There’s comfortable food, and there’s crave-able food. Comfort is familiar — sick-day soup, hangover eggs. But no one craves the flu, even if it means a bowl of mama’s chicken noodle. It’s easy for Yankees to write off the south as a backwater of comfort cooking: traditions mired in molasses and gluey with gravy and do you want fries with that, hon? And yeah, there are butter and biscuits galore down here (no better place to nurse a hangover). But the real south — the south of foodies and farmers, makers and mixologists — is about craving: candy with a pasture-raised heart, hot sauce with a boozy secret, the oldest-school of cured meats, the newest of chocolate, soda pop gone high-brow, and health food brought down to earth. Exotic and indulgent, recognizable but with a twist, made with care, easy to love, impossible to forget.
Bourbon Barrel Aged Verde Hot Sauce // Red Clay Hot Sauce // Charleston, SC
Tired of the vinegary, over-salted stuff he could find at the store, chef Geoff Rhyne started making his own hot sauce in the back of his restaurants. Tired of his diners swiping bottles to take back home, he started selling it. Cold-pressed for the freshest flavor, and aged in barrels for a sweet boozy smoothness, our favorite is the verde: bright and biting with apple, fennel, cilantro, and serrano heat. Mixed with mayo and slapped on a baguette, it makes a perfect sautéed shrimp po’ boy. Bring a bottle to your next dinner party — and watch out for sticky fingers.
Spice-A-Delic Granola // Granola Jones // Independence, MO
Mellower munchies may fill most hippies’ plates, but the folks at Jones march by the beat of a different drum circle. Their granola jams with hearty oats, berries, and organic sweeteners, ja mon, but adds a hefty toke of spices strong enough to blow your dreads back. Add yogurt, mango, and a swirl of honey to make a morning meal that doesn’t taste like cardboard, no matter how unwashed your breakfast bowl. Just remember to keep your stash out of the communal pantry.
Sarsaparilla Syrup // Pink House Alchemy // Bentonville, AR
Wonder no more whence comes the “root” in your favorite soda. Root beer was, once, made with real-deal tubers; namely sarsaparilla, an earthy plant running wild through the Ozark hills. These days, though, the chemical concoctions likely come from a lab — and are best left for the kids. This syrup was born, instead, through old-school alchemy, in small, house-made batches (and yes, the house *is* pink). It’s all grown up, and so are the drinks it makes, like a sweet-and-spicy rye cocktail with an ounce of syrup, an ounce of whiskey, and a splash of seltzer. Pre-batch it to fill your own adults-only soda fountain.
Goat Milk Caramels // Fox Point Farm // Kellyton, Alabama
Fox Point Farm’s founders — plus five kids, three dogs, and four goats — started this 40-acre farm only a few years ago; already they manage a herd in the hundreds. And that means a lot of milk. Good thing we have a sweet tooth. These chews are as easy to love as the corner-store penny candy you remember, but with a soft, creamy finish (thank the goats) that means you can indulge without busting a jaw or worrying about the provenance of chemical dyes and artificial sweeteners. Dig in — this handful’s on the house.
Bourbon Cask Aged Chocolate Bar // Raaka Chocolate // Brooklyn, NY
The high-end, organic, flavor-grade cacao featured here makes one delicious detour from specially sourced Belize-grown bean to Brooklyn-made bar: It stops off for a drink. Bourbon, to be exact: resting in Berkshire Mountain Distillery barrels, where the nibs soak up the now-drained spirit’s spirit for a full month before being ground, melted, sweetened, and shaped. All of which means your after-dinner indulgence can get right to the point: a tipple, a treat, or both at once.
Dry Cured Pepperoni // Parma Sausage // Pittsburgh, PA
What’s a Pittsburgh-based company know about Italian food? Well, what’s a humble cobbler know about aging meat? A lot, it turns out. Parma’s patriarch — the founder’s grandfather — was a Corsican shoemaker who started making his own salami after a particularly frustrating antipasto he had at a dinner party. Today the tradition continues, with good Berkshire pork, loads of zesty spice, and lots of patience. Nibble with cheese and a good glass of porch-side bourbon, or pass out slices to satisfy grumbling bellies as your guests await the evening meal — just be sure to save some pieces to mix into the sautéed collards.
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