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Culture vultures

The food and music of the Deep South

Isla King July 24, 2017

Whatever you think you know of the Deep South, until you have visited this captivating region of the USA, nothing quite prepares you for the real thing. From soul food to soul music, prepare yourself for an enchanting adventure.

Southern hospitality has to be experienced to be believed. You’ll be overwhelmed by the spirit, grace and charm of its people. This region of America has provided me with some of the most fascinating and beguiling experiences. For music, food and unmistakable character, ensure the Deep South tops your USA travel wish-list. 

Nashville, Tennessee

First stop, it’s the country music capital of the USA – Nashville. There’s so much more to this legendary music city than meets the eye. Think designer-style with a country twang and you’ll begin to appreciate why I think it’s one of the most fashionable places I have ever visited.

Nashville is where artists from all over will go to record or launch new material. The feeling is very much make it here and you’ll make it anywhere. Iconic venues such as the Grand Ole Opry are famous for very good reasons. It’s the longest running live radio show in America, plus it’s a testing ground for established names and up-and-coming artists to make their mark on the music industry.

Honky-tonks such as the Full Moon Saloon, the Losers and Winners club or the hipster joint Soul Shine are dotted all over the city and live music takes centre stage, sometimes drawing back tables and chairs to allow folk to indulge in a spot of line dancing. You’ll also find many honky-tonks on Broadway, a renowned entertainment district sparkling with neon signs advertising good times for all. Popular with tourists here are Honky Tonk Central or Layla’s, Paradise Park for an authentic slice of the Nashville country music scene.

Food in Nashville

I have so many fond memories of Tennessee cuisine and just thinking of barbeques with that classic whisky glaze makes my mouth water. If I could point you in the direction of a more traditional southern food outlet then head to one of my favourites, Loveless Café towards the outskirts of the city for authentic southern cuisine including watermelon ribs or chicken-fried chicken and gravy.

Or combine both music and food at the Bluebird Café just outside of downtown, famous for its open mic sessions and their philosophy of championing new material. I recommend the smoked pork sandwich here too.

Where next:  Pull on your hiking boots and experience one of America’s favourite nature reserves, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for ridge upon ridge of forest-clad mountain trails providing the ideal getaway from the bright lights of Nashville.

Atlanta, Georgia

There’s so much to admire about Atlanta, from elegant tree-clad in-town neighbourhoods to fine dining to shopping and its rich and diverse history, it almost feels a shame to narrow this energetic city down to music and food. Yet this is a sophisticated and cosmopolitan city that encapsulates the new vigour and creativity of the South.

This is the hometown of music artists from Ludacris, Andre 3000, Gnarls Barkley and rock bands such as Sugarland and the Black Crowes. It also has a proud tradition of both southern and black gospel music; those seeking the true soul of the south, especially the Civil Rights Movement to the American Civil War, will not be disappointed.  

Food in Atlanta

If you’re passionate about your food, I’d suggest heading to the warehouse restaurant TWO urban licks a pioneer at the forefront of the South’s culinary boom. Not only will you find succulent dishes here such as its signature dish Salmon Chips with chipotle cream cheese dip, this American rotisserie is also a live blues music venue and features sweeping city views of that famous Atlanta skyline situated on the Atlanta BeltLine. Treat yourself and try the pork belly barbeque for southern-style cooking served with a contemporary twist.

Other music venues worth considering include SkyLounge in downtown for cocktails accompanying panoramic views, or more authentic joints such as Blind Willie’s on North Highland Ave for blues music and a friendly vibe.

Another neighbourhood I should point you to is Buckhead, an affluent uptown borough famed for its food scene and its legendary shopping and vibrant nightlife. This ultra-chic quarter is sometimes referred to as "The Beverly Hills of the East" and includes the Lenox Mall, The Shops Buckhead Atlanta and Phipps Plaza as ideal spots for shopaholics.  You’ll find the Atlanta Fish Market here offering seafood restaurants aplenty and a laidback ambiance away from the bustle of the city.

The Ponce City Market’s Central Food Hall is home to budding culinary entrepreneurs offering everything from upscale burger joints, seafood and global cuisine outlets fusing down-home recipes with modern international flavours.

Where to next: Discover divine southern hospitality among the mansions and manicured gardens of Savannah, a beautiful coastal city renowned for its food festivals, live music and Civil War re-enactments.

New Orleans, Louisiana

The moment you touch down at Louis Armstrong Airport you’ll notice an attitude unlike any other place in the world, let alone United States – well, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it. Everyone should visit New Orleans, it truly is an enchanting city.

I call it the ‘celebration city’, there’s something going on almost every weekend, some festivity or another, but seemingly, never in a hurry. New Orleans moves at its own pace and time and wherever you wander you’ll hear the echo of jazz playing from a nearby alley or dimly lit doorway. The streets are alive with a laidback bustle and joie de vivre. Of course, it’s also renowned for its extraordinary Mardi Gras that takes place in February 2018, but don’t let that limit your plans. This city is a magical adventure whenever you choose to go.

Food in New Orleans

If you like comfort then you’re going to love New Orleans. The menus are filled with flavours that come from the heart as well as a plethora of fascinating international origins. I suggest, no I insist you start your day at the Café Du Monde in the French Quarter with coffee and beignets, those flavourful sugar-dusted doughnuts are a breakfast staple of the city.

For lunch, after wandering through the French Quarter, grab yourself a classic Po’boy from Johnny’s on St Louis St, a supersized sandwich filled with sautéed onions, peppers and deep fried chicken. For dinner, you might wish to indulge in a heart-warming bowl of gumbo, but my favourite is the Cajun/Creole dish etouffée, shrimp smothered in a rich brown roux of chopped vegetables and tomatoes. Ask kindly and make sure you take the recipe home from the chef of the Bon Ton Café on Magazine St – if they’ll let you have it.  

Music in New Orleans

Doubtless at some point in your visit to New Orleans you’ll find yourself on Bourbon Street, wandering in and out of bars and live music clubs of every description. 

For lively, try the Famous Door, or for a retro-tinged vibe head to the Jazz Playhouse – or avoid the bustle and enjoy the authentic vibe of Frenchman’s Street for yet more restaurants, galleries and nightclubs. Go further still and take in the artisan ambiance of historic Faubourg Marigny and I guarantee the magic of the Deep South will have wrapped you in its spell forever.

Where to next: Take a fascinating Whitney Plantation Tour for insights into the antebellum South or explore the beautiful cities of Lafayette for Cajun culture and Baton Rouge, capital of Louisiana.

If you have been tempted by the unique character and soulful musical qualities of this captivating region of the USA then visit our Deep South pages for more enchanting suggestions.  Alternatively, view our food and drink holidays if you're tempted by the delicious cuisine. Like me, you’ll only have scratched the surface, but you’ll also be planning your next visit before your existing adventure is over.