It has been weeks since I ate breakfast at Ria’s Bluebird, but the place and the food keep nudging me. If you’re in Atlanta, the drive to Ria’s is towards downtown, to an industrial area that’s being transformed into a happening neighborhood. The huge Oakland Cemetery is across the street from the restaurant, and cars and trucks are zooming down Memorial Drive. There must be a synonym for funky, but right now none comes to mind.
Ria’s Bluebird is, funky, hip seemingly old and perfectly au courant. The New York Times called Ria’s pancakes “the world’s best.” As someone with the firm belief that Dupar’s in Los Angeles serves the world’s best pancakes, Ria’s are plenty good enough to share that title, and its menu is deeper and more interesting than Dupar’s.
There, I said it. Sorry, Dupar’s, but the planet can accommodate two “world’s best pancakes” places. Go to Atlanta and see for yourself.
We were in Savannah last week-end and we went out for a drive on Sunday afternoon and out to lunch just across the bridge in Thunderbolt at a small wooden shack called Despositos.The wood picnic tables are covered with newspaper and they serve fresh boiled shrimp and deviled blue crab, all of which is local, home-made potato salad, and there’s a sweet view of the river out the window.
I grew up in the deep south, a small town called Hawkinsville, GA, population 3500. Probably the best thing I have ever eaten in my life is the BBQ we had on special occasions on our farm. I know, you can get BBQ everyday. Yes, I have been to those famous BBQ joints in Memphis and those in North Carolina. Not impressed; it's all about the sauce and good BBQ needs little sauce. My dad employed an old man named Clayton since I was a child until he died a few years ago. Great BBQ is an art, like the glass blowers in Murano, Italy or a small farmer in France making cheese. There is no recipe, just talent and experience.
We have a big "pit" on our farm just for barbecuing a whole hog. Being an animal lover, I would never look at the poor animal but would convince myself he had a good life because I probably petted and kissed him at some point in our acquaintance. Clayton would come over at dusk and set up his camp. He would build a fire, drink some cheap beer and tend to the hog all night. He would baste him, turn him until the sun came up.
Just as you would seek out a noodle shop in Tokyo, Japan, or enjoy a mole in Oaxaca, Mexico, a trip to Savannah, Georgia has to include at least one meal of classic Southern cooking. And although Lady and Son, Paula Dean’s tourist Mecca, gets most of the press, a more authentic experience is down Jones Street.
Mrs. Wilkes has passed away, but her family and staff on Jones Street are carrying on her tradition. You still sit at big round, oak tables with strangers. You still take your own dirty plate, silverware, and glass to the kitchen door, bussing your place at the table. And you still will be treated to the bounty of good, simple, flavorful, southern style food. Although Mrs. Wilkes Boarding House has been renamed Wilkes Dining Room, all the food is still served boarding house style in bowls and platters on the tables. There is no menu. And no one leaves the table hungry.