Part of the South's reputation for good cooking has been built upon the delicious offerings in the restaurants, cafes, buffets, eating places, holes-in-the-wall, fish shacks and barbecue joints which populate the area like lightpoles. Places that promise little and deliver grandly are not hard to find, and the elite cuisinical Meccas of such as Keller and Dufresne and Ripert and Boulud have not so fervent a following of dedicated patrons and admirers as do the small, known-mostly-to-locals places dotted all over the South.
Doe's Eat Place in Greenville is one well worth mentioning, a shabby old building with black skillets turning out heavenly steaks and takeout tamales delivered in coffeecans and tables close enough to the stove to get singed. The steaks there ARE world-famous, with Zagat and Michelin and the Sterns pointing the hordes to the door. Quite a few others come to mind, of lifelong popularity and a steady, loyal clientele who make Friday night at the Hollywood (fried dill pickles!) or lunch at Stitt's or a special celebration at Mary Mac's traditions in their areas.
But there are also very small places, principally patronized by locals, and word-of-mouth is their only advertising. They're also well worth a word, and a visit. There are small formica-tabled diner types, with divided crockery plates and plastic menus needing a good wipe from a wet rag. Hamburgers and meatloaf and liver-and-onions abound, with fried chicken and catfish prominent in the bill of fare, and you see the why of the diked plates when the overflowing chicken-fried steak and gravy and mashed potatoes are set before you.
And the Meat 'n' Threes!!! Lines go around the block, even at the shacky ones with creaky floors, mismatched furniture, and oilcloth from the Seventies on the tables.
Dishes required for all self-respecting Southern Meat'n'Threes (rotating basis, Meatloaf Tuesday, etc., quite acceptable):
Chicken and Dumplins
Country Fried Steak
A big ole pink ham for Sunday Dinner, cloves optional
Whole Turkey Breast, sliced into the gravy
Mac N Cheese
Snap Beans w or w/o Baby Potatoes
Sweet potatoes, usually canned, with sugar and butter simmered with the juices to almost caramel
Kidney Bean Salad with boiled eggs and celery and a good clop of Blue Plate or Duke's
Pea Salad, ditto, with the addition of sweet pickles
Combination Salad (Iceberg, tomato chunks, cucumber, bell pepper) with choice of 1000 or Ranch, or sometimes already tossed and wilting into the bowl, with just mayo and salt
Congealed Salad--Any flavor, with crushed pineapple and KoolWhip stirred in before jelling
Cornbread; any version, including jalapeno; sticks, wedges, squares or muffins, but they'd better not APPROACH it with the sugar bowl unless they're north of the Tennessee/Kentucky line
Coconut Cake---creamcheese icing is good, Seven Minute is perfection
Chess Pie--the addition of a tablespoon of cornmeal gives it the perfect texture
Lemon Icebox, made with Eagle Brand, egg yolks and fresh-squeezed lemons, and the orphaned whites whipped into a downy cushion, swirled atop, and just barely kissed into golden peaks by the oven
Karo Pecan---everybody's Mama's recipe
Peach Cobbler (No cinnamon---just butter, sugar, vanilla---pure and perfect)
Nobody would expect all of the above every day, but the assortment and variety and good cooking is astounding.
And our good fortune: though we live in what Chris calls the "Northernmost Southern State," we have at least three places very close by which serve exactly the above menu, done in exactly the way you'd find it in Natchez or Clarksdale or Greenwood.
Here, you’d have to specify: Sweet Tea. Down there, they just bring it.
moire non. . .