I grew up in Virginia by way of Kentucky, which is to say I didn’t grow up in the real South. So I was puzzled oh-so-many years ago when my high-school pal Diana told me about eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day.
Diana’s family had moved to Richmond from some nothing town in Alabama, where eating legumes was a New Year’s tradition. When my sixteen-year-old self asked why, she simply said it was for luck. Baffled by her shallow explanation, I chalked it up to one of those quirky things Southerners do.
Fast forward a couple of decades and I was recently reminded of Diana as I started seeing one Hopping John recipe after another. It got me thinking about her lucky peas and how they came about. So, naturally, I Googled them.
It seems the tradition can be (ironically) traced back to Vicksburg, Virginia. And like everything else in the Old Dominion, it has to do with the Civil War. While under attack by northern aggressors, the starving citizenry of Vicksburg discovered a store of black-eyed peas, bringing them luck at a critical time.
Digging a little deeper, I also discovered that black-eyed peas have come to be known as a symbol of prosperity in the South. In fact, many have long eaten them because of their supposed resemblance to coins.
It’s said some families even toss in a shiny dime to bring luck to the finder, much like the baby in a King Cake. Others go one step further and serve up their peas with paper money stand-ins like collard and mustard greens.
Personally, I find it amusing that this time-honored rite is rooted in tales of health and wealth. In terms of our two most popular resolutions, one is almost always abandoned while the other is rarely achieved. Maybe folks just aren’t eating enough black-eyed peas?
I didn’t grow up with soul food. I’ve never been to Gladys and Ron’s. Or Sylvia’s, for that matter. So chicken and pancakes isn’t sacrilegious to me. In fact, it’s quite delicious. And apparently a thing of necessity. “We have one of the largest kitchens in the Southeast,” one of the managers told me. “But that doesn’t include a waffle iron.” The result: a stack of fluffy cornmeal flapjacks topped with a cinnamon apple slaw and real maple syrup. On the side was a juicy chicken breast with a flaky, well-seasoned coating. It paired nicely with both the cornmeal cakes and the sweet syrup. While I missed the crispy texture of a waffle — and the tiny wells that capture syrup — I still managed to eat all of the chicken and most of the pancakes. Which I guess makes the dish sacrilicious. Local Three, 3290 Northside Parkway, Atlanta, GA (404) 968-2700 • localthree.com
“Can you guess where the heat comes from?” That’s what the girl behind the counter at Morelli’s asked as I discarded my sample spoon. I paused for a second as the bittersweet chocolate flavor gave way to a subtle burning sensation. “Cayenne,” I ventured. “No,” she said. “Jalapeño.”
I swallowed and realized she was right. It was weird. And delicious. Of course, I had to order a scoop. Smartly, I also got some of the coffee fudge brownie to cut through the heat, which was considerable after several bites. It was the good kind of pain though. Seriously, I even finished off the waffle cup because I wanted every last bit of chocolate calienteness. Who knew something so cold could be so hot? Morelli’s Ice Cream, 1220 Caroline Street, Atlanta, GA (404) 584-2500 • morellisicecream.com
Fall’s bountiful harvest offers everything from squashes to pumpkins to other “gourds” — like peppers.
When I lived in Denver, I always looked forward to the green chiles that appeared this time of year. Come late September, Jack-n-Grill — my favorite burrito joint — would roast them in a giant drum out front. Owner Jack would always drive down to New Mexico, pick up as many bushels as he could and cook ’em up until they were gone.
When I found out Taqueria del Sol was getting Hatch chiles from New Mexico, I made a point to do regular Fall pop-ins. Last year I missed out, but I got lucky this past Saturday. The nightly special was chile rellenos for $3.99 each, so I tacked one onto my meal.
The slender chile with its crispy coating came served in a pool of pureed red pepper. Cutting it with the edge of my fork, molten queso blanco poured out and mingled with the pepper sauce. Each bite had a mixture of tastes and textures. The bitter heat of the chiles, the gooeyness of the mild cheese and the crunch of the breading. While not exactly Jack’s “Christmas” burrito, it was just what I was looking for.
You see, I like soups and pies as much as the next person. But to me, a fresh-from-the-farm chile is the real taste of fall.
Just like the sandwich that inspired it, the Cheeseburger Club came stacked and cut down the middle — revealing more layers than an earth sciences textbook illustration. There was toast, a rich mayo, crisp lettuce, ripe tomato, smoky bacon, toast, sharp cheddar, a succulent patty and toast again. My first thought upon biting in: “mmm, meat juice.” My second: this isn’t the burger I expected from a “Beer Parlor.” The perfectly cooked, well-seasoned beef was tastier than what I’ve had at fancier places in Atlanta. Cheaper, too. Priced under $10, this five-napkin burger was considerably more affordable than a 5 Napkin Burger. Or a Flip Burger. Or a Yeah! Burger. Crystal Beer Parlor, 301 West Jones Street, Savannah, GA (912) 349-1000 • crystalbeerparlor.com
I stumbled into Bakeshop this morning an hour earlier than normal. Needing a pick-me-up before my 9 a.m. meeting, I asked Olivia and Sarah for a Redeye. Without missing a beat, Sarah suggested a Crack Shot. Seeing as she wouldn’t tell me what was in it, I knew it had to be good. After a couple of minutes of mixing the concoction, she handed me a cool cup with iced Batdorf & Bronson inside. As I took my first sip, she explained it was cold-brewed coffee, for an espresso-like punch, mixed with milk and simple syrup. By the time I made it into my office, my latent sleepiness was gone — and so was my Crack Shot. Forget Maxwell House, this was the best part of waking up.