In no particular order, these are our picks for the people, places, products, organizations, and companies that represent the best in Southern food. They are authentically Southern, have superior quality, and have made an impact on the preservation, celebration, and future of Southern food.
Simmered in salted and sometimes spiced water, these undeniably delicious legumes are a reliable Southern snack found at roadside stands, farmers’ markets, and gas stations. Made with green (read: raw) peanuts and served up in Styrofoam cups and paper bags, these tasty morsels are a long-standing taste of the South.
We always have a few jars of this favorite Southern accoutrement on hand. Made from a secret 70-year-old family recipe, Wickles pickles have a very distinct flavor that Southerners have come to love. Short for “wickedly delicious pickles,” Wickles are a 4 tasty blend of dill, garlic, chile peppers, and sweetness, making them oh-so-addictive.
Nestled at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Patrick Springs, Virginia, Border Springs Farm raises lamb for some of the finest restaurants in the South. But owner and farmer Craig Rogers’ first concern is grass. When he first got into raising lamb, he realized his meat wasn’t up to the quality he desired. He delved into the subject and found the type of grass affected the flavor of the lamb—and a more nutritional blend of grass led to a more delicious product. Visit his farm and see what all the fuss is about.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen is a Nashville institution. This can’t-miss spot serves all your favorite meat-and-three items, but the fresh ingredients and the care with which they’re cooked makes everything even more delicious. With a constant line out the door filled with 30-year regulars, new fans, and everyone in between, Arnold’s must be doing something right. And don’t worry: if it’s your first visit, the friendly regulars will help you get the hang of the process. Get in line, grab a tray, and start choosin’!
Dairymen Donnie Montgomery and David Bower have always known that the best way to enjoy milk is fresh from the farm, so they started their own creamery in 2001. Now the ownership has grown to include Donnie’s sons, Jamie and Brandon. Their milk is sold in old-fashioned glass bottles, and all the products from their farms—ice cream, buttermilk, strawberry milk—are free of added hormones and antibiotics. And if you’re lucky enough to live in the Roanoke Valley, you can have your milk delivered! (540.721.2045)
Celebrating its 15th year, the Market at Pepper Place is the spot to be on a Saturday morning in Birmingham, Alabama. Established to connect small family farms with the people of Birmingham, the market has grown to around 100 tents with local vendors ranging from farmers and bakers to artists and makers.
In addition to supporting local farmers, the market has drawn people to the Lakeview District, leading to redevelopment and growth in the area.
PK Grills of Little Rock, Arkansas, has revived the “portable kitchen” grills that used to dot backyards in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. Considered by many to be the perfect charcoal barbecue grill, this cast aluminum tank can grill and smoke, conducting heat perfectly to cook hot and fast or low and slow with equally delicious results. One of PK Grills’ owners, Paul James, found an old version at a garage sale and remembered it fondly from his childhood. He had it recast and put back into production, and the business has grown from there. Inherently durable and easy to use, this grill will be your favorite for decades, and your kids’ favorite after that.
Jones Bar-B-Q Diner
This small, unassuming barbecue joint in Marianna, Arkansas, might not seem like much at first glance, but inside, amidst the delicious, smoky smell of slow-cooked meats, you’ll find passion and artistry that create an experience like no other. With a history that goes back to 1910, Jones Bar-B-Q Diner has had a lot of time to get their flavors right—you can taste the tradition in every bite. While the menu is short (limited to pulled pork sandwiches with a vinegar-based sauce and coleslaw), you’ll quickly find that’s really all you need. Regulars know to get there early—when they sell out for the day, they close the doors. (870.295.3807 )
After an extensive renovation of the historic Dryades Market, the Southern Food & Beverage Museum has become even more of a New Orleans destination. Celebrating the food culture of the South, the museum includes exhibits that preserve culinary trails, histories, and traditions from the different cultures that have come together to make Southern food delicious. If you’re in New Orleans, make sure to put this on your itinerary, and stop by their restaurant, Purloo, for a locally sourced Southern meal.
Pepperoni rolls originated around 1937 in the town of Fairmont as a lunch for West Virginia coal miners. This lunch required no heating or refrigeration and could be easily eaten on the go. The concept is quite simple: pepperoni is baked into a soft yeast roll, but whether the pepperoni is sliced into sticks or rounds can become quite the debate among locals.
Big Top Candy Shop
Gumballs, lemon drops, and licorice line the walls of this playful and eccentric circus-themed candy store in Austin, Texas. From housemade Neapolitan chocolate bark to buttered-popcorn-flavored saltwater taffy, Big Top Candy Shop has every fix needed for your sweet tooth hankerings. They even have a well-stocked and constantly updated nostalgia section that offers all of your forgotten childhood favorites. Boyer Smoothie Peanut Butter Cups, anyone? Big Top also has a vast selection of sodas and shakes, with literally billions of combinations. (512.462.2220)
Fried Mullet at Chet’s Seafood
Chet’s Seafood in Pensacola, Florida, has been serving fresh local seafood at their family-owned restaurants for more than 30 years. The casual spot is known for their fried mullet—often considered a trash fish. This Pensacola tradition has found its niche—their fried mullet is always fresh, hot, and crispy. Chet’s is one of the few places along the coast that still serve the dish, and their focus on the food has made them a local and visitor favorite. (850.994.3299 )
Louisville, Kentucky’s Bourbon Barrel Foods is the only soy sauce microbrewery in the country. Made from Kentucky- grown soybeans and aged for a year in repurposed bourbon barrels, their small-batch Bluegrass Soy Sauce retains a subtle bourbon sweetness. And while their soy sauce got them started, they have grown to include a number of artisan products that celebrate Kentucky’s heritage through bourbon, including smoked spices, sorghum, sauces, and marinades.
Vaughan, Mississippi, is the home of Two Run Farm, a supplier of sustainably raised beef, lamb, goat, and pork. The team, under the direction of founder, Charlie Munford, provides a more natural way of life for the animals on the farm, incorporating a “salad bar” concept of changes in diet over time. Periodically moving the herds from one grazing site to another helps restore the farmland to its natural state, and in turn the pasture rotation and free-range foraging keep the animals happy, fat, and healthy.
Surrounded by a bountiful acre of fragrant herbs, fruit trees, heirloom tomatoes, and more, this Auburn, Alabama, restaurant is a showcase for everything fresh, local, and Southern. What chef David Bancroft and his team can’t harvest from their garden or make in-house (like their fresh bread and charcuterie), they carefully curate from nearby farmers, yielding an ever-changing menu that shines with seasonal flavor.
Atlanta, Georgia’s Miller Union is one of the great bulwarks of the seasonal foods movement. In an agricultural area like the South, it’s important to pay attention to what the seasons have to offer—and that’s exactly how Miller Union’s chef, Steven Satterfield, builds menus. With a simple but refined style of cooking, a focus on what’s happening on the farm, and a belief in using every part of the vegetable, Steven creates award-winning, produce-driven Southern food that draws notice from around the country and celebrates the heights that vegetable-inspired dishes can reach.
Olives do grow in Georgia! At Georgia Olive Farms in Lakeland, Georgia, Jason Shaw has perfected a Southern olive oil that competes with the finest from Tuscany.
Chef Cory Bahr grew up in Monroe, Louisiana, and pays homage to the area’s flavors and history through his creative dishes at Restaurant Cotton. To him, the flavors he recreates are memories, and his knowledge of foodways informs his local, regional, and seasonal take on dining. His careful cultivation isn’t limited to his food, however—in a relaxing moment he can be found gardening, fishing, or maintaining Bonsai trees. At Restaurant Cotton, Cory aims to honor the traditions that have come from the blending of cultures in Louisiana, and he has gained quite a following. He believes that life happens at the table, and he works to prepare the perfect setting in which people can gather and enjoy good food and being together.
There’s nothing better than a cool and creamy treat to ward off the summer heat—though Birmingham, Alabama-based Steel City Pops often has a line out the door even in cooler months. Based on Mexican paletas, their gourmet popsicles are made in small batches with all natural and organic ingredients that are locally harvested, making them much different from the colored ice pops of our youth. With a taste similar to cheesecake, their buttermilk popsicle tops our list of favorites and has us forgetting to try their many other flavors.
This well-curated event is a celebration of Alabama talent. Artisans, chefs, designers, and more come together for one weekend each year in Montgomery to share their wares, vision, and excitement for the artistry that is happening in the state. With tastings, demonstrations, and workshops, this meeting of the creative minds is highly interactive, and the makers are happy to tell you all about their passions. Organizers hope to sponsor the event in other Alabama cities in the near future.
The fine-dining legacy of the Galatoire family continues in New Orleans in the opulent, history-packed restaurant that maintains the indulgence for which New Orleans has always been known. With delicious French Creole fare, salads named after New Orleans department stores of a bygone era, and jackets required for gentlemen after 5 p.m., the restaurant’s long line out the door bespeaks the richness of the dining experience within.
Every time we travel to South Carolina, we come back with a trunkful of this superbly spicy ginger ale. Family-owned and operated since 1903, Blenheim starts off effervescent and sweet, but finishes with an intense peppery bite that lingers on the palate. Try it on the rocks with a dash of bourbon and a splash of lime.
Jackson, Mississippi, is in the throes of a long-awaited revival, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the Fondren community. Nestled just outside downtown, this thriving neighborhood is packed with vibrant independent shops, quirky coffee houses, bustling bistros, and even a hidden speakeasy. Walk and explore like a local, stopping for a bite to eat or a drink at every spot that catches your eye. Don’t miss Saltine—one of our favorites!
Located in Dallas, Texas, Highland Park Soda Fountain has been in business for more than 100 years. While its ownership has changed hands, its “small town in a big city” atmosphere, complete with spinning bar stools and tall frosty glasses, will have you feeling like you’ve stepped back into a simpler place and time. Whether you’re enjoying the Palm Beach (soda jerk slang for pimiento cheese) or a Grilled Peanut Butter & Jelly, wash it down with one of their famous shakes, malts, or phosphates.
When we head to the drive-through, we can’t pass up the spicy fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits from Popeyes, which got its start just outside New Orleans in 1972. This Southern staple is always welcome at family reunions, Mardi Gras parades, tailgates, and pretty much any occasion deserving of fried chicken.
This ethnic food playground, located just minutes from downtown Atlanta, is host to miles of strip-mall restaurants, where you can sample everything from Korean barbecue to Venezuelan arepas and then shop for ingredients at the Buford Highway Farmers’ Market. Pack an adventurous appetite, and don’t be intimidated.
This hand-harvested and hand-packaged small-batch salt is the perfect crunchy finishing salt. We’re not the only ones who think so—chefs are clamoring for the stuff. Siblings Nancy Bruns and Lewis Payne decided to go back to their family land in the Kanawha River town of Malden, West Virginia, and resume drilling brine from the Iapetus Ocean, an ancient sea located under the Appalachian Mountains. One jar at a time, J.Q. Dickinson is connecting the people of the area with their history.
The oldest Junior League cookbook still in print, Charleston Receipts hold decades of history in its pages. First published in 1950, the cookbook shares traditional dishes and ingredients of the Charleston area and local Gullah verses. With recipes ranging from Benne Brittle to the Cotillion Club Punch that serves from 275 to 300 people, this cookbook gives you a peek into the history of Charleston through its cuisine.
Leopold’s Ice Cream
Southern charm comes by the scoop at this iconic ice cream parlor in Savannah, Georgia. Founded in 1919, this family-owned shop features more than 20 regular flavors, plus a revolving menu of seasonal favorites like peach, huckleberry cheesecake, and pumpkin spice. But the magic of Leopold’s is more than their nostalgic soda fountain feel and the owner’s movie memorabilia (he was formerly a Hollywood producer). At its heart, Leopold’s is a place that celebrates family and the simple joy of sharing an ice cream cone together.
Behind the peaceful walls of the Visitation Monastery in Mobile, Alabama, nuns have a blessed job making Heavenly Hash with old-fashioned candy-making implements. The sisters of the Visitation Monastery prepare the decadent mix of milk chocolate, local pecans, and homemade marshmallows to sell at their gift shop. Mobilians are always after the tasty treat, but demand shoots through the roof during the holidays.
Jessica Little comes from a long line of dairy farmers in Thomasville, Georgia, but since she and her husband, Jeremy, inherited the family business 10 years ago, they’ve been running things a little differently. Jessica and Jeremy now use only milk from cows who enjoy a grass-based diet. Their most popular cheese, Green Hill, is a soft, buttery, Camembert–style cheese that can be savored year-round. Pair it with peach preserves in the summer and pecans and honey in the fall. They sell five different types of cow’s milk cheese as well as pimiento cheese.
In the dine-and-dash world of airport food, One Flew South is a shining beacon of culinary excellence. Located in Terminal E at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, this refined Southern bistro is a haven for hungry travelers with an appetite for gourmet comfort food. Trust us—one taste of chef Duane Nutters’ Dirty South Meatloaf Sandwich or his Thyme-Roasted Pork Belly and you’ll be planning layovers long enough to enjoy his cooking.
This small, 20-seat bakeshop in downtown Durham, North Carolina, specializes in some of the most delicious pies around. To be fair, they do many things well, but (oh my!) their pies! Sourcing ingredients locally and regionally as often as possible, owner Phoebe Lawless creates tasty masterpieces from pastry dough and seasonably available goods.
Long have humble pork rinds bided their time, clipped to metal racks next to potato chips and other savory sundries in convenience stores across the South. But their ascension is at hand. The feather-light curls of fried pork have found their way onto restaurant menus as garnishes for ice-cream sundaes, breading for fried oysters, and coatings for Bloody Mary rims. We celebrate their newfound popularity, but we still love ‘em the old-fashioned way—by the handful, right out of the bag.
Owner Pat Martin learned his legendary whole-hog barbecue style growing up in the West Tennessee town of Henderson. It’s hard to find folks who do whole-hog barbecue these days, and we’re glad Pat has helped preserve the art of low-and-slow. At Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint, the craft is taken very seriously—Pat trains each of his pitmasters for two years before he trusts them to carry on his work.
The perfect steak needs nothing more than a crack of black pepper, a sprinkle of salt, and a coating of Black Magic. This dry rub was created in 1935 at Rubin Hanan’s Penny Profit and Discount Meat Market in Montgomery, Alabama. Rubin’s wife, Julia, was known around town as “Mis’ Rubin,” and her seasonings caught the attention of the corner grocery’s customers. Today, Mis’ Rubin’s legacy is carried on at cookouts all around the South and beyond.
Louisiana’s intimate ties with sugarcane make it the perfect place for the production of high-quality rum. The state doesn’t have a storied history of making the spirit, but Bayou Rum is out to change that, filling the void with their rum distilled from the Louisiana sugarcane that springs from the rich Mississippi River delta soil. Made using traditional distilling methods, including copper pot stills, Bayou Rum is a smooth spirit made from 100% natural and unrefined Louisiana cane sugar and molasses. Stop by their distillery in Lacassine for a tour and have a sip at their rum-tasting bar.
Vardaman Sweet Potatoes
One hundred years ago, a handful of families ventured south from Tennessee to settle near Vardaman, a small town in North Mississippi. The sweet potato slips they brought with them thrived in the rich soil and gentle climate, and an industry was born. Today, North Mississippi is the second-largest producer of sweet potatoes in the United States, thanks to a coalition of family farmers calling on expertise passed down over five generations. Thin-skinned and vibrantly orange, Vardaman sweet potatoes are cured to perfection, resulting in a sublimely sweet flavor that makes your favorite recipes taste even better.
Want live crawfish delivered to your door? Done. They’ll even arrive with all the seasoning you need to host a crawfish boil. Cajun Grocer also ships more than 1,000 other authentic Cajun and Creole items including tasso, boudin, and king cakes.
Chapel Hill, North Carolina’s Crooks’ Corner has a reputation for delicious food and history. The prestige is deserved, and Chef Bill Smith works to make sure it stays that way. Bill is from eastern North Carolina and carries the flavors and food experiences he grew up with into his cooking style. Using Southern ingredients that we all know and love and combining them with an old- fashioned approach, Bill has made Crooks’ Corner a beloved establishment.
Franklin, Tennessee-based Amber Wilson shares beautiful Southern storytelling on her blog, For the Love of the South. Amber weaves seasonal recipes into her stories about life growing up in the South and the importance of gathering around the table.
When Charleston, South Carolina, brothers Matt and Ted Lee went off to college, they quickly realized they couldn’t go without their Southern staples, and started the Lee Bros. Boiled Peanuts Catalogue, which ships necessary pantry items like stone- ground grits and fig preserves. With the success of the catalogue, the Lee Bros. began writing food and travel articles, cookbooks, and more, and over time they have become well known in the world of Southern cuisine. Their six-part television series premiered in June on Ovation TV, and explores how Southern cuisine has influenced the culture, music, art, and fashion of Southern cities.
The Hayward family began selling their dried beans in New Orleans’ French Market in 1923, and red beans and rice were forever changed. Camellia Brand red kidney beans are the creamiest you’ll find, and so are their black-eyed peas, lady cream peas, baby lima beans, and other varieties.
Owner and baker Katherine Frankstone’s parents taught her to bake cookies when she was five years old, eschewing her desire for an Easy-Bake Oven in favor of the real thing. The recipes she learned have been in her family for generations, and now she is kind enough to share her treats with all of us. After her sons went to college, Katherine decided the time was right to follow her dream to own her own business. After a few recipe tweaks and some rounds of taste tests with her team (read: college-kid approved), Katherine brought her cookies to market. Each cookie is still carefully hand- rolled in South Carolina.
This family-owned business in Canton, North Carolina, is more than 60 years old, and third- generation brothers Wes and Ben Eason are carrying on their family’s tradition of raising the highest quality trout in its natural habitat, with no additives or growth accelerants. Restaurants around the country vie for their products, which now include their highly lauded caviar and protein-packed trout jerky.
This rural bakery began in Brian Noyes’ home kitchen in northern Virginia’s Piedmont region, but the immediate popularity of his homemade breads and jams at farmers’ markets soon made a full-blown bakery necessary. Made by classically trained bakers, the fresh fruit pies and lofty loaves have a hint of nostalgia and a casual country air.
One of our favorite chocolaty, nutty sweets, the Goo Goo Cluster was created by the Standard Candy Company in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1912. This treat is made with milk chocolate, caramel, peanuts, and marshmallow nougat and was the first combination candy bar. The Goo Goo Cluster has become a Southern tradition and, of course, a necessary part of any Music City visit.
As Southerners, we love grits and rice. When these two ingredients meet, it’s heaven in a bowl. We eat the Brown Jasmine Cracked Rice from Cajun Grain in Kinder, Louisiana and top it with just about anything for supper.
We eat a lot of desserts, and we dream often about the Sorghum and Grits Ice Cream at Edward Lee’s Milkwood in Louisville, Kentucky. Grits in ice cream? You bet! And it’s served with coffee syrup, macerated berries, coconut flakes, and toasted croissant.
Since opening City Grocery, his acclaimed restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, 23 years ago, chef John Currence has raised the culinary bar in this college town, giving competitors a lot to live up to. But this Louisiana-born, James Beard-awarded chef does more than fine dining; John serves up hearty breakfast fare at Big Bad Breakfast, Creole food at family-friendly Bouré, French dishes with a Southern twist at Snackbar, and whole-hog barbecue at blue-collar- casual Lamar Lounge. Whether he’s giving back with his friends through the Fatback Collective or celebrating with the Southern Foodways Alliance, chef John Currence infuses his big bold personality into every dish.