Find locally grown, natural food at Southern restaurants and roadside stands.
By Marta Ferguson

Spring again. The roads and fields are thawing and it’s time to fill our tables with the first bounties of the farmers’ market: fresh greens, tender young asparagus, radishes, scallions, purple and white bulbs of garlic with enough zing to wake our hibernating winter palates.

The Farmers’ Market in Fayetteville, Ark., features vegetables, flowers and produce three days a week from April to November. Many chefs in town shop at the market to get the freshest ingredients possible for their patrons. Fayetteville Visitors Bureau photo
It’s time to think about getting out to do a little gourmet foraging for the best foods the South has to offer, the locally produced “slow food” (naturally delicious, locally grown and harvested food) that’s turning up at both farmers’ markets and elegant restaurants all over the region.
Fayetteville is easy to swallow

The farmers’ market in downtown Fayetteville, Ark., draws crowds three times a week from April to November. Tourists, local cooks, as well as chefs frequent the market. Vince Pianalto of La Maison des Tartes and Jerrmy Gawthrop of Greenhouse Grille shop the farmers’ market and use what they find there in their menus. To encourage other chefs to do the same, the market stages an annual Ozark Iron Chef competition. The entrants gather food from the market and compete to see who can craft the tastiest dish. For the date, which was not available at press time, call (479) 236-2910.

The local food scene gets a globetrotting visitation June 5–7 when the eighth annual Art of Wine festival comes to the Walton Arts Center. Vintners from around the world come to share their wines and their knowledge of viticulture. While most of the wines are cosmopolitan, most of the food is local, including a winemakers’ dinner June 5 at the renowned James at the Mill in Johnson, a AAA Four Diamond-rated restaurant. A grand tasting will be on Friday and a Winemakers Brunch and Grand Tasting on Saturday. Tickets are available through the Walton Arts Center box office.

Among the Arkansas winemakers in attendance will be representatives from the Arkansas River Valley, and many of them will be bringing their cynthianas. Unlike most grapes native to the United States, the cynthiana, or norton as it is also known, is an excellent grape for making dry red wine. Though virtually every winery in Arkansas produces a cynthiana or a cynthiana blend, the wineries in and around Altus excel in its production, with a documented heritage of winemaking stretching back to the late 19th century.

Post Familie Vineyards & Winery and Wierderkehr Wine Cellars & Vineyard were founded by immigrants who felt the river valley would be conducive to grape growing in the traditions of their European homelands. A side trip from Fayetteville to Paris allows the traveler to discover Cowie Wine Cellars and the Arkansas Historic Wine Museum.

Nourish yourself in New Orleans

The French Market in New Orleans offers delicious locally grown produce. Richard Nowitz, New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau photo
Eating through New Orleans is a dream vacation for any foodie. The journey begins with the farmers’ markets. Most of the markets are open year round and have Saturday hours. Some of the bigger markets–like Crescent City on Uptown Square’s parking lot, German Coast Farmers’ Market in Destrehan and Covington Farmers’ Market across Lake Pontchartrain in St. Tammany Parish–have additional hours on another day of the week. The city’s oldest market is the French Market located at the foot of the French Quarter. In addition to a farmers’ market, there are flea market finds, retail shops and restaurants in the five-block area. The French Market has been in operation since 1791.

New Orleans is renowned for its many restaurants. For a delicious, sustainable dining experience anytime of year, Chef John Besh’s La Provence in St. Tammany Parish, located at 25020 state Highway 190 in Lacombe, offers elegant dinners Wednesday through Sunday and selected lunch seatings.

Have the kids along and still want an authentic New Orleans eating experience? Try the Audubon Zoo. The Cypress Knee Cafe in the Louisiana Swamp Exhibit serves real crawfish pies, meat pies and jambalaya. While visiting the zoo, look for Ronnie Kottemann, the Roman taffy candy man, who makes and sells taffies the same way his grandfather did when he began the tradition in 1910. Remember that AAA members receive $2 off an adult zoo admission, and $1 off a child’s when they show their card at the ticket office.

Wherever you go for a meal, be sure to stop by Brocato’s at 214 N. Carrollton Ave. for dessert. They’ve been making Italian ice cream, cookies and cannoli since 1905. The shop is closed on Mondays.

Amidst the music and crafts, the annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has two demonstration areas devoted exclusively to food, as well as the dozens of regional food vendors. Jazz Fest happens April 25–27 and May 1–4 this year.

Pig out in Oxford

Like Fayetteville and New Orleans, Oxford boasts a thriving farmers’ market culture, with the Mid-Town Farmers’ Market open May through September. Look for pork from heritage hog breeds, grass-fed beef and plenty of fresh produce.

For fine dining, both the City Grocery (152 Courthouse Square) and L & M’s Kitchen and Salumeria (309C N. Lamar Blvd.) offer a world-class experience. Oxford, though, is really a catfish town, and Ajax Diner (118 Courthouse Square) offers a tasty catfish, among other traditional Southern delights. But it is Taylor Grocery, just outside Oxford, that arguably serves the best catfish in the state. And the Faulknerian literary history, for which Oxford is so well known, is alive and well in the graffiti that covers its walls.

Alongside catfish is the other Oxford-area signature food, caramel cake. The fancier the occasion, the more layers to the cake. Newk’s Express Cafe, a local chain, offers a rotating selection of cakes, including caramel cake. Mississippi Madness, the local gourmet-cooking store, sells the cakes as well.

The Southern Foodways Alliance (SFA), headquartered at the University of Mississippi, each year hosts a conference both academically rigorous and undeniably delicious. This year’s conference will take place Oct. 23–26. For more details, click on www.southernfoodways.com.

Wherever your culinary travels take you this year, slow down and savor the local flavors. You’ll be glad you did.

Marta Ferguson is a new contributor from Columbia, Mo.
Mar/Apr 2008 Issue

Slow Food is a movement that began in the late 1980s. It is good (created from healthy plants and animals), clean (harvested with methods that have a positive impact on ecosystems) and fair (produced by people who are treated with dignity and are justly compensated for labor) food that encourages us to savor regional flavors.

RELATED ARTICLE
Homegrown Goodness
Pick one or more of these quick trips to Southern slow food.

BEFORE YOU GO
For more information, contact:

• Fayetteville Convention and Visitors Bureau, (800) 766-4626, www.experiencefayetteville.com;

• Greater New Orleans CVB, (800) 672-6124, www.neworleanscvb.com;

• St. Tammany Parish,
(800) 634-9443, www.louisiananorthshore.com;

• Oxford CVB, (662) 232-2367, www.oxfordcvb.com.

To visit Fayetteville, New Orleans or Oxford, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides. Click here for a list of offices..

Order free information about Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi through the Reader Service Card, online at http://southern.ai-dsg.com.

^ to top | previous page