes show up at the Gulf Coast Wooden Boat Show (May 16–17) in Biloxi, from sleek little sailboats to luxury yachts. Some are brand-new, and others wouldn’t have looked out of place skimming across the bay back in 1900, when the little Gulf city was known as the seafood capital of the world. If you don’t own your own craft, get your sea legs with a ride on a replica of a nineteenth-century oyster schooner. Learn more about the disappearing art of wooden boatbuilding with exhibits and hands-on demonstrations from the men and women who keep the tradition alive. Just beware of splinters.—


  • North Carolina

    Field of Play

    Whatever the venue, come racing season, you can count on a party. With Frontstretch Fest (April 4) during the sixty-fourth Stoneybrook Steeplechase, in Raeford, the folks at Carolina Horse Park are going with a nothing-succeeds-like-excess model, bringing an entire festival’s worth of food and drink to the infield for an all-day tented affair. Sample bourbons from Woodford Reserve to Gentleman Jack, a rundown of regional craft beers, including offerings from Dirtbag Ales and Southern Pines Brewing, and bites from local chefs. You don’t have to watch the race to enjoy the festival, but a general admission ticket package gets you into the park, so you’d be remiss in your duty as a Southerner if you didn’t take time to stand by the rail with a glass of whiskey. Boater and bow tie optional.—


  • South Carolina

    Bohemian Rhapsody

    You hardly need another excuse to visit the Holy City this time of year, but a stay at the soon-to-open Grand Bohemian Hotel Charleston is a pretty good one. Positioned on the corner of Meeting and Wentworth, a cobblestone’s throw from King Street’s best eating and drinking establishments and a short stroll from South of Broad’s historic homes, the hotel will also be a self-contained oasis of art, culture, and fine dining, with a gallery, a coffee shop, and a rooftop restaurant where guests can catch the ocean breezes coming off the harbor. In a city where no building can be taller than the church steeples, there aren’t more than a handful of places with this kind of view and cocktail service.—


  • Tennessee

    Illustration: Illustrations by Tim Bower

    On the Record

    In Nashville, vinyl isn’t dead—or anywhere close to it. The epicenter of the nation’s record-store revival, the city is home to the largest pressing plant in the country, United Record Pressing, and more than a dozen locally owned music emporiums, including Third Man Records, Jack White’s vinyl-centric shop and studio, and Grimey’s, a favorite with the hi-fi set for its large collection of local artists. On Saturday, April 18, these spots and others will be flooded with toe-tapping patrons during the annual Record Store Day, celebrated with intimate in-store concerts and parties all over town. Other brick-and-mortar music stores such as McKay Books, the Great Escape, and Ernest Tubb Record Shop will sell exclusive releases, host local and national musicians, and bring in food trucks, all in the name of keeping Music City turntables spinning.—


  • Texas

    True Tonkin’

    When the Broken Spoke’s owner, James White, built the real-deal honky-tonk in 1964, it was just another Austin dive. Now it’s a proud holdout—and still one of Willie Nelson’s favorite haunts when he’s in town. White doesn’t plan on going anywhere anytime soon. This spring, the people at the South Austin Popular Culture Center will honor his living legacy with a new exhibit, Broken Spoke: The Last Honky Tonk Standing (through June 27). Concert posters for early George Strait performances—he got his start on the Broken Spoke stage—photographs, newspaper clippings, and more tell the story of a humble joint with tons of Lone Star pride. When you’re finished at the museum, head about a mile south on Lamar Boulevard to the bar at the Broken Spoke, where White himself will gladly pour you a cold beer.—


  • Virginia

    Take a Side

    Less than a century ago, plenty of Virginia women still rode sidesaddle. The old-world pose was then considered more ladylike than a gent’s straddle. It also proved a true test for female racers, who were tasked with remaining atop a hard-charging horse while halfway dismounted. In 2015, sidesaddle racing will return to the Old Dominion during the first annual Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational (April 12). The opening event at the forty-ninth Loudoun Hunt Point-to-Point races, the race will draw sidesaddle hobbyists from all over the region to Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, where they will compete in a style that has hardly existed in this country since the end of World War II. Whether you’re an expert equestrienne or you can hardly handle a trot astride (much less attempt it sidesaddle, thank you very much), prepare to be awed.—


  • Washington, D.C.

    Gardens & Fun

    Washington is full of gawkers. Stroll by the White House, the Mall, or the National Cathedral on any sunny day and you’ll see packs of tourists with smartphones raised. But what goes on where tourists aren’t usually allowed—say, in the well-manicured yards of some of Georgetown’s toniest private homes? Find out—without risking embarrassment and an arrest record for peeping over the secretary of state’s hedges—during the Georgetown Garden Tour (May 9), presented by the Georgetown Garden Club. The self-guided circuit takes you through eight jaw-dropping gardens. Historic horticulture prevails: There’s an eighteenth-century carriage house garden; boxwood parterres; espaliered fruit trees; traditional Southern specimens such as hydrangeas, camellias, and crape myrtles; and ornamental ponds aplenty. But this year, the tour showpiece just might be (gasp) a sweeping and spare contemporary green space. Inspired? Pick up the garden club’s brand-new coffee-table book before you head home.—

Sean Brock’s Minero Michelada

Try Sean Brock’s spicy version of a classic beer cocktail


    • 1 tsp. Cholula hot sauce

    • 1 tsp. San Luis hot sauce

    • 1 tsp. Valentina hot sauce

    • 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

    • 2 tbsp. clam juice

    • Juice of ½ a lime

    • ¼ tsp. salt

    • 1 bottle Victoria (or your favorite south-of the-border beer)


  1. Pour first seven ingredients into a mug, stir, and then top with beer. Finish with 1 scoop of crushed ice and a lime wedge on rim.

Recipe from Sean Brock of Minero in Charleston, South Carolina, and Atlanta, Georgia