Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Southern Living Off the Eaten Path: Favorite Southern Dives and 150 Recipes That Made Them Famous by Morgan Murphy

Reviewed by Jeanne
If you’re looking for a cookbook with hundreds of recipes, this isn’t the book for you, but we have some wonderful Southern Living cookbooks that should fit the bill.
If you’re looking for a book with hundreds of suggestions of places to eat, I’d recommend one of the books by the Jane and Michael Stern, the authors of several books about road food.
If you’re looking for a book with the stories behind local eateries, I’d recommend Fred Sauceman’s  wonderful series of books called “The Place Setting.”
If, on the other hand, you’re looking for a fun browsing book with charming pictures, local color and delicious recipes, a book to dip into while relaxing, then this is just the book for you.  It’s one of those rare delights which is the total package: text, photos and design just come together perfectly.  There’s even an introduction by Fannie Flagg!
The cover as well as the title is a good indication of content:  it has a 50s retro look, evoking those old roadside diners that are usually dismissed as “greasy spoons,” yet which evoke fond memories.  My father’s was Black’s Fish Camp, a place I don’t think I could ever find again if I tried.  I seem to remember something about a very long dirt or gravel road out in the middle of nowhere.  It was several hours out of our way, but Daddy swore they served the best catfish he’d ever eaten and he was a man who liked to eat.
This book is an homage to such places, with wonderfully evocative photos and commentary.  The theme is definitely “Road Trip.”  The book is divided up by state, starting with a “Best Drive” recommendation.  The one for Tennessee is Highway 129, the (in)famous  twisty road beloved by motorcyclists and nicknamed the “Tail of the Dragon.” Tips offered include “Don’t go on a full stomach” and “Don’t take interns who get carsick.”  For each state, there is a small selection of out-of-the-way places to eat.  Photos give you a good visual sense of the place, while the text gives you some of the spirit.  Unsurprisingly, most are mom-and-pop establishment with a folksy feel.  There are recipes for the signature dishes of each establishment.  Not only did most sound absolutely delicious, but the photos were definitely drool inducing. (Note:  NOT a good book to peruse unless you’re going to have a very good meal very soon.  I found my brown bag lunch to be woefully inadequate.)
The food selections are very interesting, and I don’t mean that in a negative sense.  I’m fascinated by the idea of a chocolate fried pie, and the recipe for strawberry rhubarb pie sounded easy enough.  Some old favorites showed up as well, including one for Watergate Salad and another for Hummingbird Cake. Other notable recipes included Jalapeño Hushpuppies, Kentucky Bourbon Chocolate Pecan Pie and (are you ready for this?) White Chocolate Banana Cream Pie with Sugar Cookie Crust. I can't even begin to imagine what that tastes like
While no really local places made the cut (and no Black’s Fish Camp, either), there are places you’ll recognize such as “The Roanoker” in Roanoke.   “The Snappy Lunch” in Mount Airy, NC has been immortalized in a song by the VW Boys and yep, the recipe for their Pork Chop Sandwich is included. 
I’ve mentioned the book’s design already, but it’s hard to do it justice.  Every detail has been thought out, from the endpaper maps to using route sign shapes for the page number.  The author even made the trip in a blue vintage Cadillac. The book reminded me of all those childhood trips we took, stopping at diners and some genuine dives where the food was all the things we’re now told we shouldn’t eat.
The author asks for suggestions and I do have a couple I want to send.  Not only do I want some recognition for local treasures, but I want another volume of this wonderful book! It’s pure nostalgia for those of us of a certain age, and a peek back for younger folk.

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