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The Best Thing I Ever Ate


Photos and article
by Kathleen Walls

Chuckwagon Round Up is one of our two new features. It is always going to be a grouping of different dishes, chefs or restaurants that are noteworthy. For this first column, what better way to start then with The Best Thing I Ever Ate . Those of you who watch the Cooking Chanel are familiar with the show of the same name. Like the show, I am going to reminisce about what that thing was. Some of these dishes are tied as I could not decide which was best when both make me salivate just thinking about them.

Poogan's Porch Photo Credit Poogan's Porch

She-Crab Soup is a Southern Coastal favorite. It originated in Charleston in the early 1900s when President Taft visited the city. William Deas, Robert Goodwyn Rhett's butler created it as a presidential treat. How fitting that the best bowl of this ambrosia I ever tasted was in Charleston at Poogan's Porch .

Named for day chef, Issac Vanderhoest, this version is made with dry sherry, chive oil and lump crab.

Poogan's Porch's unusual name harks back to the 1970s when owner, Bobby Ball and her family purchased the old home on Queen Street. An unexpected treasure came with the house. A little white West Highland Terrier who had been abandoned and sat on their porch begging for a handout. These are restaurant people so they naturally fed the hungry pooch. He, like all those who dine in the restaurant, liked the food and decided to make the porch his new home. The family adopted him and named their new restaurant by the name they had given the stray, Poogan's Porch. Over the years, the restaurant grew in popularity and the guests loved having Poogan visit with them on the porch. Then in 1979, Poogan died. Visitors to the restaurant had grown to love him and always asked where he was. When the staff told them Poogan had passed away, they refused to believe them. �We just felt him by our feet.� Or �He just brushed by under the table.�

Poogan's spirit is not the only one residing at the restaurant. Guests and some of the staff have seen Zo� St. Amand. Zo� and her sister, Elizabeth, lived in what is now Poogan's Porch until Elizabeth died. Between the 1940s and 50s, Zo�'s mental health deteriorated to the point she had to be put in a nursing home where she eventually died. However, she has returned to where her roots were, right here at 72 Queen Street.

Today, the restaurant is still in the same family. Bobby's son, Brad Ball, is now managing partner. Their executive chef is Daniel Doyle, who runs the kitchen with a gourmet's touch. Poogan's Porch has been recognized by Martha Stewart Living, Wine Spectator and The Travel Channel. American Roads heartily endorses it also.

Kansas City is famous for its great BBQ. There are over 90 barbecue restaurants in Kansas City, more than any other city in the country, so no surprise one of my "bests" go to a restaurant there. The best BBQ sauce I have ever licked from my fingers is found at Arthur Bryant's BBQ , known as "The King of Ribs." Author Bryant's has also been named "best restaurant in the world" by New Yorker Playboy columnist Calvin Trillin and just as highly praised in other magazines like Forbes, Bon Appetit, Better Homes and Gardens, People, Gourmet and others. The restaurant had humble beginnings and the main restaurant still looks like just a poor inner city place but, oh, the taste of that food!

It all began in 1908 when Henry Perry opened the first barbecue joint in Kansas City in an old trolley barn at 19th & Highland. Charlie Bryant was one of his first cooks, Charley learned his skills from the master and when Perry died, he bought the now thriving business and brought in his younger brother Arthur to help. When Charlie died in 1946, Arthur moved the business to its present location at 18th and Brooklyn. Arthur tinkered with the sauce until he achieved finger licking perfection, a sauce both hot and sweet and thick enough to stay on the meat. He has served rich and poor alike. Two presidents have eaten at his restaurant, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter both have enjoyed the food. Some of the other famous patrons a re Steven Spielberg, Michael Landon, Robert Redford, Jack Nicholson, Wilt Chamberlain, Bryant Gumbel, Tom Watson, George Brett and many more. the restaurant's front room side wall attests to the many famous patrons who have eaten there.

Although Arthur passed away in 1982, Gary Berbiglia and Bill Rauschelbach now carry on the tradition. There are now several branches and their catering is famous.

I enjoyed everything I had and can truthfully say the food is incomparable. But Author's sauce? That is what lifts iit head and shoulders over all others.

Romie's BBQ in Tupelo, Mississippi, shares honors in this category for their BBQ Ribs . They were the tenderest ribs I ever chomped down on. In fact, "chomped" is too strong a word for these babies. They literally fell off the bone in my mouth. I know I'm in good company here. Some of the people who have dropped in at Romie's over the years are Gov. Haley Barbour, Lt. Gov. Phil Bryant, Roger Wicker, Travis Childers, Miranda Lambert, Marty Stuart, Daryl Waltrip and a host of just everyday folks who know good food when they get it.

Rob credits the ribs recipe to his wife Leeann's dad. He was a competition �barbecuer� and passed the recipe down to Rob when he married Leeann. Rob loved to cook � his daddy was a great cook � but Leeann always wanted Rob to cook ribs �like her daddy�. Through the years, he put his own twist on them and those are the luscious ribs served there today.

His menus both at the BBQ and his other restaurant, Romies Grocery, are sprinkled with the couples favorite recipes handed down in their family. His mom's corn salad is a favorite among patrons. The white bbq sauce was a favorite of Rob's every summer when they traveled to Florida. A restaurant across from where they stayed served it and he only had it in the summers. He called it "the taste of his summer youth."

All the menu items have connections to one of their families � the Lesleys and the Thompsons. Rob also points out that all the sides are homemade. "You can get BBQ all over the country but you can't always get homemade sides and that's what makes it special."

There is always something special going on there whether it's Trivia Tuesday or Wednesday's Open Mike Night or the live music Thursday through Saturday, you will enjoy your ribs-or any other menu items-whenever you dine there. His slogan is "Put a little South in ya' mouth."

Another southern favorite I can't resist is Shrimp and Grits . These two chefs both had me drooling over their creations so I have to call this one a tie. The Jockey Club in Washington, Georgia serves a spicy concoction of Wild Georgia Shrimp on a bed of unusually flavored grits. This dish wins the Jekyll Island Shrimp and Grits Cookoff regularly. It is the creation of Chef Joe Barnett. He adds tomato paste, cream and extra-sharp cheddar cheese. Interestingly enough, Joe is an amateur chef. His full time business is Style South Drapery where he creates high end draperies for the magnificent historic homes and buildings with which Washington is filled. This didn't stop him from beating Bobby Flay in a throwdown.

For more about Joe Barnett refer back to an article in an earlier issue.

For more about the Jockey Club, Link to

The only other Shrimp and Grits that equaled Joe Barnett's dish was served in Statesboro Georgia at a catered luncheon served at the Georgia Southern University's Wildlife Center and catered by Georgia Southern Catering . Chef Kevin Case does a Shrimp and Smoked Gouda Grits that will knock your socks off. There must be something about Charleston and its great food since Chef Case is a graduate of Johnson and Wales University in Charleston and also worked for a time at Poogan's Porch and concocted many of those delicious She-Crab Soups. His team won first place Southeastern Regional Culinary Competition Team hosted by ARAMARK.

The only way you can enjoy Chef Kevin's Shrimp and Grits is at a catered event. Chef Kevin says he does a lot of family reunions, campus functions and events around States�boro/Bulloch County community. He enjoys working with the local farmers for produce. Fresh is very important to him.

Chef Kevin says his secret for his Shrimp and Grits is in the ham. " Tasso mirrors the smoked Gouda grits. I know a lot chefs use andouille sausage instead of Tasso ham, but in my opinion, the andouille is just spice and a little smoke. Whereas the Tasso is sweetness, spicy and smoky. Granted andouille is much easier to find in the stores than Tasso ham."

While we're talking Southern food, Fried chicken is right on top of the list. Fried chicken I recently enjoyed this Southern staple at two places that were equally crispy on the outside and tender and juicy inside . The Swanson Restaurant in Perry, Georgia and Walnut Hills in Vicksburg, Mississippi. You'll find the scoop in Walnut Hills right here in Fork in The Road.

The Swanson Restaurant is one of those places that feel like you are eating Sunday dinner at Grandma's house. That is if your Grandma cooks like a trained chef and lives in a historic 122 year-old home complete with a ghost or two. The home is a charming eatery with dining in three rooms. It maintains its historic character with its pine floors, high ceilings, and tall wavy-glass windows. The earliest building here was a livery stable constructed by Mr. Bennett around 1790; then a three-room house was added to the property in 1880 by former Mayor Cox of Perry. Mr. Swanson added additional rooms in the 1920s. His daughter, Norrine Swanson Jones, lived the home from the 1920s until just before her death. Ms. Swanson played both the organ and the piano for several downtown churches and was very active in community plays. A staunch believer in education, she established Perry's first kindergarten in this building in the late 1930s. Since her death, there have been stories that she still remains in her beloved home.

Michael and Kim Sheridan moved back to Kim's hometown of Perry and fell in love with the old house. Kim told me, �We knew we wanted to open a restaurant but had no experience, so we just jumped in and began to learn as we went along.�

Judging by the food and service, they learned well. I had the fried green tomatoes for an appetizer. It was tasty, the batter crunchy and the tomato inside juicy and tangy. For my entr�e choice, I just had to go Southern and try the fried chicken. It was perfection on a plate. The outside was crunchy and the inside tender.

Hamburgers are usually not one of my favorite foods but recently I had one that was a peach of a hottie. The Rookery in Macon, Georgia, blends peach and jalape�o in their Peach Sweet Heat Burger. It is sweet. It is hot. And it is the best burger I ever tasted. Like all of their burgers, it is a half pound of Black Angus Beef (for $3 you can upgrade to a local grass fed beef) and served on a Masada Bakery roll and served with a pickle wedge and your choice of Rookery chips, hand cut fries, cold slaw, pasta salad or smashed potatoes,

The Rookery is owned by Wes Griffith and Chad Evans, who grew up visiting the Macon icon which has been in business since 1976. Evans is the songwriter and lead singer in a band called Hank Vegas so you know live music is big at the Rookery. Since Evans and Griffith have taken over the restaurant, there have been some additions to the burger menu. They added a Big O burger, named for local music legend, Otis Redding, and the Wet Willie burger, named for the Macon Southern rock band. "Of course there will be an Allman burger, named for the legendary the Allman Brothers Band. �That one will have mushrooms on it,� Griffith said.

The Rookery is the home of the Bragg Jam, begun to honor two local musicians who played at the Rookery and were killed in an automobile accident. The Rookery continues to pay homage to some of Macon's greatest musicians. And if you have ever visited Macon, you know music is what that city is all about. (If you are a first time visitor, take the Rock Candy Tour and you will begin to understand Macon's strong music heritage.)

Rickhouse Restaurant in Bardstown, Kentucky serves a wicked Bourbon Blueberry Salmon It's a pan seared salmon filet on a bed of saut�ed spinach, almonds and berry couscous. Topped with bourbon blueberry barbeque sauce.

The Rickhouse which is located in the basement of the Oscar Getz Whiskey Museum is done in a bourbon motif. Their bar naturally features many great bourbon drinks. In case you haven't visited the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, (You really want to do so first chance you get.) a rickhouse is the warehouse where bourbon barrels are stored to age.

Sometimes looks are deceiving. From the outside the Dawsonville Pool Room doesn't look like anyplace you would find a delectable delicacy but once I tried their corn nuggets , I was convinced they are the best anywhere.

Locally, they are also famous for the Bully burger. I didn't try that so can't say but enough people swear it sis the best I am willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Aside from being a local gathering place, Dawsonville Pool Room is a shrine to NASCA great and Dawsonville native, Bill Elliott. Owner Gordon Pirkle has collected not only racing memorabilia but artifacts and pictures going back to the old moonshine days. The moonshine runners were the forefathers of NASCA. They would race for their lives and freedom against Georgia and federal revenuers on Saturday night and then race for fun on Sunday.

How ironic that now the Georgia Department of Revenue has seized the Dawsonville Pool Room and shut it down over taxes. How unfair since the taxes were set aside and then apparently taken by a crooked accountant, one of Warren Pennington's employees, who has since been found guilty of felony theft on several counts where he stole his clients money earmarked to pay the taxes.

To heap insult on injury, the raid was staged on a day Gordon was out of town at a funeral. When the local paper contacted him he gave this statement. �I'm kind of shocked, because we've been working with them to get this resolved. The last time we heard from them, they said we were down to about $30,000 we owed.� He also stated that the revenuers �took all the money from two register drawers and cleaned out the video gaming machines.�

Not only have they shut down the Pool Room, they have doubled the amount owed by added penalties and interest.

A group of local residents, mindful of Gordon's many neighborly acts over the years, have banned together and formed "Save the Dawsonville Pool Room Group." It's on Facebook if you are interested supporting them. They have scheduled a Miss Thunder Road Pageant on July 13th and are selling various merchandise. ( They plan to raise the money and have the Pool Room open and operating again soon. Then you can go visit and enjoy all the museum quality artifacts and best of all try the corn nuggets.

Dessert is my favorite part of the meal. I was born with an incurable sweet tooth so my sweets choices are many and varied. Hands down, the prettiest dessert I ever ate was a Tahitian Vanilla Bean Cr�me Br�l�e at Cotton Row Huntsville, Alabama. It was also the best tasting Cr�me Br�l�e. It was created by pastry chef, Jay Hendricks.

James Boyce is the executive chef/owner. The Cotton row was featured in an earlier issue click here for more about this restaurant.

Another dessert picked as much for beauty as taste-however, both are incomparable�is Lemon Meringue Pie at Country's BBQ in Columbus, Georgia. This baby stands a foot high. Bring a ruler and measure it if you want. It's also made from scratch and that includes fresh lemons not that bottled stuff.

Since Jim Morpeth opened the original Country's on Mercury Drive in 1975, It has become a Columbus tradition. He has since opened two other locations. The one on Broadway is my favorite. It is a circa 1930s Greyhound bus station. My favorite thing after the pie and the BBQ is the old bus. It is attached to the side so as to form part of the diner. The driver's seat and wheel are still there but the interior is fitted out as seating for the diners. It is almost as much fun as eating the lemon pie.

When it comes to dessert, it's hard to beat ice cream and the best ice cream I ever put a spoon to is Lane's Peach Ice Cream at Peachtree Caf� at Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley, Georgia. This stuff is so smooth and peachy. Naturally it is made with peaches grown right here at Lane's. There is more about Lane's in the new Agri Lane column. Click here.

Ice cream's first cousin, frozen yogurt, has reached a new high at Counter Culture , a healthy alternative to fast food chains. The unique concoction is called Humphrey Yogart . It's a cone filled with tangy plain frozen yogurt topped with three fresh fruits of your choice, fresh granola, honey, and then more yogurt. Counter Culture is a small chain in Louisiana. My favorite location is at the Sci-Port in Shreveport, Louisiana where you can tour the museum and enjoy the unbelievable treat.

Along with the Yogard, Counter Culture offers salads, soups and sandwiches made with healthy food instead of greasy food.

To top it all off, there is the most unique dessert I ever tasted. It's a Vidalia Onion Cheesecake at Elements Bistro in Lyons, Georgia. If the idea of blending onions and cheese cake doesn't seem feasible, withhold judgment until you taste this concoction. It is fabulous.

Chef John Mark Lane has developed a style he calls "Southern Fusion." He seamlessly blends local produce into wonderful southern dining with a unique twist.

The restaurant in the first movie theatre in Lyons. It burned in 1939 leaving nothing but the brick frame and lots of rubble. Today, it is unbelievably beautiful and creatively decorated. The d�cor extends to the wine bar which features an art gallery, displaying pieces from local and regional artists that are available for purchase. The third Friday of the month signals a new art show.



Selected Recipes:

Chef Kevin Case's Shrimp and Grits

Chicken Stock 3 cups
Heavy Cream 1 Cup
White Pepper, Ground � tsp
Grits, Yellow 1 cup
Cheese, Smoked Gouda, Grated 1 cup
Salt TT

In a large Pot, bring Chicken stock and heavy cream to a boil. Slowly stir in grits whisking constantly to avoid lumps. Add white pepper continue stirring until it comes back to a boil. Lower heat to medium and let simmer, stirring frequently until the grits thicken and are creamy- despite the name, Grits are not supposed to be gritty. Once grits are creamy, add the smoked gouda and taste and adjust seasoning with salt. Hold hot until ready for service.

Tasso Ham Gravy

Butter, whole 1cup
Red Bell pepper, Diced � cup
Onion, Yellow Diced � cup
Tasso ham, julienne 1cup
Flour, A/P 1 cup
Chicken Stock 3 cup

In large pot, Melt butter and saut� onions and pepper until onions are translucent. Add tasso ham stirring constantly. Cook for 2 mins. Add flour to make a roux. Cook roux for 5 min. Stir in chicken stock a bring to a boil stirring constantly, once at a boil, reduce heat to medium and let simmer until thicken and all flour has been cooked out. Hold hot for service

Saut�ed Shrimp

Shrimp, Peeled and Deveined, Tail off, 26/30 4lbs
Salt 2 tbl
Pepper, White 1 tbl
Garlic, Granulated 2 tbls
Olive Oil � cup

Heat large saut� pan on high heat. In mixing bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Working in batches, saut� shrimp until it is � of the way done, add the shrimp for the saut� pan to the tasso ham gravy and finish the shrimp in the gravy.


In a bowl, place a generous amount of grits in the center. Top the grits with the Tasso ham gravy with the shrimp. Enjoy.


Joe Barnett's Shrimp and Cheese Grits


1-1/2 pounds (26-30 count) Wild Georgia
2 tablespoons Cajun seasoning
1 tablespoon paprika
1 tablespoon dried Italian seasoning
Freshly ground black pepper


2 cups water
2 chicken bouillon cubes
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 cup quick grits
1 tablespoon tomato paste
3/4 cup heavy whipping cream
3-1/2 ounces extra-sharp Cheddar


2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon hot sauce
1 slice sugar-cured country ham

Peel and devein shrimp. In a small bowl, combine Cajun seasoning, paprika, Italian seasoning, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle spice mixture over shrimp to coat well; set the shrimp aside.

For the grits: In a medium saucepan, bring water, chicken bouillon cubes and 2 tablespoons butter to a
boil. Slowly add grits, whisking often with wire whisk for 5 minutes. Add tomato paste, cream and cheese. Keep whisking for another 2 or 3 minutes until grits become creamy. Note: Joe says, �Don't skimp on the butter and the cream, folks.�

For sauce: In a large saut� pan, melt 2 tbs of butter. Add minced garlic and stir for 30 seconds.
Add in the spice-coated shrimp, and cook only until they're just done and tender; don't overcook. Remove shrimp from saut� pan and set them aside in a bowl. To the drippings left from the
shrimp in the saut� pan, add 3 tablespoons of all-purpose flour and stir with a wooden spatula to make a roux. Cook, stirring, for 10 to 15 minutes until roux reaches a medium-tan color, then slowly add chicken stock and heavy whipping cream. Whisk together and cook for 2 minutes, then whisk in Worcestershire sauce and hot sauce. Set aside.

In separate saut� pan, cook 1 center slice of cured country ham until heated; cut into cubes.

To serve, place a few heaping spoonfuls of steaming cheese grits onto a plate, top with several sizzling
shrimp. Drizzle roux sauce over top of shrimp, and sprinkle on a few cubes of country ham. Serves 15.
Prep Time: 30 minutes; ready in: 30 minutes.


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