Wanna see? Go to gardenandgun.com/southern-food-bracket.
Garden & Gun is the Southern-focus magazine that sits comfortably between Southern Living and its social-suburban-let’s-do-brunch readership and Oxford American’s bourbon-and-beer subscribers. The thing that seems to set Garden & Gun apart from the pack is its appeal to literate Southerners who rise at dawn on a crisp fall morning, look out the window and say to themselves, “what a beautiful day. I think I’ll go kill something.”
But, back to the bracket. As I understand it, voters were supposed to select foods based on their own notion of “Southerness” rather than their particular sense of taste — just because you don’t like tomato pie doesn’t mean it isn’t Southern.
However, as with the NCAA tournament, early pairings are important, and some of the G&G matches I simply did not understand.
For example, having voters pick between pulled-pork barbecue and fried catfish in the first round strikes me as sorta like pitting Duke against North Carolina at the outset. By the same token, matching fried chicken against deviled eggs early on is sorta like giving the bird a bye.
So fried catfish never made it to round two, while chicken pot pie nudged out country-fried steak to move ahead — a travesty, but what can I say?
On the other side, red beans and rice bested Brunswick stew, which made me wonder if the folks who were voting for pulled pork would be happy if their barbecue made the finals but there was no stew to go with it.
However, I was pleased that G&G made it clear that the barbecue being judged as “Southern” was pork and not the beef that Texans try to pass off on the innocent and unsuspecting.
Kudos for the compilers on that one.
So the field narrowed, and in round two there were some mild upsets. I was surprised that okra knocked off peach cobbler, but okra is grown about everywhere and eaten all sorts of ways, so I was comfortable with the voters’ choice.
(I once had my cousin Benny convinced that he should name his second daughter “Okra.” Anticipating some opposition from his wife, he decided to tell her when she was worn out from childbirth and unable to resist. It would have worked if he had not added “Gumbo” as a middle name. That revived her. She promised to hurt him if he did — so he didn’t.)
By the third round, two sides seemed to emerge. On one were basic, heart-of-Dixie foods — barbecue, fried chicken and cornbread. On the other were coastal favorites, with a Carolina twist — roasted oysters, lowcountry boil, shrimp and grits.
Voters in the fourth round narrowed the field even more. Fried chicken, which I am convinced would have done better if paired against cornbread or okra, was beaten by barbecue, while roasted oysters were also sent packing.
That got us down to shrimp and grits versus lowcountry boil on one side and pulled-pork barbecue versus cornbread on the other.
Shrimp and grits and pulled-pork barbecue were matched for the championship.
Now, I don’t know about you, but it seemed to me that instead of being about the “Ultimate Southern Food,” this had become a vote on the “Ultimate South.”
Or, to make this personal, my South or theirs.
My South is the South of hickory smoke, work shirts, scuffed boots, light bread and sauce. It is also the South of fried foods and collards (which lost out to lowcountry boil in round two).
Shrimp and grits, despite its humble origins as “breakfast shrimp” that once sent Carolina fishermen down to the sea in ships, is today about a South that ain’t my South, about a South that is a land of cuisine rather than cooking. Although I like shrimp and grits — singularly or together — it remains for me the quintessential pre-game brunch buffet dish, easily ladled onto Chinet plates and eaten with something green and equally portable on the side.
Pulled-pork barbecue is sit down, elbows on the table, a roll of paper towels handy.
Many the times folks have asked me where they can get good barbecue.
No one has asked me where they could get shrimp and grits.
But on the other hand, they probably knew I wouldn’t know.
So that’s what was being decided.
And the winner is … shrimp and grits.
I demand a recount.
Or a different bunch of voters.
Harvey H. (Hardy) Jackson is Eminent Scholar in History at Jacksonville State University and a columnist and editorial writer for The Star. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.