As my son lives in Los Angeles, I am a frequent visitor to the USA. This year saw the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights movement so as homage to those who fought so hard to change the face of American Society, we decided to follow the Civil Rights Trail before continuing on to visit our family. Split into three different parts, according to the different areas we visited, this is my all-American family journey to discovering more about the nation's interesting past and Civil rights history whilst sampling the region's best bites. Along the way I go into detail about the epicurean delights we encountered.
A taste of the South on our Civil Rights Trail
Our first stop was Atlanta, where we visited the Martin Luther King Jr. Visitor Centre and also the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of 'Gone with the Wind'. We stayed in the Georgian Terrace opposite the world famous Fox Theatre, and after a long flight we decided to eat very close to home.
Opposite the hotel, and adjacent to the theatre, we discovered the casual bar/restaurant, Publik Draft House. Much to my husband's joy, they served an array of beers and for me the most wonderful cocktails, particularly the Bloody Marys, which were the best I've ever sipped! The ambiance is friendly and welcoming and you can choose to sit on stools, at the curved bar or select a table by the window. It's roomy and a great venue for a drink and light lunch/ supper. It is a perfect venue for a pre/apres theatre bite to eat.
With over 15 brews to choose from, cocktails and an excellent wine list you can drink with small plates to soak up the alcohol. The menu included everything from a humus platter to a selection of sandwiches and burgers (including gluten free and vegetarian), salads, a charcuterie selection, falafels, oysters and hand cut sweet potato fries. The more substantial plates include old favourites such as Fish and chips, Georgia shrimp and grits, Pork tenderloin and Maple Bourbon salmon. We opted for the small plates on this occasion which were excellent.
The following evening we chose to sample the delights of real Southern Cooking so selected a popular restaurant, namely the South City Kitchen, located within walking distance of our hotel. South City Kitchen lived up to its fine reputation. We arrived and were seated on the outside covered patio which was perfect as the heat of the day was subsiding. Mint Julep and Country Thyme Lemonade cocktails went down a treat whilst we browsed the menu.
Our aim was to sample the grits and taste some southern dishes that the restaurant was known for. First on the extensive dinner menu was - fried green tomatoes with goat's cheese and red pepper coulis, followed by so many mouth watering dishes that it was difficult to choose. We opted for the tomatoes and Maryland crab cakes washed down with a crisp white sauvignon from the Napa Valley; all were delicious. I have tasted green tomatoes many times but these had that added extra flavour, which clearly makes them a recognised favourite with many of the restaurant's regulars.
I couldn't resist the shrimp with grits for my entree whilst my husband opted for the buttermilk fried Springer farm chicken which he washed down with a glass (or 2) of Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley - I continued with white. Every bite was delicious and melted in the mouth.
I felt I should stop there however it was impossible to resist sharing a desert so we decided on the pecan tart with caramel sauce which added the final touches to an amazing Southern Experience.
The Southern Kitchen also offers diners a Gluten Free menu, so no need to worry about food allergies here.
On to Birmingham, Selma and Montgomery in Alabama
The next stop on our tour was Birmingham in Alabama, made famous during the Civil Rights Campaign when four young girls were killed by the Ku Klux Klan, during a bombing at their church, as they prepared for the Sunday Service. It was also the place where the police released dogs on crowds of young students taking part in a peaceful march.
This was a fleeting stop with just a one night stay, so not sufficient time to sample many culinary delights. In fact our experience here was not one to recommend. The lure of a casual gastro pub with outdoor seating tempted us. We found the venue - the J Clyde and were seated in a comfortable area perfect for people watching, however not for the food served. The service was average, the food less than average so no more to be said!
We drove to Montgomery next, the State capital where we settled into a hotel in the now, quiet city centre. We wandered around to survey what was on offer. The city dates back to slavery when it was a centre for the cotton plantation elite. There were weekly slave markets and in more recent times, the city's reputation grew when, during segregation the black seamstress, Rosa Parks, refused to move to the back of the bus and give up her seat to a white person.
The city houses a moving Civil Rights Memorial, a Museum for Rosa Parks and visitors can also visit the Dexter Road Baptist Church where Martin Luther King Jr. preached. This contrasts with the sentimental Confederate relics of the First White House of the Confederacy.
In terms of eating and drinking Montgomery offers some very good dining options. We wandered around looking at menus and prices before we selected Central, a fine dining restaurant that occupies a historic warehouse dating back to the 1890s. There is limited seating outside and we were fortunate enough to reserve a table in this area for the very same evening. It is wonderful to enjoy the balmy evenings which fortunately weren't uncomfortable.
On arrival, we were ushered to our table and from that point we experienced the most attentive service from a resident waiter and a new recruit to the job. The restaurant has a reputable chef and is known for wood-fired dishes. If you ever venture this way, don't miss this restaurant, it's in the heart of the city, close to the river.
For starters we can recommend the pork jowl on cornbread and the honey goat cheese appetiser. To follow we tried the hickory crisped duck and the catch of the day. I couldn't resist the house cut fries or the wood fired vegetables. Everything tasted so fresh and we were informed by our attentive waiter that the menu changes regularly to match what is in season. I would also comment on the excellent wines recommended which were mid priced and complemented the dishes well.
The desert we selected to share was the milk chocolate creme brulee - simply wonderful. This is clearly one of the city's little gems for food.
Next stop Selma and Philadelphia, then south to New Orleans
Before leaving this wonderful trail, we drove to Selma, known for the demonstrations, police brutality and murders which were publicised across the world. The historic march from Selma to Montgomery, led by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. was instrumental in the Voting Rights Act which was passed the following year.
Selma and Philadelphia, where the Ku Klux Klan shot and killed 3 civil rights workers, were quick passages on our journey so no food experiences to report here. This ended our amazing and emotional trail but led the way south to New Orleans and the delights, both culinary and musically, of this magical city.
Food and beverages in New Orleans are not to be missed. This city is awash with restaurants and bars. We stayed in the French Quarter, just off Bourbon Street where the nightly action is at its best.
Music to die for resounds from every bar, and it covers all genres from country to jazz to blues to whatever you fancy. I loved the cocktails, particularly the skinny -- which were pretty strong and not too sweet.
On our first evening we dined at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, a traditional Cajun restaurant headed by the owner and award-winning chef Paul Prudhomme. Paul has combined the experiences of his youth in Louisiana; with the expertise he has gained working throughout the United States. The result is worth tasting.
In a delightful venue with a relaxed sophisticated atmosphere, we enjoyed a traditional Cajun dinner. Our starter choice was to share a Cajun Jambalaya, which had a touch of spice that didn't detract at all from the glorious flavours of the many other ingredients. A wonderful basket of different breads lay on the table to tempt so we were glad we had decided to share.
We were advised by the sommelier as to which wines would enhance the flavours, it was a wise move.
For my entree I chose the Classic Crawfish Etouffee and enjoyed every mouthful, the richness of the sauce complemented the rice veggies. My husband chose the Duck and Shrimp Dulac which was served in a sauce of leeks, sun-dried tomatoes, and mushrooms, and served with pasta, a perfect accompaniment to this amazing concoction.
There was little room left at the end, however we shared the special Louisiana Bread Pudding and returned home feeling more than satisfied with such a wonderful meal.
We wondered how the restaurant Galatoire's, our choice for the next evening would compare to K-Paul's. We booked a table and arrived to find that my husband did not adhere to the required dress code - he wasn't wearing a jacket. The temperature even at past 8 pm was still in the upper 20s C so we assumed a shirt with long trousers would be acceptable, but this wasn't the case. The restaurant did have several jackets to offer so with a borrowed jacket, with sleeves almost up to his elbows, we were shown to our table. He did look ridiculous so it gave us a source of amusement!
Galatoire's is one of the city's most established restaurants with a legendary reputation so we were excited to sample some old Creole favourites.
The food was excellent and I choose one of my favourites to start - Shrimp Remoulade followed by Soft Shell Crab with lump crabmeat - it was to die for. My husband tried the Duck Crepe, which he loved, and followed this with Grilled lemon fish on a bed of spinach, and the most delicious potato au gratin, again distinctive and unique. We chose wines from California and ended our meal with a Key Lime Tart. This restaurant is a must if visiting New Orleans, if dinner doesn't suit then try lunch on a Friday. Galatoire's is at the top, in my experiences of Cajun/Creole delights.
The perfect accompaniment to an enriching cultural journey
And thus ends my culinary journey of food temptations along the USA's historical southern gems. As you have probably read, my food encounters were just as delightful (in all but a few exceptions) as the cultural experience to be had and the Civil Rights history from which to learn. Now you know where to stop and have a bite if you ever find yourself following the same trail.