Found in small restaurants hugging railroads tracks that crisscross the counties of northeast Mississippi, northwestern Alabama, and lower Tennessee, these hamburgers defy hunger and solitude in a region where many workers worry over their next paycheck.
The Welcome Table serves as many as 600 meals a week, in six seatings, to one of the most diverse groups of people I have ever seen at table. An older man with an expensive haircut and black-framed glasses. Couples with babies. Young men carrying backpacks, neatly loaded, ready for another night of camping in the woods along the river.
“What’s Hoppin’ John?” I asked no one in particular. It was 2013, and I was working as a host and server’s assistant at Empire State South in Midtown Atlanta.
Gravy host and producer, Tina Antolini, will give a free talk tomorrow at Duke University on the sound of place.
Being in the booze business, I have always wanted to shake up some kind of libation that nods to those crisp Idaho evenings, to the ice-cold creek water in which I was baptized, and to the South I now claim.
People often ask me if the Southern Foodways Alliance, like the University of Mississippi and the town of Oxford, slows down for the summer. The truth is, we pack our summers just as full as the rest of the year.
No cheese dip, no dollops of sour cream, no burritos, no fajitas…
Fish swimming right up to a beach? Stacks of crabs, just waiting to be caught? People gigging dozens and dozens of flounder, all in a few hours? It seemed like something out of a science fiction movie.
This piece originally appeared in Gravy, Spring 2016.