Greenwood is abuzz with word of Alton Brown's imminent arrival. He will be at Turnrow Friday morning at 11 a.m. for a pit stop on his book tour for Feasting on Asphalt: The River Run, a book based on his new Food Network Series. This town appreciates a good cook, especially if he has his own TV show.
Fans of the Food Network (and they are legion) know Alton Brown from his hit show Good Eats, as well as his enthusiastic play-by-play on Iron Chef America. He's a lovable food geek with a deep knowledge of culinary science as well as a down-to-earth palate and an appreciation for the honest foods of the common eater, such as might be found in roadside dives, diners, shacks and stands. These are the joints he visits in Feasting on Asphalt, which aired a few months back as a six-hour series on the Food Network. Brown and his small, roving posse of cameramen and techs drove motorcycles up the Mississippi River, starting in New Orleans and riding the Great River Road parkway to the headwaters in Minnesota, stopping along the way to sample authentic regional road food.
Anyone who has taken a road trip in these United States knows how increasingly difficult it is to find an honest meal up and down our bustling interstates. Fast food is the same wherever you go, solicited through a squawking electronic box and eaten without zeal at 70 miles an hour. Brown admits he falls prey to the convenience himself, lamenting that even his own daughter is becoming "one of the chicken-finger zombies who knows nothing of travel, only destinations."
Inspired by vacations of his youth, where stopping for lunch always involved a family-owned restaurant and conversation with strangers ("the best social studies lesson I've ever had"), Brown and Co., with minimal calling ahead or preparation, scours the countryside in search of these genuine dining experiences and shares some great stories and recipes. Though he expresses a skepticism for TV tie-in books, this package — part travelogue, part cookbook and photography book — is distinguished by Brown's insights and the quality of the photography by Jean Claude Dhien, who captures the spirit of each stop through his photos of the cooks, waiters and diners they meet.
Of particular and obvious interest to us are the portions from the Mississippi Delta. (Here's a nice interview about his Mississippi travels from the Clarion-Ledger.) There's a fried chicken-eating frenzy at the Old Country Store in Lorman, a lip-smacking pancake and BBQ breakfast at Jim's Cafe in Greenville, and a rapturous tamale and Koolickle session at Joe's White Front Cafe in Rosedale. He even confronts the strange tradition of spaghetti and catfish on Fridays, which we often enjoy here at Greenwood's best soul food restaurant, Hoover's. (You never know who you'll run into at Hoover's. This weekend we stopped in and were surprised to find ourselves lunching with David "Honeyboy" Edwards, the last of the great Delta blues musicians who used to run with Robert Johnson.)
There are also interesting and humorous entries from his adventures in Louisiana, Memphis, Missouri, Illinois, and Minnesota, where he unexpectedly enjoys one of the best meals of the trip, a piroshki, or Russian hamburger, in St. Paul's Russian Tea House. By the end, you'll want to clutch your gut and imagine the stony heft of it after eating all the donuts, fried fish, barebecue, sloppy sandwiches, odd cuts, soups, pies, and sugary drinks this man consumed in 26 days.
Makes us want to get in the car and go.