I didn’t imagine that there’s a new movement underway in southern cooking. It’s called Southern Foodways. According to their website, “We stage events, produce documentary films, publish compendiums of great writing, and perhaps most important – document and map our region’s culinary standard bearers through oral history interviews. We’re talking fried chicken cooks, barbecue pitmasters, bartenders, ham curers, and row crop farmers.
The SFA is a member-supported organization of more than 800 people. Chefs and academics, writers and eaters: all are active participants. In the Atlantic Monthly, Corby Kummer dubbed the SFA ‘this country’s most intellectually engaged (and probably most engaging) food society.’”
So I shouldn’t have been surprised when I saw a bologna sandwich on the Oak Bar menu at the Hermitage Hotel. A bologna sandwich???? To me, bologna was something we ate as kids, a childhood standard, to be left behind when our taste buds developed. But on this fine menu?
I had to try it. And it was delicious.
How do you describe bologna? It’s a comfort food, kind of squishy (an emulsified sausage as the chef later described it to me), a smoked sausage actually, made of finely ground meat. I always thought it was made from trimmings and carcass and yes, it can be but it can also be made from choice cuts or more exotic meats, venison or moose, for instance. It IS named after the town in Italy but it little resembles the mortadella bologna that traders brought back to England and America 2 centuries ago.
The server at the Oak Bar told us proudly that their bologna was cured on premises. I felt like I’d stepped through the looking glass. Am I really discussing the finer points of bologna?
So I emailed the chef, Tyler Brown: “Dear Tyler, Never, would I have dreamed that I would order a bologna sandwich from any menu much less the fine menu at the Hermitage Hotel! I’m from Nashville originally and bologna did not come up on the list of delicacies that I simply had to try. Well, I trusted you and the sandwich was incredible. Your menu was the epitome of what I began to call, ‘Down Home Food, Done Up.’ So, Tyler. What IS bologna? What IS Your bologna? And when the server said, proudly, ‘We cure it right here.’ What did she mean?”
He was gracious enough to reply. And that’s when I learned about Southern Foodways. Tyler is a very proud member as well as a member of Slow Foods. He says of his bologna sandwich: “We make our bologna with a mixture of beef that we raise on our farm and local pork. It is an emulsified sausage. We then smoke it in our smoker utilizing pieces of whiskey barrels that we get from Jack Daniel. We cut it about an inch thick and put it with some Tennessee chow chow, we get from our local farmers market (Chow chow is pickled vegetables. Think of it is a southern kimchi.), a swipe of Dukes mayonnaise (any true southerners go to) and place it on Texas toast. “
And speaking of Jack Daniels, the Oak Bar had some of the most imaginative cocktails I’ve seen anywhere. All with a southern flair. I had Tennessee Champagne made with Jack, Dr. Enuf Soda and blackstrap molasses bitters. Down home done up. It was great.
I just got the Southern Foodways Alliance Community Cookbook and can’t wait to try the Carrot Soup with Bourbon and Ginger. I’m a little less enthused about the Chocolate gravy with bacon, but who knows?