John T. Edge, “the Faulkner of Southern food” (the Miami Herald) and author of Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South is today’s guest author. He’ll be popping in on our blog from time to time to keep us in the know on all the latest and greatest Southern foodie gems!
It’s been a couple of years since the revised and updated paperback of Southern Belly hit bookstore shelves. Every so often, I come across a few places that should have made the book. Here, and on www.southernbelly.com, I’ll add short updates that I consider to be worthy addendums to a roll call of great eats backed by great stories.
In the early 1990s, while running a catering company, Wanda and Skip Walker began smoking pork for cochon de lait poor boys and selling the sandwiches at rural festivals. By the early years of the 21st century, they were serving those poor boys at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
The naming of the sandwich was a bit of a conceit. In Cajun Country, to the west of New Orleans, cochon de lait translates from the French as a whole suckling pig, roasted over a wood fire.
The Walkers took what was once a boucherie standard and, by way of cooking bone-in pork butts instead of whole suckling pigs, modernized it. In the process, they codified a new poor boy style.
At Walker’s Southern Style Bar-B-Que, their hutch of a restaurant by the Lake Ponchartrain levee, they cook those pork butts in a Southern Pride brand smoke box, pull the smoky pork into shreds, pile on coleslaw, and — in a tip of the hat to the emerging import of Vietnamese cookery and culture — tuck the whole into pistolettes, sourced from Dong Phuong Oriental Bakery.
Perched above a 4-lane highway, at the top of a vertiginous road, the Wonder Bar, open since the 1940s and constructed to recall a lodge in the Rocky Mountains, is a steakhouse of the Red Velvet Bordello School.
The walls are flocked with photos of long serving cooks like Sam Hunter, a giant of a man famous for wielding a giant spatula. The wine list is serious, a leather-bound volume with true heft.
The draws are big hunks of meat, swamped in butter, topped with sweet and hot peppers.
Like pepperoni rolls, which are the preferred snack food hereabouts, the Wonder Bar is a vestige of days when West Virginia’s coal mining industry drew scores of Italian immigrants.
Drive the streets of Clarksburg and you’ll spy a number of southern Italian spaghetti and steak restaurants. The Clique Club comes to mind. So does Minard’s Spaghetti Inn. But The Wonder Bar, run by Debbie Folio Cherubino, daughter of founder John Folio, and her husband, Mickey Cherubino, is a true keeper of the red sauce flame.
John T. Edge is director of the Southern Foodways Alliance, an institute of the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi. The SFA documents, teaches and celebrates the diverse food cultures of the American South. The SFA has completed more than 400 oral histories and 20 films, focusing on the likes of fried chicken cooks, row crop farmers, oystermen, and bartenders.
Edge writes a monthly column, “United Tastes,” for the New York Times. He writes a restaurant column for Garden & Gun. He is a longtime columnist for the Oxford American. His work for Saveur and other magazines has been featured in seven editions of the Best Food Writing compilation.
Edge is the editor of seven books, including the foodways volume of the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. He is the author of six books, including Southern Belly: The Ultimate Food Lover’s Companion to the South, and the James Beard Foundation Award–nominated cookbook, A Gracious Plenty: Recipes and Recollections from the American South. In 2009, he was elected to the Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage in America.