A Weekend of Informative Excess

Sunday, June 28, 2009

As usual, I can't believe it's already time to go home. I've spent a really lovely weekend in western Virginia and eastern Tennessee with the Southern Foodways Alliance. It's a part of the world about which I knew very little. It is a region of rich musical heritage. There is a burgeoning farm to table movement afoot, with the restaurants and farmers' markets one would expect to find and the patrons who visit them. There is a NASCAR culture, complete with a truly remarkable, to me at least, racetrack that can seat 160,000 people. This is more people than live in Chapel Hill and Durham combined.I got to take a couple of laps around this track in a pace car. It was fast and loud and smelled like tires and gasoline. I loved it. This from one who doesn't even own a car.

As is often the case with these trips, we were in a place with many old, well-loved established restaurants, like the Dip Dog Stand or Pal's. We were treated to an endless parade of hot dogs, hamburgers and sides such as ketchup potato chips. We had lunch one day at the Burger Bar, reputedly the site of Hank Williams' last meal. There are new places with accomplished chefs and sophisticated menus as well. This is pretty country with picture book farms that have begun to supply local kitchens, much like has happened here in Chapel Hill.

In Abingdon, Virginia we had one of the most inventive meals I can remember. The kitchen of Town House, in Chilhowie teamed up with Anson Mills of Columbia, South Carolina to prepare a beautiful lunch on the lawn of the farmhouse of Anthony Flaccavento, a board member of the Appalachian Sustainable Development Commission. This organization promotes farmers' markets and encourages commercial relationships between farmers and local restaurants and merchants. (See page 70 of the July 2009 issue of Southern Living for a photo essay of nearby Charlottesville, where a similar thing has taken root, so to speak. Among those featured is former Chapel Hillian Gail Hobbs-Page.). This lunch combined local fruits and vegetables with artisanal grains to make a buffet that required two plates per person.

One evening Sean Brock, a native of western Virginia (But the chef of McCrady's in Charleston), prepared a wonderful supper at the Bristol train station. The principal ingredient was local rainbow trout. We had trout caviar, smoked trout salad and trout fillets sauteed with Allan Benton's bacon. Mercifully there was banana pudding instead of trout sorbet. It was a pretty evening and we had a soundtrack of traditional and old time music.

The real pleasure of these trips is the cordiality of the SFA membership. The food is always remarkable and the beer fairy is never far away but this collection of very different people with similar interests is a constant delight

posted by Bill Smith at 6:49 AM


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