Tuesday, February 1, 2011
Deep South Gourmet
ALBANY: GEORGIA’S CULINARY TREASURE
By Lynne Brandon
Pecan trees stand majestically along country roads and cotton fields are blurs of white as we speed along the quiet byways of Georgia. It is steamy hot but that is fitting and proper for Indian summer in the South. Outlaw Country is playing on Sirius XM radio and the Highwaymen get their turn at airplay. I am traveling to Albany for the first time and will leave with a new appreciation for Southwest Georgia and its amenities.
The Flint River runs through Albany and defines it, along with music legends, the civil rights movement, and now, great young chefs who are cooking up more than grits and greens.
The names from the past are still here; Ray Charles and the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Deen, both who spent time in this fair city and left an enduring legacy.
Aunt Fannie’s Checkered Apron was the first stop on the “Taste of Albany” culinary tour where I imbibed my senses with eggs, sausage and biscuits, and learned the true meaning of “gravy train.” In Albany, large flaky buttermilk biscuits dressed up in flowing white sausage gravy are de rigueur for breakfast and Aunt Fannie’s doesn’t disappoint. The small establishment is a popular early morning stop for locals and visitors. Hospitality comes with the territory for owner/minister, McKinley Drake, who spreads the gospel of good eating to young, old, black and white, and all who gather to break bread together around the table.
Restaurants using local produce are thriving and farm-to-the-fork cuisine is everywhere. Young chefs like Bo Henry and Stewart Campbell, co-owners of The Catch, as well as Harvest Moon where great pizza rules, are making their mark in this Southern culinary world. At The Catch, I experienced plump juicy oysters on the half-shell, fresh and BP free. Dinner was delicious and varied with choices like grouper laced with gorgonzola and bacon, and paired with a great domestic Riesling.
In the South, ‘cue is king. Riverfront BBQ in downtown Albany serves up generous portions with great flavor. The pork is smoked on premises and comes with a choice of sauces that will please any palate, including Bourbon infusion. Fresh vegetables compliment and the homemade lemonade is superb. For an afternoon pick-me-up at an old fashioned pharmacy complete with real live soda jerks, stop by Doc Hellinbel’s. They can fix what ails you and give you a root beer float to go.
A side trip to beautiful Thomasville, Georgia proved worth the one hour drive. The town, which hints of Norman Rockwell, is home to Pebble Hill Plantation, Sweet Grass Dairy, Jonah’s Fish and Grits, a 300 year old oak tree and more. Fried catfish is the star at Blackbeard’s for dinner where oysters and seafood are piled mile-high on plates in monstrous portions. Go hungry.
A heavenly experience waits at Pearly’s Famous Country Cooking where Pearly Gates is the real proprietor. Hungry patrons wrapped a line of cars around the drive-thru, and inside, the hustle was on for a breakfast fit for king. Biscuits and gravy reigned supreme, along with exceptional fresh sausage and even chess pie. The dynamic staff with high-wattage smiles delivers service with gusto. Don’t count calories at Pearly’s, just your blessings.
For a trip to the past, a stop at the iconic Jimmie’s Hot Dogs is in order. Knowing that Civil Right legends chowed on the small, but loaded dogs while discussing life changing historical events enhances the experience ten fold. And, no where but the original Maryland Fried Chicken in Albany gives you the opportunity to gaze at posters of rock gods such as the Rolling Stones and the Gregg Allman band while eating the southern delicacy known as fried chicken.
To walk lunch off, a trip to Still Pond Vineyards was recommended. The award winning winery has sixteen gold medals to its credit, and is a consistent winner with its popular muscadine varieties. White Oak Pastures owner, Will Harris was on hand with his organic beef that paired exceptionally well with the wines.
The last stop was one of sheer elegance at Henry Campbell’s, The Steakhouse. It is the only steak house in the area that offers dry-aged steaks and prime steaks. Filets are mouth watering and fork tender. The piece de resistance was the Crème Brulee, prepared for eating with a blow torch finale.
Albany and the surrounding area showcases it’s rich food heritage, and the culinary offerings are emblematic of the cuisine of the New South. Truly, there is something for every taste.
Posted by TWO REBEL WRITERS at 10:41 AM