"Can't cook but so much chicken bog"

Your mid-week dose of Southern food news

If you took Monday off, you may have missed a dispatch from the Fast Casual Executive Summit, explaining why Southern chains are rushing to construct drive-thrus and build loyalty programs. In today’s issue, you’ll find a salute to corner store snacks (Charlotte, N.C.); Arkansas’ favorite burger (Hot Springs, Ark.) and a chicken clucking contest (Loris, S.C.)

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BlkMrktClt’s latest project is located above downtown Charlotte and beneath the exposed ceiling of an art gallery, but it’s instantly recognizable as a corner store.

“We decided to essentially turn the fifth floor of Mint into a bodega,” says Carla Aaron-Lopez, a member of the BlkMrktClt collective, founded four years ago as a safe creative space for artists of color. “Because if we’re going to talk about food in America, especially down South, a lot of Black and brown communities depend on local corner stores: They are so special to Black and brown communities.”

In conjunction with its It Takes a Village celebration of three local art collectives, Mint Museum Uptown recently turned over its fifth-level space to BlkMrktClt. According to Aaron-Lopez, she and founders Dammit Wesley and Sir.Will Jenkins used the opportunity to enact an idea they’d been contemplating since choosing a name with “market” in the middle.

“Pre-pandemmy, we were just throwing around ‘Could we flip a bodega?’ but we didn’t have the funding,” she says. “Then, boom, the pandemmy.”

With so much square footage, the envisioned simulation occupies just one portion of the installation. Alongside shelves stocked with nabs and bags of chips, and a handwritten sign advertising bootleg CDs; fried chicken (drums and flats); fried okra and hot sauce, there are blown-up photographic images of bodega customers; dice game instructions and paintings of bodega snacks.

“One thing we’re very, very big on is collaborating with other artists,” Aaron-Lopez says of the additional contributors, all of whom had personal memories of patronizing convenience stores on country roads or city blocks.

“A lot of people identify with it,” she continues. “Like, you best believe you’re going to see jars of pickled pigs’ feet.”

Before the exhibit closes, Aaron-Lopez suggests people take BIA’s advice and put on their jewelry for a bodega visit.

“Bodega” runs through Oct. 31 at Mint Museum Uptown. For more information, visit mintmuseum.org.

“To live in Arkansas is to know David’s Burgers,” food writer Kevin Shalin last year declared in a paean to the popular chain. But to live in Hot Springs was to know you had to leave town to reach one of its nine locations.

That situation is set to change this month with the opening of David’s Burgers’ newest store, an expansion first touted in May 2020, causing Hot Springers to go mildly berserk.

David Alan Bubbus Jr. opened the original David’s Burgers in 2010. The company claims it’s the only burger chain using chuck graded ‘choice,’ a step up from ‘select’ on the U.S. Department of Agriculture scale.

While several Southern cities have lately taken steps to curb unfettered nightlife, a pair of security firm owners and Subway franchisees is hoping to up the party quotient in Ashland, Kentucky.

Scott Wamsley and Scott Ball on Tuesday opened Tomcat Bourbon & Brew House, one of half a dozen bars they plan to bring to the neighborhood in the next two years, according to WSAZ. In addition to candied bacon and beer cheese tots, Tomcat will make good on its name by offering a range of whiskeys and beers.

“I think Ashland is ready for this change,” Wamsley told The Daily Independent.

From the moment that Mark Sullins moved to Dallas, Georgia, he had his eye on a little country store on Cartersville Highway. Even though he’d never run a restaurant, he imagined he could do a decent biscuit business out of the 16-seat dining room.

Trouble was the store’s owner had no intention of selling it.

“I’m one of those aggressive type folks, so I kept aggravating and kept aggravating,” Sullins recalls. “Then one Saturday, he got upset.”

This time, the owner wasn’t annoyed with Sullins. He was mad at his employees for doing something that Sullins either doesn’t remember or won’t disclose: He locked the doors of the building and swore he would never open them again.

Despite knowing the man “was not in a good mood,” Sullins decided to give him a call. (Well, two calls: The owner hung up the first time that Sullins brought up buying.)

Mark and Pam Sullins in 2017 opened Big-Un’s Biscuits at the address, serving biscuits, wraps and grit bowls, including a popular tenderloin biscuit featuring pork that Ingles cuts to order. Since acquiring the property, the Sullinses have expanded the eat-in space to accommodate 60 people.

Big-Un’s workers at 4:30 a.m. start making biscuits with Renwood Mills flour; when Sullins was first dialing in the recipe, a representative of the North Carolina company drove through the night to diagnosis why Big-Un’s biscuits weren’t adhering the way that Sullins wanted.

It turned out that Sullins was adding too much lard to the mix.

As the store’s previous owner would no doubt attest, Sullins doesn’t like to back off.

Big-Un’s Biscuits opens at 6 a.m., Monday-Friday, and 7 a.m. on Saturdays. For more information, visit bigunsbiscuits.com.

Samantha Norris, executive director of the Loris (South Carolina) Chamber of Commerce, has seen chicken bog with olives in it.

She’s seen chicken bog with anchovies in it.

But she’s never seen a chicken bog that she would call a pilau.

“In Georgetown, they call it pilau, but it’s bog,” says Norris, referring to the next county down the coast. “I need to come up with something like a box explaining it.”

Purists would say chicken bog is wetter than its Southern cousin, but the rice-based dishes are closely related: Both are made by simmering rice, smoked sausage, and herbs in broth. And judges at this weekend’s Loris Bog-Off, now in its 41st year, will award $750 and a trophy to the cook who makes it best.

Norris points out that a particularly talented bog maker could go home with $1000, since there’s also a $250 People’s Choice prize, determined by vote of the 250 attendees who score $5 sampling tickets. That group represents a small fraction of the 35,000 people who annually attend the festival.

“People don’t understand that they can’t cook but so much chicken bog,” Norris says.

In addition to the bog-off, the Oct. 16 event will feature a chicken clucking contest and Mt. Dew guzzling contest. Bog sampling tickets go on sale at 12:15 p.m.

For more information, visit the Loris Chamber of Commerce website.

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