1247 E. McLEMORE and 1179 DUNNAVANT: HAWKINS GRILL and BIG S GRILL
These two places, one a ghost and the other not, were homes to legendary pitman J.C. Hardaway, who died in 2002. He cooked for years at Hawkins, and then moved to the Big S, where he worked at the time of his death. In this picture from last September, the Hawkins site operated as a restaurant under at least one other name, but was a cellphone store. The first time I saw the Big S was when I took this picture, though a friend brought me some of Mr. Hardaway’s artistry one day. Excellent, as I recall.
Hardaway was inducted into the Southern Foodways Alliance Hall of Fame in 2000, and their website has an excellent story about him by Lolis Eric Elie, author of “Smokestack Lightning.”
Front street, downtown, or out in Mason, TN (original location rebuilt after a fire), best fried chicken around. The sides suck, well, the cole slaw and the beans are straight out of a can. Fried rice should be avoided. Try fries if you need to balance the chicken / beer combo out with some starch. Delicious!
Downtown: 310 South Front St, 527-4877
In Mason: 520 U.S. 70 (take Summer Road just past the "Welcome To Mason" sign) 294-2028
Big S Grill
JC Hardaway cooks it up in the Big S, in the not-so-distant good old days. We miss you JC!
Barbecue, barbeque, bar-b-q, BBQ: there are almost as many spellings as there are kinds of barbecue, as if the proliferation of words could express the mastering tastes and aromas of the food, all the experiences that can fill the mouth, the place where also words begin.
Today, barbecue is more popular than ever and can be found by a hungry Southerner in almost any American city, but barbecue will always be Southern because, as an American cuisine, that’s where it began and because that’s where it continues to evolve most interestingly.
Though the word barbecue devolves from Taino, a pre-Columbian Caribbean language, the native method described by the word — the slow drying of sliced, spiced meat, over a low, smoky fire — seems to have been fairly widespread in the eastern Caribbean at the time of European contact, being practiced in what would become Brazil as well as in what would become Virginia.
But it was in Virginia and in the Carolinas that barbecue as we know it would begin to evolve. In Virginia, British colonists observed the Native American method of drying meat on a grill of green sticks over a smoking fire and soon married this method to their own interest in spit-cooking hogs and other small animals. The British introduced their own native practices, including basting — either with butter or with vinegar — to keep the meat from drying while cooking.
Slaves of African descent, imported from the Caribbean, brought a taste (developed in the islands) for New-World peppers, especially red pepper. Along the Atlantic seaboard, then, when the vinegar and butter combined with the spices and peppers, barbecue sauce arrived on the Southerner’s and the Briton’s favorite hog. Even today in eastern North Carolina, you can find whole-hog barbecue, lightly seasoned with vinegar and black and red peppers, colonial style.
In South Carolina, in the Broad River Valley, German and French immigrants brought their taste and recipes for mustard, which helped repel malarial mosquitoes, and these mustards found their way into that colonial food, barbecue, and remained there, through the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and two World Wars, to be found even today in the same Broad River Valley.
To the west, in the Piedmont area of North Carolina, probably toward the end of the 19th- or the beginning of the 20th-Century, barbecue cooks began using just the shoulder of the hog when barbecuing, an innovation perhaps encouraged by the growth of the meat curing and packing industries. In this same area, populated largely by Germans, German-style coleslaw, both sweet and spicy, dressed the pork, and the tomato, only recently determined edible, sweetened the fare.
From these come all the rest, or almost all the rest. The whole-hog style that developed along the Atlantic seaboard has drifted into western Tennessee, and the Piedmont style, with some variations, can be uncovered in northeast Alabama and, with American-style coleslaw, in Memphis. Mustard-based barbecue, though still centered in South Carolina, can be found as well in Georgia and eastern Alabama, where one can also find an orange sauce that combines mustard and tomato-based sauces, as if to say, Does one really have to choose?
Of course, Kentucky has its barbecue mutton and its burgoo, which resembles Georgia’s own Brunswick Stew, a traditional barbecue accompaniment. In Texas, German settlers in a cattle-friendly land developed barbecue sausage and the holy brisket, where today Mexican influence directs the emergence of barbacoa and other delicacies. And in that far edge of the South, Kansas City, half Missouri and half Kansas, it has all come together, as it has come together now in so many cities across the South and across the United States.
But there are still new barbecue plates being dreamed up by the hungry and the resourceful. How about north Alabama’s white-sauce chicken, northwest Mississippi’s taste for goat, or the barbecued gator that turns up in Louisiana and Florida?
Whatever it is, it is slow-cooked. If it’s done right, it’s smoked. Honestly, it could be anything. But, whatever it is, it better be damn good.
– Jake Adam York
Jake Adam York is a poet, SFA member, and bbq-lover. You can see more of his work here.
“Excuse me,” Hannah said to the woman behind the counter. “Can you tell me which way is the Yocona Inn? We’re trying to find our friend Larry Brown’s place.”
The woman returned a vacant look.
“Larry Brown—he was a very fine writer,” Hannah pressed on. “He lived right around here. Do you read his books?”
The clerk did a weird abased shrug but didn’t answer. Hannah paid for his Coke and cigarettes and departed, vexed.
“It’s just unbelievable to me, the lack of pride and curiosity,” he said, pulling his Jeep Cherokee onto the blacktop. “If the people out here should be reading anybody, it ought to be Larry Brown. This is what he wrote about—these people, life out on these roads, and in these little stores. I guess they’re busy with their televisions. Man, it just nauseates me. It’s sick and dumb.”
Southern letters suffered a cruel deprivation when a heart attack took Larry Brown in November 2004. Brown, a former captain at the Oxford Fire Department, wrote straight, bold books about lives gone wrong in north Mississippi. That the clerk did not recognize Hannah himself, arguably the Deep South’s best living writer you have perhaps never read, bothered him not at all, but to a highly partial observer, the oversight seemed about like Hemingway strolling unrecognized through the streets of Key West.
Barry Hannah’s fame is of a peculiar kind. Ask people about him, and either they’ll say they’ve never heard the name (despite his nominations for both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize) or they’ll get a feverish, ecstatic look before they seize you by the lapels and start reeling off cherished passages of his work. Echoes of familiar Southern tropes appear in Hannah’s novels and short stories: outlandish violence, catfish, desperate souls driven half mad by lust and drink. But in Hannah’s fiction the South becomes an alien place, narrated in a dark comic poetry you’ve never heard before, peopled with characters that outflank and outwit the flyspecked conventions of Southern lit. A Civil War scribe whose limbs—save his writing arm—are shot off. A serial killer who looks like Conway Twitty and makes his victim suck a football (“moan around on it some”) before beheading him. A Wild West widow who lashes a personal ad to a buzzard in hopes of finding a man. In Hannah’s panoramas, you’ll find hints of William Faulkner, rumbles of Charles Bukowski, and the tongue-in-cheek grotesquerie of David Lynch. But the fierce inventiveness of Hannah’s prose makes him something sui generis entirely, a writer who renders the project of comparison a farce.
“We stand in awe of him,” says the novelist Richard Ford. “There’s an electricity that galvanizes his sentences and connects one word to the next that basically creates a whole new syntax….He just completely rejiggered everything that the term South calls to mind. Whatever affected all the writers who are the sons and daughters of William Faulkner, Barry somehow eluded.”
His departure from Dixie’s literary main is not accidental, Hannah said, but grows from a violent allergy to the antebellum banalities that can plague the Southern mode.
“The canned dream of the South is something I’ve resisted my entire career; it disgusts me,” Hannah said. “And being Southern isn’t always a graceful adjective; it’ll kill you sometimes. Often, it’s shorthand for ‘Don’t bother reading this because it’s just gonna be a lot of porches and banjos.’”
Hannah may bridle at being herded into regional corrals, yet you’d be hard-pressed to turn up a belle-lettrist below the Mason-Dixon Line who doesn’t applaud him for jumping the proprieties of traditional Southern lit.