There used to be a publication called “Brown’s Guide to Georgia.” It was as much a travelogue as anything else and if a restaurant was lucky enough to get a favorable review in “Brown’s Guide,” they were fixin’ to be busy. It was up to them to maintain that business.
A bunch of us were talking about “Brown’s Guide” recently and some of the iconic restaurants across the state — places that, when you traveled to a certain region, you planned your trip so you would be at that particular place at mealtime. Of course the best of the best were destinations in and of themselves. I even threw the question out on my Facebook page and was surprised — but not really — that many of my Facebook friends frequent — or frequented — the same haunts as me.
The No. 1 spot that people seemed to set departure times to visit seemed to be Fresh Air Barbecue in Jackson — although many of them are still confused and think the name is Open Air. The name is not. But barbecue called by any other name still smells and tastes just as good as it did 60 years ago when we would always stop at the old log cabin on the side of the highway anytime we visited my Aunt Nell and Uncle Glenn, who lived in Macon. I was there just last week, in fact, and, yes, I did plan my trip so that I would be there at lunch time.
Another such Q-and-stew place was “Sweat’s” in Soperton. I had never been to Soperton until I learned about Sweat’s and have never been to Soperton since it quit being the Sweat’s I fell in love with, but it was wonderful during its heyday and I always ran into someone I knew who had planned their trip to the coast along the same line of thinking as I had.
You would have been hard pressed to spend more than $4 on a meal there, but one day I watched a family of Yankees pay $12.50 apiece for plates of “breaded frozen shrimp.” There were about a half-dozen on each plate and looked terrible. I asked the owner, as I was paying my tab, why in the world he priced frozen breaded store-bought shrimp for so much. He told me that anybody that ordered frozen shrimp at a barbecue place that far from the ocean deserved to pay that much.
Speaking of shrimp, Archie’s in Darien used to have some of the best in the world. The last time we stopped at Archie’s my son, Jackson, ordered barbecued shrimp, which he had learned to love in New Orleans. They brought him a plate of what seemed to be boiled shrimp with barbecue sauce poured over it. That may or may not be one of the reasons Archie’s is now defunct.
While we are down on the coast, my mama and daddy used to drive to St. Simon’s and spend the night just to eat at a place called The Deck, which was somewhere out near the causeway. My mama talked about how good the deviled crab was at The Deck for as long as she lived. When we are on St. Simon’s, or anywhere near, we have to go to The Crab Trap. I always order the crabber’s delight and it never has crab on it. Go figure. When I want crab I go to Barbara Jean’s and get it in the form of those delicious crab cakes.
If I am on the coast and want good authentic Southern food I go to Mrs. Wilkes’ and get in line. Nothing against Paula, but her food doesn’t compare with Mrs. Wilkes’ if you are looking for the kind of dishes your mama and your grandmamma made. Part of the charm of visiting Mrs. Wilkes’ place is the fact that you never know with whom you might share a table. We were placed at a t10 top one day with eight folks from Iowa who were on a Southern culture tour, of all things.
One of the group was one of these people who know everything and you could just tell that he couldn’t wait to be disappointed in the food. He tried some of just about everything but couldn’t find anything bad to say. Finally he took a bite of a certain dish and pronounced, “These are the worst cooked apples I’ve ever had.”
I told him, “Sir, those are rutabagas.”
To his credit he said, “In that case, I suppose they are the best rutabagas I ever had.”
There were places in North Georgia that were mentioned. The Smith House, in Dahlonega, of course — which to me isn’t quite what it once was — and the Dillard House — which is. Locally folks mentioned the Blue Willow.
I have been known to leave for appointments on the Georgia coast at the crack of dawn just to get to Statesboro in time to eat breakfast at Snookie’s — not because there is anything special about the bacon and eggs there, but because every time I did I got to sit down and visit with Erk Russell.
Back in the day the best place to have breakfast was the Hotel Milton, in Blairsville, which had country ham that would make you slap your granny.
I gained 12 pounds just having this conversation, and it goes without saying that my favorite destination for putting on the food bag is on Ga. Highway 36, 5 miles below Covington. If you see Mrs. Henderson, tell her I have been out of town — but will be there next Tuesday!