Trip Ideas

How to Eat Like a Southerner

Knowing what to eat and how to eat it will have you feeling like a Georgia native in no time.

  • Blue Willow Inn

    Dine on Southern favorites like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese at this grand Greek Revival mansion.

Georgia cuisine has a colorful history deeply influenced by climate, crops, and the people who have brought ingredients and cooking styles from all over the world. Dining in Georgia can be a true adventure, a trip back in time and, most of all, a delicious way to experience the state. Georgia’s cuisine is about much more than just food; it’s about hospitality, fellowship and tradition.

Meat, Seafood and Veggies

Fried chicken is a popular food for special occasions, get-togethers or even tailgating at college football games. But it has to be prepared properly. To the most dedicated chicken fryer, this can mean hours of saltwater soaks and buttermilk baths, not to mention sweating over the frying chicken on the hot stove. Thankfully, plenty of Georgia restaurants are happy to do the frying for you. Mary Mac's Tea Room in Midtown Atlanta has been serving up fried chicken and other Southern favorites for more than 70 years. At the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, fried chicken is always on the buffet, where you’re also likely to find fried chicken livers, fried fish and fried green tomatoes.

Georgia barbecue is all about the pig, and unlike states whose barbecues are very distinctive, ours is a little more loosely defined. It’s almost always slow-cooked over oak or hickory and served with a tomato-based sauce, but different regions of the state feature different flavors. East Georgia barbecue is typically served with exotic-flavored sauces, while West Georgia barbecue is served with a mustard-and-vinegar-based sauce with hot peppers. Northeast Georgia is where you go for finely chopped pork served with a thin vinegar sauce similar to what you would find in other states. Sample the different styles at The Hickory Pig BBQ in Gainesville, Country’s Barbecue in Columbus, Stinson’s Barbecue in Lumber City, and really, any barbecue joint you find.

Georgia is blessed with a coastline and many lakes and rivers, so we also love our fresh seafood. One of our favorite dishes is wild Georgia white shrimp and grits, which recently has been jazzed up by chefs all over the South. The Shrimp & Grits: Wild Georgia Shrimp Festival on Jekyll Island each September makes the popular combination the center of its festivities. And, you can’t go wrong with fresh catfish served with hush puppies and cole slaw. In southwest Georgia, seek out Ray’s Millpond in Ray City for a great meal with views of a popular fishing pond.

We actually do eat our veggies, too. Of course, we generally fry them or cook them with fatback, bacon or ham hock, but that’s what makes them taste so good. Take collard and turnip greens, for example. When prepared with smoked ham hock and served up with a side of corn bread, they’re a true Southern treat. Pair that with a hearty helping of fried green tomatoes, perhaps from the Whistle Stop Cafe in Juliette, fried okra or fried Vidalia onion rings.

Georgia Staples

In addition to being the birthplace of President Jimmy Carter, the city of Plains has another claim to fame: its peanut production. The only way to eat peanuts Georgia-style is boiled. The best place to find this addictive treat is at a roadside stand where they’re cooked up over a fire and served with a cold soda or sweet tea.

Georgia is the Peach State for good reason: We grow 130 million pounds of them every year. They’re sweet and juicy and at their peak of ripeness during the summer. We eat them whole or sliced, in homemade ice cream, peach cobbler or peach pound cake, and more. Buy Georgia peaches and sample other peach treats straight from the orchards, such as Lane Southern Orchards in Fort Valley and at Jaemor Farms in Alto or Commerce.

Desserts are popular in Georgia -- especially pies. Favorite flavors include pecan, peach, apple, pumpkin, cherry, sweet potato and shoofly (made with molasses). We also love fruit cobbler, banana pudding, fried apple pies, pound cake, red velvet cake and any homemade ice cream. Be sure to try the fried pies at Mercier Orchards in Blue Ridge. While in Savannah, stop into the Back in the Day Bakery for desserts made the old-fashioned way, and treat yourself to one of the many delicious choices at the Boll Weevil Café & Sweetery in Augusta.

And so goes Georgia’s list of fabulous culinary creations. To name a few more, think Coca-Cola, strawberry shortcake, sweet potato soufflé, hoecakes, divinity and succotash. But what makes these and so many Georgia dishes truly Southern is the fellowship in which they are prepared and served. That’s what Southern food is really all about.

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