Faking a Southern Accent

Posted January 16, 2008 by Chow, Baby in Eats

Boy, who would’ve thought that Chow, Baby’s new expertise on fried green tomatoes would come in handy so soon. Another concurrence: While munching on those yummies at the Whistle Stop Café in Juliette, Ga., a couple of weekends ago, Chow, Baby was also musing on restaurant fakeness.

The Whistle Stop Café didn’t actually exist before the 1991 movie; the building, a junk-tique store, was used as a set, and only after Fried Green Tomatoes started getting Oscar buzz did the building’s owner turn it into a restaurant. Now the whole block (the only block in Juliette, pretty much) is a tourist trap, specializing in postcards, t-shirts, train-flattened pennies, and the like. Chow, Baby got a refrigerator magnet ($2.50).

So the Whistle Stop Café is fake, in the sense that it’s not what it pretends to be. But on the other hand, it is a real café in small-town Georgia, with home-schooled cooks preparing great homestyle food. The fried green tomatoes were lovely, thin-sliced and lightly battered, and with a neat-o radish sauce tartly reminiscent of a remoulade. Not like the ones at Vidalia’s, which has just opened in the former Sam & Harry’s space in the Renaissance Worthington Hotel (the former Kalamatas space upstairs now appears to be chair storage). Vidalia’s calls itself a “modern Southern restaurant.” Chow, Baby calls it fake fake fake.

Vidalia’s fried green tomatoes ($6) are coated with traditional cornmeal but were sliced untraditionally thick, the size of hockey pucks, each tough bite a reminder that these things are called “green” because they’re not ripe. Modern? Sure; they looked chic, prettily stacked with slices of mozzarella and roasted peppers. But having had the fake-real thing, Chow, Baby isn’t impressed with Vidalia’s version. And Southern culture really hit the skids with Vidalia’s whimsical-drinks menu (“Bayou Backwater,” “Scarlet O’Hara”). Pointing out others’ typos is daring the word-processor gods, but Chow, Baby can’t let the “Kentucky Kernel” ($9) pass. Be witty if it were a corn-juice martini, but it’s not. Chow, Baby thinks the name is an homage, either to Kentucky Kernel-brand seasoned flour (great for fried chicken) or to ignorance.

Further ignorance-evidence arrived with Vidalia’s “smothered pork chop” ($21), a breaded-and-fried chop with a scant drizzle of gravy. No. No. Real smothered pork chops are the things you get for about $6.50 with two sides at Drew’s Place or Mom’s or Poly Grill – thick chops submerged in heavily peppered drippings-gravy, so fall-apart that not only do you not need a knife, you don’t even need a fork. A spoon’s the thing for salvaging every last morsel. At Vidalia’s the pork chop comes with a steak knife, and it’s necessary. Oh, this is a perfectly fine breaded chop, but it isn’t particularly Southern. The pecan-crusted chicken ($19), Vidalia’s “signature” dish, yielded the same reaction: fine, but not Southern-glorious. The clincher for Chow, Baby was the side of “Southern-braised greens.” They were excellent: earthy, rich, a little tangy. Collards? Mustard? Turnip? Any of the traditional Southern leafies?

Nope. Romaine and spinach. Like anybody’s mee-maw ever made romaine greens.
With its decent if overpriced food, classy décor, swanky bar, and fawning service, Vidalia’s target audience is obvious and sadly large: It’s the Southern restaurant for folks who go to P.F. Chang’s rather than Phat-Dat, to Cantina Laredo rather than El Asadero. Hope y’all have a great time. You’ll love the bread pudding.

Contact Chow, Baby at chowbaby@fwweekly.com.



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