Southern Food: 10 Restaurants off the Eaten Path

Snappy Lunch in Mayberry, NC. Photo by Tennessee Wanderer
By Morgan Murphy

If you really want to learn a place, eat the food of its people. Museums, cultural tours, and monuments may tell a good story, but one bite of a region's cuisine relays generations of heritage, traditions, and family pride. Next time you're on a road trip, go beyond the ho-hum chain restaurants and explore a little. You'll be glad you did. To get to know my beloved South, try these 10 spots from my book, Southern Living's Off the Eaten Path.

Photo Caption: Snappy Lunch in Mayberry, NC. Tennessee Wanderer/Flickr.com
Ray's Dairy Maid, Barton, Arkansas. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Southerners love pie. And here in the Delta, just across the river from Tunica, pie-lovers can feast on some of the best. For 50 years, owner Deane Cavette has made her restaurant guests happy. Her pecan-coconut pie will really make you smile. The unique flavor blend of coconuts, pecans, and creamy buttermilk may sound unusual, but the result will be an instant favorite at family gatherings.

Where: 5322 Highway 49, Barton, Arkansas; tel. 870/572-3060

Photo Caption: Ray's Dairy Maid, Barton, Arkansas.
Mom's Apple Pie Company, Leesburg, Virginia. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
The fruit comes straight from the owner's farm. Preservatives and tons of sugar are a no-no at Mom's Apple Pie Company. Love goes straight into every pie and pastry. You can't mass-produce this sort of thing, so Mom's remains one of those small, tucked-away treasures you won't want to miss. Whether you've a taste for apple, pumpkin, raspberry, rhubarb, or blueberry pie, you'll find it among the company's well-worn wooden walls and rustic atmosphere.
Where: 220 Loudon St. Southeast, Leesburg, Virginia; tel. 703/771-8590; www.momsapplepieco.com

Photo Caption: Mom's Apple Pie Company, Leesburg, Virginia.
Loveless Cafe and Motel in Nashville, Tennessee. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Perfect sweet tea. Crispy fried chicken. Heavenly hashbrown casserole. Oh, and then there's the biscuits. When Carol Fay, head biscuit maker at this Nashville institution, passed away in 2010, it made front-page news and was reported around the world. Why? Because the biscuits are that good. You'll want to get here early, as weekend wait times can be as much as two hours. Don't worry: Boutique shops, art galleries, and even a bike store will keep you entertained while you wait for that pile of biscuits.

Where: 8400 Highway 100, Nashville, Tennessee; tel. 615/646-9700; www.lovelesscafe.com

Photo Caption: Loveless Cafe and Motel in Nashville, Tennessee.
B. Matthew's Eatery, Savannah. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Sometimes a worn-around-the-edges vibe really works for a bakery. B. Matthews' vintage feel and sassy staff combine to make the ideal spot to relax for an afternoon. The black-eyed pea cake sandwich is one of the South's more unusual dishes and comes on a fantastic slab of bread. The bacon, cherry tomato, and blue cheese pasta salad "blue" me away. And even a simple smoked-turkey sandwich with Cheddar and green apples made the perfect lunchtime meal unto itself.

Where: 325 East Bay St., Savannah, Georgia; tel. 912/233-1319; www.bmatthewseatery.com

Photo Caption: B. Matthew's Eatery, Savannah.
Lynn's Paradise Café, Louisville, Kentucky. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Wacky. Eclectic. A bizarre bazaar. It all started with an ugly lamp competition judged by six bachelors -- those guys know ugly. Today, the ever-fun Lynn's Paradise Cafe remains festooned with everything from tomato hats to teabag trousers. The decor may be bonkers (we love it), but the food is nothing short of stupendous. Breakfast specialties such as Bourbon Ball French Toast and fresh-squeezed mimosas will delight. Lynn's is truly a roadside paradise.

Where: 984 Barret Ave., Louisville, Kentucky; tel. 502/583-3447; www.lynnsparadisecafe.com

Photo Caption: Lynn's Paradise Café, Louisville, Kentucky.
Grits and Groceries, Saylors Crossroads, South Carolina. Photo: 	Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
So you've never heard of Saylors Crossroads? It's 12 miles from Anderson, 9 miles from Belton, and due east from the town of Due West&oh, whatever. It's remote. But take this advice: Make the trip. Hire a guide if you have to. Owners Heidi and Joe Trull are culinary magicians, slavishly devoted to the finest ingredients, local farmers, and rich Southern tradition. They show off their knack for invention in dishes such as honeysuckle ice cream and tomato pie, which have now made Saylors Crossroads the center of my universe.

Where: 2440 Due West Highway, Saylors Crossroads, South Carolina; tel. 864/296-3316; www.gritsandgroceries.info

Photo Caption: Grits and Groceries, Saylors Crossroads, South Carolina.
Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy, North Carolina. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Andy, Opie, and Barnie made Mount Airy famous, but Snappy Lunch has been feeding Mayberry fans for generations. Its famous concoction, the Pork Chop Sandwich, may be the messiest pork dish in North Carolina. A fried pork tenderloin topped with chili, slaw, lettuce, and tomato oozes flavor with every bite. Have it with some chips, and wash it down with a cool chocolate milk. Nothing gets more Mayberry than this.

Where: 125 N. Main St., Mount Airy, North Carolina; tel. 336/786-4931

Photo Caption: Snappy Lunch in Mount Airy, North Carolina.
Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar in Orange Beach, Alabama. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
"It doesn't matter what you order, our waitresses give you what you need," Doc's owner Richard Schwartz says with a grin. Doc's is that kind of place. It's not fancy. It's not decorated. The waitresses wear tie-dyed tees with shorts. There may not be two matching chairs in the place. But don't let Doc's laid-back attitude fool you -- their gumbo and fried shrimp will knock your flip-flops off.

Where: 26029 Canal Road, Orange Beach, Alabama; tel. 251/981-6999

Photo Caption: Doc's Seafood Shack & Oyster Bar in Orange Beach, Alabama.
Richard's Seafood Patio, Abbeville, Louisiana. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Deep in bayou country, you'll find a tin shed on the side of a lonely road. Inside, Louisiana's three seasons are celebrated with abandon. I'm talking about crawfish season, crab season, and shrimp season. For more than 50 years, those in the know have come to Richard's. So while there's no longer a patio, the restaurant still boils its seafood in the traditional way (by putting the spices in the water), which means when you bite into the sweet, succulent crabmeat, it packs all the spicy punch of a Louisiana evening.

Where: 5165 South Henry St., Abbeville, Louisiana; tel. 337/893-1146

Photo Caption: Richard's Seafood Patio, Abbeville, Louisiana.
The Castle at Dunleith Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi. Photo: Southern Living Off the Eaten Path Photo by Southern Living Off the Eaten Path
Behind the graceful columns and Spanish moss-draped live oaks of this antebellum mansion, guests will find Natchez's most elegant restaurant. The fact that the Castle is in a former horse stable at an old plantation might lead one to believe the fare would be mushy green beans and fried chicken. Not so. The robust and ever-changing menu offers new twists on Southern classics such as our favorite, Mississippi Mud Cake. I can't think of a more romantic place to enjoy such a rich indulgence.

Where: 84 Homochitto St., Natchez, Mississippi; tel. 601/446-8500; www.dunleith.com

Photo Caption: The Castle at Dunleith Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi.
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