The people, places, products, organizations, and companies named to the Taste 50 represent the best in Southern food. They are authentically Southern, have superior quality, and have made an impact toward the preservation, celebration, and future of Southern food.
Pardis and Frank Stitt
When Highlands Bar and Grill opened in 1982, it forever changed the culinary landscape of Birmingham, Alabama, and the entire South. Together, Frank and Pardis welcome guests into their restaurants (Highlands, Bottega, Bottega Café, and Chez Fonfon) with graceful ease, like opening the door of their home to a dear friend. Their menus are thoughtful, the service is impeccable, and no detail is overlooked. But beyond fantastic meals, Frank and Pardis are champions of Southern food, farmers, and artisans. Southern food would not be what it is today without them.
Known as the Queen of Creole Cuisine, Leah Chase had the vision to transform her family’s New Orleans restaurant from a sandwich shop into one of the first African-American fine-dining restaurants in the country, Dooky Chase. There’s no better lunch buffet in New Orleans, where you’ll find everything from red beans and rice with hot sausage to Shrimp Clemenceau. The Chase family has hosted presidents, Duke Ellington, Quincy Jones, Ray Charles, and many others at their restaurant in the Treme neighborhood. Tasty Tip: Don’t miss the fried chicken. And take time to admire Leah’s extensive collection of African-American art.
A fourth-generation cattleman in Bluffton, Georgia, Will is one of the kindest souls you’ll ever meet. Spend a few minutes with him and his family, and you’ll feel like you’ve known them your whole life. Will’s ancestors founded White Oak Pastures in the late 1800s, where they raised free-range cattle until World War II. After the war, changes to the beef industry meant changes at their farm and sending their cattle off for corn finishing. Will hated seeing his cattle leave and eventually made the paramount decision to stop that process and go back to how his family originally raised them. Today, White Oak Pastures is an organic farm that offers grass-fed beef and lamb, free-range pastured poultry, pastured eggs, sausage, a CSA (Consumer Supported Agriculture) subscription, and more. They are one of only two on-farm USDA-inspected abattoirs in the country. If you’re in South Georgia, stop by and visit with Will and his family. Tasty Tip: This summer they’ll be adding guest cabins to their farm so visitors can spend the night.
Considered by many as the grand dame of Southern food, Nathalie is the coauthor of Mastering the Art of Southern Cooking, as well as a slew of other cookbooks, including the well-loved Nathalie Dupree’s Shrimp & Grits Cookbook. In addition, she’s filmed more than 300 television shows for The Food Network, PBS, and The Learning Channel.
Southern Foodways Alliance
Through oral histories, films, podcasts, their quarterly journal, Gravy, symposiums, and more, the Southern Foodways Alliance, a University of Mississippi Center for the Study of Southern Culture-based nonprofit, documents, studies, and celebrates the diverse culture of Southern food and drink.
Lodge Cast Iron
A well-stocked Southern kitchen isn’t complete without a cast-iron skillet. If you’re looking to start a collection or add to your arsenal of family heirlooms, Lodge Manufacturing has been making cast iron in South Pittsburg, Tennessee, since 1896.
Glenn Roberts, founder of Anson Mills, is credited with bringing heirloom grains, corn, and wheat indigenous to the South Carolina area back from near extinction. From Carolina Gold rice to Sea Island red peas, Anson Mills grows and mills products essential to antebellum Carolina Rice cuisine with the utmost integrity for the land and respect for local foodways.
Perfectly plump and salty, these Gulf Coast bivalves thrive in the Apalachicola Bay, where fresh water from the Apalachicola River mixes with salt water from the Gulf of Mexico. Raw, fried, baked, or grilled, just be sure you order your own dozen (or two… or three).
Mountain Valley Spring Water
Mountain Valley Spring Water has been bottled in Hot Springs, Arkansas, since 1871. Featuring naturally occurring calcium, magnesium, and potassium, it’s been enjoyed by presidents, Elvis Presley, and even Triple Crown Champion thoroughbred, the Secretariat.
We’ve tasted (and enjoyed!) a lot of sausage, but Conecuh is at the top of our list for its hickory smokiness and delicate spice. A few pounds of Conecuh thrown on the grill will jump-start any gathering, and it’ll revolutionize a pot of turnip greens. Tasty Tip: Conecuh is located right off Interstate 65 (Exit 96) in Greenville, Alabama. They serve grilled sausage from breakfast through lunch.
Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams
Allan Benton’s bacon and country hams have a cult following among chefs and food lovers for good reason. While most bacon on the market today is prepared and ready to hit grocery store shelves in 24 hours, Allan’s process of slow curing and smoking takes more than a month in his Madisonville, Tennessee, smokehouse. His hams age for nine months and up to two years. Even before you taste his hickory-smoked goodness, you’ll be able to smell the difference a little patience and time makes.
Olive & Sinclair Chocolates
Take a tour of this Nashville, Tennessee, chocolatier, and you’ll understand the true meaning of their bean-to-bar mentality and buzz words like “small batch,” “handcrafted,” and “artisan.” Every single bar of chocolate is made from the best quality ingredients and gorgeously hand wrapped. Tasty Tip: Try their new Sea Salt and Vinegar caramels.
Tito’s Handmade Vodka
This vodka, made in small batches in an old-fashioned pot in the first and oldest legal distillery in Texas, is distilled six times and will make any happy hour extra happy.
Duke’s Mayonnaise & Pimiento Cheese
When it comes to mayonnaise—especially spoonfuls stirred into ‘menna cheese—Southerners are passionate and brand loyal. We think Eugenia Duke’s 1917 recipe is the perfect binder for our beloved pâté of the South.
Looking Glass Creamery
This Fairview, North Carolina, family creamery crafts some of the best Southern cheese we’ve ever placed on our cheese board. Their Ellington is a pyramid of goat’s milk heaven that’s wrapped in a thin layer of ash and enclosed in a soft white rind. The Pack Square is a buttery, brie-style cheese made from Jersey cow’s milk.
Cruze Dairy Farm Buttermilk
Buttermilk is an essential ingredient for many of our favorite recipes, from fried chicken to biscuits. And Earl Cruze and his family make the best liquid gold. We’ve been known to ask anyone passing through the Knoxville, Tennessee, area to bring us a few half gallons. Tasty Tip: Earl’s daughter, Colleen, makes Cruze Farm Girl Ice Cream. Try it on Saturdays at the Market Square Farmers Market in Knoxville.
Steen’s Cane Syrup
This fifth-generation pure sugar cane syrup from Abbeville, Louisiana, is one of our test kitchen staples and a go-to for adding depth and sweetness to recipes.
If you haven’t tried this wild cherry-flavored soda, it’s never too late to become a fanatic. Created in North Carolina in 1917, this garnet-hued drink has a legion of fans all over the world. With a refreshingly fruity flavor that’s not overly sweet, Cheerwine is perfect for those hot summer days when a cola just won’t do.
This pantry staple has been made on Avery Island, Louisiana, since Edmund McIlhenny mixed up his first batch in 1868. We always have a bottle within arm’s reach and love it splashed on everything from scrambled eggs to jambalaya.
Light in color with a greenish cast and mild in flavor, tupelo honey comes from the tupelo gum trees in Florida’s Apalachicola River Basin, the only area in the world that commercially produces this special variety of honey. Tasty Tip: This honey doesn’t granulate like some others do.
Big Spoon Roasters
These handcrafted, small-batch nut butters (think peanut-almond butter, peanut-cashew butter, and peanut-pecan butter) are ground in Durham, North Carolina, and use ingredients from local farmers. Trust us: Your PB&Js will never be the same.
Harvested from family orchards that date back to some of the first commercial pecan plantings in America, these Georgia pecans are great for gifting, roasting, and baking.
Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies
These almost-paper-thin cookies are made from a family recipe, rolled by hand, and packaged by hand in Clemmons, North Carolina. Flavors include sugar, lemon, chocolate, butterscotch, and black walnut, but their ginger crisps are our year-round favorite.
The Loveless Cafe
When Lon and Annie Loveless starting serving fried chicken and biscuits in 1951 to hungry travelers on US Highway 100 in Franklin, Tennessee, a Southern institution was born. Today, travel is planned around a stop at The Loveless Cafe for those same biscuits, plus favorites like barbecue, macaroni and cheese, and scratch-made pies.
Located in the pastoral foothills of the Smoky Mountains, Blackberry Farm is a luxury hotel and resort… and so much more. Sure you can fly-fish and hike, but it’s a true playground for food-loving adults. Take a garden tour with the legendary Master Gardener John Coykendall, spend a Day in the Life of a Chef, enjoy a private wine-tasting in their 160,000-bottle cellar, or book a trip around one of their cooking schools. You can also simply relax, enjoy the cool mountain air, and let meals that feature their exquisite foothills cuisine be your main activity.
With locations in Charleston, South Carolina, and Nashville, Tennessee, Sean Brock’s masterpiece of a Southern restaurant celebrates our region like no other. All ingredients that enter Sean’s kitchens must come from the South. No exceptions. So as you can imagine, the menu is a collaborative affair that changes constantly, oftentimes by the hour. Sean and his team grow as much produce as they can in their own garden and focus on heirloom vegetables and grains.
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
This Nashville, Tennessee, chicken shack serves the most addicting fried chicken we’ve ever tasted—and we’ve tasted a lot. You can choose from mild, medium, hot, and extra hot, but be warned… they’re all hot. Our advice, order an extra drink, and enjoy the burn. It’s worth it. You’ll be back for more.
Sure the line is long at this Austin, Texas, institution, and you might want to bring a lawn chair for the wait, but one bite of Aaron Franklin’s brisket perfection, and you’ll know it was time well spent. Aaron and his wife Stacy first started selling their brisket out of a travel trailer in 2009 and quickly outgrew it for a brick-and-mortar restaurant. Their recipe is simple: salt, pepper, brisket, and a long, slow smoke. Doors open at 11:00 a.m., and a sold-out sign will be posted in no time.
North Carolina native Sarah Simmons hosts guest chefs from around the world at City Grit, a New York City gathering spot where her Southern hospitality and influence are always on the menu. Sarah’s newest concept, Birds and Bubbles, will open in late 2014 and focus on fried chicken and Champagne. We can hardly wait.
Anne Quatrano’s lovely market in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions is a culinary Mecca. You’ll find artisan food products, an extensive selection of Southern cheeses, house-cured meats, freshly baked breads and sweets, cookware, wine, and anything else you could possibly need to throw the ultimate dinner party. Tasty Tip: Don’t let the long lunch line intimidate you; it’s worth the wait. Be sure to grab some cookies for the ride home.
Joe Patti’s Seafood
This Pensacola, Florida, seafood market started when Anna and Joe Patti began selling fish from their front porch in the 1930s, and it’s grown to include a sushi bar, fantastic wine shop, gourmet deli, and more than 100 employees. Don’t let the massive selection of fresh seafood overwhelm you. Take a number, wait for your turn at the counter, and fill your shopping basket with shrimp, grouper, crabmeat, and anything else you can possibly think of that lives and swims in the Gulf of Mexico. Tasty Tip: Grab a few loaves of hot French bread from the deli. We doubt you’ll make it home without eating at least one in the car.
Crescent City Farmers Market
Year-round on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the Crescent City Farmers Market brings the best local produce, seafood, meats, baked goods, and prepared food to the people of New Orleans. This market was founded in 1995, and continues to be one of the most bustling and diverse in the country. In the summer, stop by and fill your market tote with Creole tomatoes, a plethora of peppers, soft-shell crabs, peas, peaches, and more.
Hillcrest Artisan Meats
Not only does this Little Rock, Arkansas, butcher shop make their own bacon, prosciutto, pâté, confit, and sausages, but all of the meats available at their counter are from local farmers. This is the kind of place where you can stop for a sandwich, and then do some shopping. They carry a lovely selection of artisan cheeses and local jams, jellies, ice cream, sauces, breads, and more.
It only took one bite, and we fell in love with this New Albany, Mississippi, bakery. Sure they have layer cakes galore, but the pies are what we dream about. Be sure to visit on Fridays for a slice of their five-pound chocolate meringue pie. Tasty Tip: You can order their cakes and a few classic pies, like pecan and chess, online.
We’ve been fans of Caroline’s seven-layer caramel cake since it made its debut on the silver screen in The Help. It’s truly one of the best we’ve ever sunk a fork into, and doorstep delivery from Spartanburg, South Carolina, makes this showstopper even more irresistible.
Shrimp and Grits
While this classic Lowcountry dish now graces the menus of the South’s finest restaurants, and each chef puts a spin on the “gravy,” its beginnings were very humble. Often called breakfast shrimp, the dish began as a way to utilize small creek shrimp by searing them and serving them over grits or hominy.
Fried Green Tomatoes
Crispy from a humble cornmeal-and-flour breading and perfectly tart, this is one dish we long for all year. When summer finally arrives, we can’t get enough of this classic Southern treat.
Piled high with fried shrimp, oysters, soft-shell crabs, catfish, or roast beef, this authentically Southern sandwich came to be in New Orleans in 1929 when streetcar workers went on strike. Tasty Tip: Don’t miss Parkway Bakery and Tavern in New Orleans.
There’s a place for coconut cake at every holiday table, from Easter to Christmas and beyond. Topped with fluffy white frosting and plenty of toasted coconut, this dream of a layer cake always steals the sideboard show.
Golden Flake Potato Chips
Thin, salty, and super crispy, Golden Flake is everything we long for in a potato chip. Sure we won’t pass on a handful of Sweet Heat Barbecue or Vinegar and Salt, but their classic Thin & Crispy is our hands-down winner for game-day snacking.
This Birmingham, Alabama, hamburger chain might be best known across the South for their sweet tea, but their griddled hamburgers topped with secret sauce are a local legend. And the jingle is accurate: “Everybody Goes to Milo’s.”
It’s hard to for us to imagine the South without Waffle House. It’s constant comfort, always open, and a quick turn off the Interstate just when we need it. The coffee’s always hot, and the griddle never cools down, making crispy hashbrowns just an order away.
Chicken on a Stick
Think you need a knife and fork for fried chicken? Think again. Whether you’re roaming around Oxford, Mississippi, after an SEC football game or hanging out at a festival pretty much anywhere in the Southeast, chances are you’ve encountered this brilliant Southern kabob. Oxford’s Chevron gets props for their late-night version, but visit Penn’s restaurants around the state (and Memphis) for the real deal—peppery battered chicken breast chunks sandwiched between slices of red onion, bell pepper, and pickles, deep-fried to perfection.
Moon Pies & Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies
These treats are ultimate Southern indulgences, and we couldn’t imagine a road trip without them. Originally developed as a “working man’s lunch” for coal miners in the 1910s, Moon Pies were a taste of home for troops in World War II and became an iconic Mardi Gras throw along the Gulf Coast in the 1970s. Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies were introduced in 1960, and the soft cookies and oozing creme always offer a nostalgic taste of childhood. Tasty Tip: University of Alabama football coach Nick Saban eats two Oatmeal Creme Pies for breakfast every morning.
Although the origin of Mississippi’s house dressing is hotly contested among Jackson’s rival Greek restaurateurs, there’s no debating its popularity. Once limited to the capital’s cafés and diners, this close cousin to New Orleans’ famous rémoulade has become wildly popular all across the South as a topping for salads, burgers, and fried green tomatoes. But if you come across a bottle, enjoy it like a Jacksonian—drizzled over a saltine cracker.
Urban Bourbon Trail
Grab a passport at the Visitors Center in downtown Louisville (or download the Urban Bourbon Trail app), and visit bars and restaurants on the Urban Bourbon Trail to experience Kentucky’s signature spirit. A purchase (hopefully a bourbon!) gets your passport stamped. Receive six passport stamps, and you’re declared an official Bourbon Country Citizen.
Gena Knox Supper Club
Southern My Way cookbook author Gena Knox shares inspired seasonal recipes with wine suggestions in her monthly Gena Knox Supper Club menu along with practical tips for pulling off a gathering for eight to ten friends. Each couple prepares a dish or brings a bottle of wine, so hosting is easy. Sign up to receive her newsletter at genaknox.com.
Strawberry Pie Week at Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House
For one week each May when local strawberries come into season, Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House in Huntington, West Virginia, makes their famous strawberry pie. Last year, they set a record by serving 10,570 slices.
Apalachicola Oysters: 850-653-9419, apalachicolabay.org
Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Hams: 423-442-5003, bentonscountryhams2.com
Big Spoon Roasters: 919-309-9100, bigspoonroasters.com
Blackberry Farm: 800-557-8864, blackberryfarm.com
Bottega and Bottega Café: 205-939-1000, bottegarestaurant.com
Caroline’s Cakes: 888-801-2253, carolinescakes.com
Cheerwine: 704-637-5881, cheerwine.com
Chez Fonfon: 205-939-3221, fonfonbham.com
Chicken On a Stick: Oxford Chevron, 662-234-0275; Penn’s, 601-982-0805
City Grit: 646-580-5720, citygritnyc.com
Conecuh Sausage: 800-726-0507, conecuhsausage.com
Crescent City Farmers Market: 504-861-4488, crescentcityfarmersmarket.org
Cruze Dairy Farm: CruzeFarmGirl.com
Dooky Chase Restaurant: 504-821-0600, dookychaserestaurant.com
Duke’s Mayonnaise: 800-688-5676, dukesmayo.com
Franklin Barbecue: 512-653-1187, franklinbarbecue.com
Gena Knox Supper Club: genaknox.com
Golden Flake: 800-239-2447, goldenflake.com
Highlands Bar and Grill: 205-939-1400, highlandsbarandgrill.com
Hillcrest Artisan Meats: 501-671-6328
Husk Restaurant: Charleston, 843-577-2500; Nashville, 615-256-6565; huskrestaurant.com
Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House: 304-696-9788, jimsspaghetti.com
Joe Patti’s Seafood: 850-432-3315, joepattis.com
L.L. Lanier & Son’s Tupelo Honey: 850-639-2371, lltupelohoney.com
Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pies: 800-522-4499, littledebbie.com
Lodge Cast Iron: 423-837-7181, lodgemfg.com
Looking Glass Creamery: 828-458-4715, ashevillecheese.com
Milo’s Hamburgers: miloshamburgers.com
MoonPie: 423-877-0592, moonpie.com
Mountain Valley Spring Water: 501-624-1635, mountainvalleyspring.com
Mrs. Hanes’ Moravian Cookies: 888-764-1402, hanescookies.com
Nathalie Dupree: nathaliedupree.com
Olive & Sinclair Chocolates: 615-262-3007, oliveandsinclair.com
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack: 615-226-9442
Schermer Pecans: 800-841-3403, schermer-pecans.myshopify.com
Southern Foodways Alliance: 662-915-3368, southernfoodways.org
Star Provisions: 404-365-0410, starprovisions.com
Steen’s Cane Syrup: 800-725-1654, steensyrup.com
Sugaree’s Bakery: 866-784-2733, sugarees.com
Tabasco: 800-634-9599, tabasco.com
The Loveless Cafe: 615-646-9700, lovelesscafe.com
Tito’s Handmade Vodka: titosvodka.com
Urban Bourbon Trail: 888-568-4784, bourboncountry.com
Waffle House: 877-9-WAFFLE, wafflehouse.com
White Oak Pastures: 229-641-2081, whiteoakpastures.com