With the rise of chefs as tattooed, swaggering pop-culture celebrities, this headline from Food & Wine magazine seemed inevitable: “Yes, food is the new rock.” So, not surprisingly, more toque wearers are joining bands and supplementing cookbooks with their favorite mp3s, while professional music-makers have taken up trivets and skillets with appetizing results—feeding both body and spirit. For the “Come On in My Kitchen” South (thank you, Robert Johnson), this trend of mixing food with music, spiced and sometimes fertilized with jive-talk from the road, is nothing new, but a longstanding social sacrament that has unified us in troubled times and now is undergoing an updated, wholesome resurgence with ingredients as organic as our rawest roots music—sustainable as well as sustaining. (There will always be place at the table, though, for “fat and greasy,” in barbecue and slide guitar.) Georgia, with its agricultural abundance and musical innovation, has proved deliciously generative in both fields—think of the state as one long buffet, buckling with farm-fresh fare, where pickers sing for their supper and jam over house-made jelly. The following landmarks offer a taste:
Gladys Knight and Ron Winans’ Chicken & Waffles
529 Peachtree Street NE, Atlanta; 3752 Cascade Road, Atlanta; and 7301 Stonecrest Concourse, Lithonia
The concept makes perfect sense to night owls. In 1930s Harlem, the ermine-and-mohair crowd often struggled, post-clubbing, to choose between dinner and breakfast, so the wiser establishments presented them with both. Shanga Hankerson, the son of the Atlanta-born “Empress of Soul,” wanted to honor Knight’s legacy, along with gospel singer Winans, by developing a restaurant that served the food of his upbringing. True to tradition, the joint serves protein and malted waffles—that time-tested blotter fare—until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mulberry Street Park
Located First and Second streets in Macon
Open every Wednesday before 4:00 and 7:00 p.m.
At this downtown farmers market, open every Wednesday, Abby Owens stocks tables with 200 loaves of home baked, preservative-free bread, an aromatic comfort food as warm as a hearthstone, from a recipe in her mother’s cookbook. “I’m sort of leading a double life,” Owens says, “because a lot of people recognize me as just ‘The Bread Lady.’” The following for her other earth-mama talents is growing, though, as the 26-year-old singer/songwriter, who honed her Americana chops in the Gram Parsons country of south Georgia, tours the Southeast with two well-received albums to her name. “My music is rootsy and folky, suitable for back porches,” she says. The baking sideline started with a simple spaghetti supper she prepared with boyfriend and bandmate Vic Stanley, who owns the Hummingbird Stage and Taproom. “Like everyone else, he was surprised at how good homemade bread tastes, so he encouraged me to sell it,” she says. “Yeast is this living thing that becomes something great—much like music.”
477 Flat Shoals Ave., Atlanta
This bodega, bakery, and sandwich shop in East Atlanta combines the gritty, bohemian star power of artist/chef Calavino Donati, formerly of the Roman Lily Café, and her partner, Doria Roberts, she of the lapidary cheekbones and literate, infectious folk, described as “political, but not preachy.” UC works with several CSAs and showcases other upstart, socially conscious, fair-trade vendors such as Sugar-Coated Radical, the so-called “libertine confection shop.” The Food Network devoted a segment to Calavino’s savory “Urban Reuben,” with its apple-horseradish sauce, and Roberts, who specialized in East Asian studies at the University of Pennsylvania before ever picking up a guitar, bakes the brownies and blondies with the same assuredness and discernable thought she brings to her musical performances.
The Grit and Ted’s Most Best
199 Prince Ave. and 254 W. Washington Street, Athens
In the same way that collards are boiled down to their essence in pot-likker, the collegial, boho spirit of Athens is at its most concentrated in The Grit, the tofu-and-tempeh stalwart renowned for its proud, affordable “meatless wizardry.” In 2003’s The Grit Cookbook: World-Wise, Down-Home Recipes, Jessica Greene and husband Ted Hafer, who bought the ten-year-old restaurant in 1996, wrote that “musically talented and/or obsessed people have helped shape The Grit since its beginning” and shared testimonials from longtime customers including Michael Stipe, Kate Pierson, Kevn Kinney, Vic Chesnutt and even Marianne Rogers, the Hee Haw honey. Hafer, who was also a musician, artist and filmmaker, died in 2007 and last year, Greene and business partner Jay Totty, who had managed The Grit for 17 years, honored his memory by opening Ted’s Most Best, an artisanal pizzeria featuring rustic-style pizza, panini, cappuccino, espresso, desserts, beer, wine and bocce ball. With the help of appropriately-named local contractor Michael Songster, the pair rehabbed the old Snow Tire storage building across the street from the 40 Watt club, earning a preservation award in the process and bringing new life to the long-quiet location.
Atkins Park Tavern
2840 Atlanta Road, Smyrna
For the last three years, Rusty Hamlin has been cooking up a storm with the Zac Brown Band. “Zac’s love for food, and my love for music just meshed,” says Hamlin, who as tour chef is an integral part of the group’s tight-knit, 100-member road crew. Up daily at 8 a.m., he scours the farms and markets in each town, using fresh, seasonal ingredients to create a unique menu. The food always reflects the band’s down-home aesthetic and his own style, which he describes as flavorful farm-to-table Southern.
At noon, Rusty begins cooking in his custom-designed 54-foot semi trailer, not just for the crew but for the 100-plus fans attending the band’s signature pre-show “Eat & Greet,” an intimate experience free from lines, awkward photos and nervous handshakes. “The Eat & Greet is exactly what our families, growing up, have done,” Rusty explains. “It all revolves around the kitchen-sitting around, laughing, crying, talking about your problems. … People come in, and 15 minutes later, they’ve got a plate of food and they’re having dinner with the boys and myself. We’re able to get to know our fans. It’s a cool situation-everybody’s comfortable and open.”
The sense of community at these events is palpable, made even more special by the spotlight on local farmers. “Those folks work so hard,” Hamlin says. “They aren’t able to get out much, so we get them tickets, bring ‘em back to the Eat & Greet and promote their farm.”
Close as Rusty is with Zac (the two became friends a dozen years ago through bartender/songwriter Wyatt Durrette at Rusty’s Smyrna tavern, Atkins Park), he’s often there when the songs are born. “The band, Wyatt and myself will head to north Georgia or the beach, and [they’ll] sit around for days piecing together songs in the living room, right in front of the open kitchen. And I’m creating food while they’re creating music, at the same time, in the same room. … How they put together a song is very similar to how I put together flavors in food.” – STEVE LABATE
New Schroeder’s Deli
406 Broad Street, Rome
At Schroeder’s, the proprietor works the grill and the snares with equal artistry. John Schroeder, the man-about-town who owns the Broad Street fixture with his brother Charlie, serves up “Roast Beef Relief” and other rib-sticking sammiches while also keeping the backbeat for northwest Georgia’s music scene as a drummer for the Scattered, Smothered and Covered. This bluesy, stalwart group has opened for Three Dog Night and the Charlie Daniels Band, among others, and the deli/venue with its patio and eye-catching pressed-tin ceilings, has showcased crowd-pleasers such as Caroline Aiken; virtuosic goofball Webb Wilder; and the Glenn Phillips Band. “John Schroeder practically, single-handedly nurtured and sustained the city’s live-music scene,” says master guitarist Phillips, “and I’m only of the countless musicians in his debt that can’t thank him enough for it. He has dedicated his life to sharing his great love for music, food and fellow musicians.” – HARRY MUSSELWHITE
Bell Street Burritos
1816 Peachtree Street, Atlanta
209 Edgewood Avenue, Atlanta
Like so many artists, students, and fiscally lean consumers in Atlanta’s demimonde, Matt Hinton pined for Tortillas, the Ponce de Leon burrito dive that closed in 2003. “It was cheap, it was really good, and it was sort of semi-filthy,” says Hinton. “It was kind of a rock ’n’ roll place.” Hinton, a guitar-playing theologian, has taught religious studies at Morehouse and Spelman but admittedly didn’t know beans about the restaurant business. Nevertheless, with help from some former employees, he became a sort of “Tortillas Tribute Artist,” taking orders through Facebook and wrapping burritos for his friends. That sideline grew into the acclaimed Bell Street Burritos, based in the historic Sweet Auburn Curb Market, which recently expanded to include a second location on the Westside. While developing his own style with salsas (note the dash of chipotle), Hinton also was adding his disciplined voice to the firmament of shape-note singing. In 2006, he and wife, Erica Hinton, premiered Awake, My Soul: The Story of the Sacred Harp, their feature-length documentary about this Southern folk tradition. All of Hinton’s projects have critics—foodies, cineastes and folklorists—singing hymns of praise.
Stewbo’s Restaurant Group, Albany
Harvest Moon Pizza, 2347 Dawson Road
The Catch Seafood and Oyster Bar, 2332 Whispering Pines Road
Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse, 629 North Westover Boulevard
With his shoulder-length hair and beard as red as a sunset, Bo Henry looks like a Viking—but too friendly, laid back and distracted by a great groove to pillage. In fact, he has built an ever-expanding empire of food and hospitality while touring and recording with the Bo Henry Band, now in its sixteenth fun-loving year. His Stewbo’s restaurant group has expanded Albany’s dining options with pizza, seafood fresh from the Gulf and prime cuts of steak, and he owns a farm and hunting preserve with Albany native Dallas Davidson, the Nashville hit maker. “The farm grows peanuts, grains, and milo, but mostly Dallas and I just hunt,” he says. Henry recently opened Merry Acres Inn, with a pub and country-cooking diner, and he is an owner of The State Theatre, a 1,000-seat downtown venue favored by Corey Smith, Col. Bruce Hampton and Shooter Jennings. Harvest Moon pizzeria functions as home base and playground for his road-tested band, which recently released its third and most introspective album, See the Sunrise, which Henry describes in terms evoking a Zen koan: “This album is like this band,” he says, “We ain’t country, and we ain’t exactly rock; we ain’t Southern rock, and we ain’t soul and we ain’t an oldies band and we ain’t bluegrass. But we’re all of that. This album is a soup of everything.”