Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition

New Orleans Eats - Tabasco Guardian's Skillet

The heroes of our cuisine are often unsung and uncelebrated women and men. Their considerable skills tend not to be rewarded with the type of fame and fortune that is increasingly part and parcel of the white tablecloth world of celebrity chefs and destination restaurants.

Still we recognize that they are the essential elements, the foundations of American cuisine in general and Southern cuisine in particular. So we have established the Tabasco Guardian of The Tradition award.

In this way we hope to bring attention to those cooks, chefs, restaurateurs and others in our various regions whose work has helped keep alive Southern foodways. We hope to remind them, the world, and ourselves of their crucial importance in maintaining those traditions on which our cuisine, our region, and our identities are built.

Each Tabasco Guardian of the Tradition is presented with a special award designed by artist and MacArthur Grant recipient John T. Scott. And, of course, we collect their stories.

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JOHN T. SCOTT 1940-2007
It is with great sadness that we note the passing of artist John T. Scott. Mr. Scott, a native of New Orleans and recipient of a prestigious McArthur “Genius” Fellowship, created the print we use to celebrate the life and work of our Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition.

Interviews

Allen & Son Barbeque - Keith Allen - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chapel Hill, NC - Chapel Hill Eats

Allen & Son Barbeque

Keith Allen grew up working on his grandparents’ farm in Burlington, North Carolina. There he learned to cure hams and make sausages. When Keith was nine years old, his father, James Allen, bought an Amoco station that happened to serve food. A couple of years later, he bought a barbecue restaurant, and Keith’s fate was sealed.

Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionery

In a certain sense, Angelo Brocato Ice Cream & Confectionery has come a long way since its founder immigrated from Cefalù, Sicily, and opened the store in 1905.

Arnold's Country Kitchen - Jack Arnold

Arnold’s Country Kitchen – Jack

Born on a kitchen table in 1937 at the foothills of the Blue Ridge Parkway, Jack Arnold must have been destined for the food business. Coming from a long line of home cooks, Arnold shined shoes at a local farmers market before taking his first restaurant job washing dishes as a teenager at his hometown diner.

Arnold’s Country Kitchen - Kahlil Arnold - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Arnold’s Country Kitchen – Kahlil

Kahlil picked up his chops in the kitchen from longtime cooks, busboys, and of course his father. And though he keeps one foot firmly planted in the tradition of the place with mainstays on the menu like the roast beef and turnip greens, you’ll also find Kahlil’s personal spin on dishes as he carries Arnold’s Country Kitchen into the future.

Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que - Barbara Ann Bracy - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chicago, IL - Chicago Eats

Barbara Ann’s Bar-B-Que

Delars Bracy left his hometown of Ruleville, Mississippi, as a young man and headed for Los Angeles, where he went to college. Eventually, he ended up in Chicago, where he was reunited with Bertie, his high school sweetheart.

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish - Dolly Bolton - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish

The late Bolton Polk had a family recipe for spicy fried chicken and used it to open The Chicken Shack in East Nashville in the 1980s. Bolton’s chicken—and his wife’s chess pies—was a hit. But Bolton took ill, and the restaurant closed in the 1990s. Before he passed, Bolton shared his hot chicken recipe with his nephew, Bolton Matthews.

Charlie’s Steak House

The Southern Foodways Alliance awarded Charlie’s Steak House with the Guardian of the Tradition title in July 2005 for several reasons. Among them were its decades-long persistence in oversized steaks sputtering customers with butter; its homey atmosphere, generated in large part by the restaurant’s below-average but somehow comfortable cleanliness standards; and its lone waitress, Dottye Bennett, the aging and accommodating daughter of the steakhouse’s founder.

Cliff's Meat Market - Cliff Collins - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chapel Hill, NC - Chapel Hill Eats

Cliff’s Meat Market

Cliff Collins started working in a local meat market when he was still in high school. After five years behind the counter, he decided to open a place of his own. The year was 1973. Thousands of pork chops and chicken breasts later, Cliff’s Meat Market, the last of the family-owned markets in the area, is still going strong.

Dandgure’s Classic Southern Cooking - Dandgure "Dan" Robinson - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Dandgure’s Classic Southern Cooking

Everybody knows about Dan Robinson’s homestyle cafeteria, Dandgure’s, just outside of downtown Nashville. Since 1991, Dan has served his smothered chicken, fried cabbage, fresh greens, strawberry shortcake, skillet corncakes and “The Best Lemonade in Town” to an ever-evolving clientele.

Domilise’s Po-Boys

The modern story of Domilise’s Po-Boys rests on two women who married into the business, Dot Domilise and her daughter-in-law Patti Domilise.

Edna's Restaurant - Edna Stewart - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chicago, IL - Chicago Eats

Edna’s Restaurant

Edna Stewart’s parents were sharecroppers in Covington, Tennessee, until they moved to Chicago in 1936. Edna was born two years later. As a young woman, Edna went to nursing school. But in 1966 Edna’s father, Samuel Mitchell Sr., decided that he wanted to go into the restaurant business. All he needed was a cook.

Fat Johnnie’s

When you’re in Chicago, you’ve got to make a stop for a hot dog. Or a Mother-in-Law. Chicago native John Pawlikowski has been serving both from his stand on Western Avenue since 1972.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz - Ashley Hansen - New Orleans Sno-Balls

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

The story of Hansen’s Sno-Bliz is the sort that New Orleanians love to tell. It involves a business built and sustained by three generations of one New Orleans family, it has a welcome post-Katrina happy ending despite some tragic twists, and its core narrative is all about sweetness.

Hap Townes Restaurant - Hap Townes - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Hap Townes Restaurant

In pretty much the same manner for almost sixty-five years, the two Hap Towneses of Nashville, father and son, served up Southern home cooking to a long line of faithful and appreciative customers. Hap the elder started the tradition in 1921 with a curbside eatery on wheels, literally a movable feast. Hap the younger took up the spoon and spatula when he returned form the war in 1946.

Izola's Family Dining - Izola White - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chicago, IL - Chicago Eats

Izola’s Family Dining

Izola White grew up picking cotton in Kenton, Tennessee. In 1945 she caught a train to Chicago and never looked back. Soon after arriving in the Windy City, Izola got a job at a restaurant and started saving some money. After a few years and with a few hundred dollars in her pocket, she opened Izola’s Family Dining on Chicago’s South Side.

Leidenheimer Baking Company

Leidenheimer Baking Co. celebrated its centennial in 1996 with a new design for the sides of its white bread trucks: local cartoonist Bunny Matthews drew his already beloved Vic and Nat’ly Broussard, typical denizens of New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, sharing a drippy shrimp po-boy and jointly exclaiming, “Sink Ya Teeth Into A Piece of New Orleans Cultcha – A Leidenheimer Po-Boy!”

Lem's Bar-B-Q - James Lemons - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chicago, IL - Chicago Eats

Lem’s Bar-B-Q

James Lemons and his four brothers grew up in Indianola, Mississippi, where their mother taught them to cook, and where they worked each fall slaughtering hogs. When he was fourteen, James followed his brothers to Chicago and into the barbecue business.

Mama Dip's Traditional Country Cooking - Mildred Council, "Mama Dip" - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Chapel Hill, NC - Chapel Hill Eats

Mama Dip’s Traditional Country Cooking

Mildred Council, better known as Mama Dip, started cooking when she was nine years old. The family cooking duties fell upon her early, but not just because she was the youngest of seven children. Mildred was put at the stove after impressing her father with the cornbread and egg custard she made for a family meal.

Mauthe Family Dairy

The Mauthe Family Dairy’s roots are in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans, where Kenny Mauthe’s grandfather first began milking cows. The farm moved to Folsom, Louisiana, when the city expanded and the Ninth Ward became more residential; eventually Kenny and his wife, Jamie, established their own farm on an impossibly green tract of land in McComb, Mississippi, where they raised four children—the fourth generation of Mauthe dairy farmers.

Mayo's Fried Pies and Mahalia Jackson's Chicken - E. W. Mayo - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Mayo’s Fried Pies and Mahalia Jackson’s Chicken

E. W. Mayo built Mayo’s Fried Pies and Mahalia Jackson’s Chicken as a culinary tribute to his favorite singer, and he’s been serving chicken livers and fried pies six days a week ever since. His headquarters on Buchanen Street in North Nashville boasts a large kitchen, but customer space is limited to a small foyer.

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

The first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival took place in 1970 at Congo Square, across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. It was a revolutionary yet modest affair in the earliest years, with just a smattering of food vendors.

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack - André Prince Jeffries - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack

The line at Prince’s Hot Chicken can be longer at 10 p.m. than at lunchtime. Owner André Prince Jeffries calls it a “late night” place. They don’t advertise and haven’t in the past eighteen years, but word of mouth has allowed customers to keep up with Prince’s as they’ve moved locations throughout the city.

Roman Chewing Candy Co.

Ron Kottemann acknowledges that New Orleanians are captivated by the very sight of the nearly century-old, wooden, mule-drawn cart that his grandfather designed and that Ron now directs down Uptown’s backstreets and through New Orleans traffic. “People look at this thing and, you know, get all gaga,” he said. And if the vision doesn’t tug at their heartstrings, Ron’s taffy-like Roman Chewing Candy hooks them at the sweet tooth.

Rose DeShazer White

Rose DeShazer White, a native in Hollandale, Mississippi, grew up eating caramel cake. Her mother baked caramel cakes on a wood stove from a recipe that was passed down from her mother. When Rose was fourteen years old, she followed her brothers to Chicago, leaving her mother and the family recipe behind.

Swett's - David Swett, Jr. - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Swett’s

Swett’s has been an icon of the Nashville meat-n-three scene since 1954, but the business did not begin as a soul food restaurant. In fact, the family didn’t intend to go into the restaurant business at all when they began. Walter and Susie Swett arrived to Nashville in 1920 and opened a tavern.

The Pie Wagon - David Biggs - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

The Pie Wagon

David Biggs might have a thing for music — but he also has a thing for meat-n-threes. David grew up amidst the rich music culture of Muscle Shoals, Alabama, and later followed the tunes to Nashville where he worked in both the music and restaurant industries. He purchased the 1920s-era Mack’s Cafe when he was only 33.

Tommy’s Cuisine

When he got out of the Marine Corps in 1968, Milton Prudence meant to stop off in New Orleans to visit family before heading back home to New England to pursue a career in teaching. At the time, visiting his family meant visiting the kitchen at Galatoire’s, because that’s where most of them worked: his mother, his grandmother, his uncle, his cousins. Naturally he signed on, too, as a dishwasher; roughly two decades later, Mr. Prudence became Galatoire’s first African American executive chef.

Uglesich’s

On May 7, 2005, restaurateurs Anthony and Gail Uglesich retired, and with them their Central City restaurant, Uglesich’s. The corner of Baronne and Erato streets hadn’t been so quiet since at least 1928, when Anthony’s father, an immigrant from Yugoslavia, opened a modest sandwich and fried seafood shop there.

Uncle Bill’s Spices

While Lionel refuses to divulge family secrets, such as the harvest season for the leaves and how long he cures them, he takes his processing operation, his mortar and pestle, on the road to farmers’ markets and museums. Lionel is modest, but his vocation is rare enough that Slow Food included fresh hand-ground filé on its Ark of Taste. What’s more, Lionel recently convinced his eighty-two-year-old mother, previously in the camp of Louisiana cooks who prefer okra or roux thickeners, to try his filé. She’s a convert.

Vietnamese Farmers’ Market Community Gardening Project

In July 2005, the Southern Foodways Alliance presented the Ly Family with the Guardian of the Tradition award for their vision in spearheading the spectacular Vietnamese farmers’ market that opens at 5 a.m. every Saturday morning in New Orleans East and wraps up around the time that most New Orleanians are getting out of bed.

Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods - Dexter Weaver - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Athens, GA - Athens Eats

Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods

Born in Athens, Georgia, in 1954, Dexter Weaver grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, where he tended an urban garden at his family home and began catering from his mother’s kitchen. When Dexter moved back to Athens in the early 1980s, he brought his culinary talents and entrepreneurial spirit with him, cooking for events and selling dinners from his home on the weekends.

Wendell Smith Restaurant - Jakie Cook - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Nashville, TN - Nashville Eats

Wendell Smith Restaurant

Born in 1933, Jakie Cook was the son-in-law of Wendell Smith, Sylvan Park entrepreneur and founder of the eponymous Wendell Smith Restaurant and adjacent businesses. Jakie came on as a clerk in the liquor store in 1958, a few years after marrying Wendell’s daughter, Beverly.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

For nearly fifty uninterrupted years, Willie Mae Seaton presided on Saint Ann Street in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward, first as the bartender at Willie Mae’s Scotch House and then, following an expansion, as the establishment’s chef.

Wilson's Soul Food - Tabasco Guardians of the Tradition: Athens, GA - Athens Eats

Wilson’s Soul Food

M. C. Wilson worked for the railroad in Colbert, Georgia, and cut hair on the side to make some extra money. In 1954 he retired from the railroad and opened Wilson’s Styling Shop on Hull Street in downtown Athens, a part of town known as Hot Corner for its century-long history of being a hub for African American-owned businesses.