22 April 2010

Southern swing

The meat and three is a southern institution that most resembles a cafeteria to a visitor from the far edge of the northern United States.  What sets it apart from a cafeteria, though, is its food - real southern food cooked day in and day out for so many years that over time each dish is perfected the way a canoe or dog sled or wind mill achieves a perfection of design: there's no more to pare away; all that remains is its heart and soul, beating, alive.
Arnold's in Nashville, Tennessee is just such a place, with long lunch lines and tables that are cleared as quickly as the chess pie is refreshed in the serving line.  Okra cooked the way my mom cooked ratatouille, with olive oil and oregano.  Greens scooped from a huge pan, just enough vinegar to add sparkle to the chew; hush puppies bigger than golf balls, brown and crisp with an almost sweet, tender interior; black eyed peas that speak of the earth; catfish as tender as the crust is crisp; and pie, real pie that nourishes us, reminds us that food ties us together, nourishes body and community and brings together people from all walk of life to say "Yes."  Goodness, the chess pie - a simple custard pie rich in eggs, butter, and sugar, baked in a lard crust and served to make everyone who eats it heave a sigh of joy, contentment, pride and satisfaction that our regional cooking rises still, nourishing natives and visitors alike.

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