Praise the Lord and eat a biscuit

Plus, jerk chicken, ramen noodles and tainted gruel

If you haven’t yet cracked Monday’s edition of The Food Section, a story about restaurant owners reconsidering costly friends-and-family events awaits you. In today’s issue, you’ll find news of a pro footballer’s champion burger ambitions (Bay Minette, Ala.); nineteenth-century invalid nutrition (Bailey, N.C.); a Jamaican jerk surge (Charlotte, N.C.) and biscuit barn survival (Rossville, Ga.)

Other headlines which caught our eye this week include:

  1. One of South Carolina’s great sources of hash is shutting down on Friday, September 24, after 67 years in North Charleston. As reported by The Times and Democrat, Dukes Bar-B-Q will remain in Orangeburg, but its sister store on Spruill Avenue is closing rather than redoing its kitchen to comply with current health department codes. (Other Dukes locations in the state are under different ownership.)

    “I’ll be honest with you,” says manager Steve Beane told me last year, adding that Floridians tote Harry Ott’s signature side home by the gallon. “Rice you can get from anywhere, but hash? There’s only one person you can get that from, and that’s Mr. Harry.”

    A resident of Shalimar, Florida responded to Dukes’ announcement of its impending closure by asking for the tomato-rich recipe. “Mr. Harry has been preparing that from memory for 65 years,” the restaurant’s representative responded. “I don't think it's even written down anywhere.”

    Typically open exclusively on Fridays from 3 p.m. until the steam table’s cleared, Dukes will open at 1:30 p.m. this Friday.

  2. Earth to Us, a vegan restaurant with two locations in the Triangle, prides itself on fostering community. But its owners last week revealed it was in the process of restricting outdoor tables at its Raleigh store to patrons following an episode in which a family plopped down with their dairy ice cream cones — and mounted a negative online review campaign against the restaurant after being asked to leave.

  3. The strike against bourbon giant Heaven Hill continues, with workers pushing back on healthcare cost hikes and schedule changes. For an overview of the situation, check out Dave Infante’s interview with union steward Larry Newton.

  • “Are you ready for ramen?” Mizu Ramen asked in a Facebook post teasing its opening in Columbus, Georgia. The community was so ready that Mizu’s small group of employees was overwhelmed on opening day: “I promise Columbus we will get our act together ASAP,” its owners vowed on Sept. 11. Grateful Columbus residents immediately reassured Mizu’s team that they were just thrilled to get shio broth without having to drive to Atlanta.

  • Former NFL defensive end Wallace Gilberry this month celebrated the grand opening of Berry’s Bistro in Bay Minette, Alabama; The Onlooker reports the restaurant is serving chargrilled oysters; salmon balls; chicken wings and a double cheeseburger that Gilberry aims to establish as the best burger in his hometown. Gilberry, who played for the Crimson Tide, channeled the spirit of Tuscaloosa’s Rama Jama’s when creating the restaurant.

  • Corn is a common language in Kentucky, where Louisville restaurateurs Fernando and Yaniel Martinez recently opened Senora Arepa. In addition to arepas, the menu includes cachapas, or fried sweet pancakes stuffed with cheese, and Venezuelan-style sandwiches.

Room service, which once had luxurious connotations, took on a different meaning during the pandemic when those exposed to the coronavirus were forced to sequester themselves from their families. In households across America, meals were left on trays outside tightly closed bedroom doors.

Many of those trays were furnished with chicken soup, the favorite contemporary antidote to colds and flus. But back in the 1800s, when most people couldn’t afford to slaughter the source of their daily eggs, the standard sickbed diet ran long on pap, a mixture of flour and water. Pap wasn’t particularly nutritious, but it was easy to digest and sometimes fortified with sugar, butter, and beer.

Pap tasted best when it was hot, so wealthy Southerners anted up for bedside food warmers. Clarke’s Pyramid Lamp Food Warmer, pictured here, is now on display at The Country Doctor Museum in Bailey, N.C. The candle at its base heated water in the tin cup, creating a bain marie for the gruel.

“Unfortunately, as it kept food warm for an extended time, it could also promote the growth of bacteria,” Annie Anderson, the museum’s director and curator, says.

In other words, don’t try this at home.

The Country Doctor Museum is the oldest museum in the U.S. dedicated to the history of rural healthcare. For more information, visit thecountrydoctormuseum.org.

The number of U.S. residents claiming Jamaican ancestry is relatively small, but the group is growing fast: Between 1980 and 2012, the population increased by 294 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

A little more than half of the nation’s 1 million people of Jamaican descent live in Florida or New York, but “they are also concentrated in smaller numbers in Virginia, North Carolina, Texas and California,” the bureau reports.

At least some of those North Carolinians are likely to be in attendance this Saturday, Sept. 25 when the annual Charlotte International Jerk Fest unfolds at Fran’s Kids Boys & Girls Center from 2 p.m.-5 p.m.

Jerk isn’t the only dish on the menu: Participating local food trucks, restaurants and caterers are likely to serve oxtails, rice-and-peas, and jelly coconut as live reggae music plays. But jerk is the lone item competing for a people’s choice prize.

For more information, visit charlotteinternationaljerkfest.com.

It took Phyllis McCraw Cabe and her former fiancé the better part of a year to fix up the little building that housed the Totem Mill Restaurant when she was growing up across the street in Rossville, Ga. So, when it came time to select a message for The Big Biscuit Barn’s outdoor changeable letter sign, she knew just which words to choose:

 “Praise the Lord,” she spelled out just before service on Dec. 7, 2007. “We’re open.”

Once Cabe posted that note of thanks, she knew she couldn’t take it down. But after drive-thru customers lined up clear down the block on the restaurant’s first morning, hoping for a taste of Cabe’s biscuits and gravy, she knew there wasn’t any point in broadcasting the barn’s status either.

Now the sign reads, “Praise the Lord. Eat a biscuit.”

The default slogan has become a faithfully observed commandment in greater Chattanooga.

“They are special,” says Cabe, who developed her recipe based on memories of the biscuits her mother made every morning and the feedback of friends who sampled test batches while the little building was being wired and painted. Over the years, she’s rounded out the menu with chocolate gravy; fried pies and cinnamon rolls, but the biscuits have remained the same.

She continues, “They’re big, you know: We cut them with a sawed-up pineapple can. And I proof the dough twice. It’s a regular dough with no yeast, but it’s not just what you put in the bowl: It’s how you handle it.”

In early 2020, Cabe got an unasked-for lesson in the proper handling of what’s presented. Within two weeks of Georgia’s governor issuing a pandemic stay-at-home order, storms tore through Chattanooga, tattering Cabe’s house.

“I prayed about it, and I cried, and I told (my employees), I’ve decided what we’re going to do: We’re going to work,” Cabe recalls. “I went outside the property and anointed it with oil, and I asked God to help me.”

Before long, The Big Biscuit Barn was again stirring up bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Cabe, now trying to hire another biscuit maker, describes the lines as a daily reminder to prepare for what you pray for.

The Big Biscuit Barn, 1391 Lafayette Road, Rossville, Ga., opens at 5:30 a.m., Monday-Saturday. For more information, visit facebook.com/biscuitlady64.