When traveling it is always important – in my eyes, anyway – to immerse yourself in the local culture.
In the South, where I am from, that means getting a heaping helping of two things: college football and Southern comfort food.
The same applies when traveling anywhere, really. You should have wine and baguettes in France, pasta and wine in Italy, beer and brats in Germany (and Wisconsin, along with cheese), fish tacos in Southern California, big steaks in Texas, BBQ in Kansas City and so forth.
In the South, you should take in some of that good ‘ol Southern food, ideally in a true Southern restaurant. The best places to get these are not in fancy places or chains – please no chains! – but local one-off restaurants. Here they call them mom-and-pops, which means it is a family-run business. Mom and pop own it, their kids work there and on it goes for generations.
These are places with character (and characters) that reflect their surroundings. Which is how I wound up at a place called Country Kinfolk in Lenior City, TN, just outside of Knoxville. I passed by it with my mom when we were driving one afternoon. When I saw the name and its wooden porch, I knew I just had to go there while visiting my family (I live in San Diego but am from East Tennessee).
The place fits in perfectly with its East Tennessee location. It has that front porch, wood floors and wooden booths. Adjacent to the restaurant is an old-time (well current time in these parts) general store, so packed with stuff it looks like a Southerner’s garage.
Heck, when you pay your bill, you do so in the general store and just tell the guy what you had to eat.
To that end, this place is as kuntry as it gets. The menu has chili, Sloppy Joes sandwiches and country fried steak/chicken with gravy and mashed potatoes slathered in gravy. Bingo! You can probably guess what I ordered.
To be frank, the food was was just so-so at this place. That’s not typical of a true Southern comfort restaurant but I kind of suspected that might be the case when, in fast food rather than good ‘ol county kitchen style, they handed us plastic forks and knives. The food came out really fast and was on a disposable plate like the kind people serve snacks on at a house party.
Well that’s okay because the atmosphere made up it. And so did the price, just $7.99 and that’s another thing about Southern comfort food – it’s cheap!
A nice touch in these restaurants – although my mother hates it – are places that serve ice tea in a mason jar. In true old Southern style, mom believes mason jars are for canning and are not fit for use as glass for iced tea.
So when you’re in the South and you see a place that just screams “Southern culture,” go in and soak yourself in the lifestyle for a couple of hours. Just be ready to talk college football with your table neighbors.