When I was ten years old, my parents uprooted my northern Ohio family and moved us down to Elizabethtown, North Carolina. While there, I was exposed to a number of new foods and styles of cooking. Though young at the time, and though we lived there less than two years and have since moved back North, some of these Southern foods have impacted me greatly, and I still crave them today.
Southern food craving #1: Melvin’s Burgers – In my expertise, the Melvin burger – the best in the universe – defines Southern burgers. In Elizabethtown, North Carolina, the lines would be long and winding out the back door to the alley in this restaurant. The burgers at Melvin’s were simple, you bought many of them, and you left with them in a paper bag (you never ate there – signs said you shouldn’t linger inside the restaurant). A Melvin’s burger came “all the way” – it was a delicious, fresh, made-to-order burger with mustard, chili, onion and coleslaw. Ever since we left the South, I have constantly been on a hunt for a burger as good as a Melvin’s, but sadly – nothing will ever compare. I crave Melvin’s. Constantly.
Southern food craving #2: Hush puppies – First arriving in North Carolina, I was skeptical of the fried dough balls that showed up in every restaurant on your plate, whether you ordered them or not. At first, I avoided them – it was intimidating to have a huge fried circle of bread sitting on my dinner plate, invading the space of my chicken tenders. However, they did grow on me, and now a bread basket at any typical Northern family restaurant appears empty and sad without a few hush puppies sitting among the rolls and bread slices.
Southern food craving #3: Colombo Yogurt with wet-nuts – The after-school treat in my family was heading to the local gas station where there was a Colombo Yogurt stand on the inside. Not only was the yogurt to-die-for, but whatever flavor you chose, it had to be topped by the wet-nuts. I still don’t know exactly what wet nuts consisted of – it could be any nut variety, and it probably went by many names – pecans, pralines, walnuts? Whatever they were, they were chopped nuts in a delicious dark sugary sauce. The perfect dessert topping for the slightly healthy yogurt.
Southern food craving #4: Mello Yello – Mello Yello was the pop (or soda) of choice down in Bladen County, North Carolina. Mello Yello was everywhere, and typically, it was the only pop available. However, once we left North Carolina and moved back North… Mello Yello disappeared. We couldn’t find it anywhere – and since we were hooked on it – there was quite a withdrawal phase. The legend of the missing Mello Yello is comparable to the regional mystery of the amazing Red Cherry Fanta that only appears in restaurants, and not in any single Ohio grocery store ever.
Southern food craving #5: Good, sloppy, wet Pecan Pie – Along with the tantalizing ‘wet nuts’ from above, is the decadently glorious, sloppy, wet pecan pie that was found in every restaurant down South. We knew that every church pot-luck, every friendly get-together, every school function and any other event would have at least ‘one’ delicious Southern pecan pie – but probably many more. They were the star of the show. It just wasn’t a Southern meal without it. Sometimes I wonder if one could be made by just taking a jar of wet nuts and pouring them in a pie shell (the yogurt stand ‘did’ sell wet nuts by the jar, after all).
Southern food craving #6: Biscuits with honey butter – No matter which restaurant we went to (and we went to many), inside the breadbasket – next to the hush puppies – would be the most rich, warm, fluffy, buttery biscuits you could imagine – and they would be served with a pot of melt-in-your-mouth honey butter to go with them. Eating one of those buttery biscuits with the honey butter was like taking a bath in butter, but they were so wonderfully delicious you didn’t care how many calories you were eating (especially since I was only ten years old at the time).
I’m sure I could think of many more Southern food cravings I have from my short time of living down South, but in the meantime I’m content to think back and reminisce on all the delicious Melvin’s burgers, wet nuts, and hush puppies I used to eat. But someone please let me know – does Mello Yello still exist??