When people think of Southern food in the United States comfort food tends to come to mind. But there is much more to be tasted than the fatty, fried, and greasy goodness of mac-and-cheese, fried chicken, and country-fried steak with biscuits and gravy. I spent this past summer, and then some, traveling across this culturally and historically rich region of America, and have discovered that the South is serving a whole lot more than what Paula Deen is whipping up in her kitchen.

Big Texan steaks Photo by Paolo Rosa

1. Angel’s BBQ  – Savannah, Georgia

Right now Savannah is famously known for being home to the American TV personality, and famous Southern chef, Paula Deen. The eclectic variety of restaurants to choose from, set against the backdrop of Live Oak trees draped with Spanish moss, is why I love Savannah. Unfortunately the famous The Lady & Sons restaurant was booked during my stay, so I hopped in a peddie cab and told the biker to take me to a local spot. Angel’s BBQ is a true “home-in-the-wall” because it tastes like good ole’ home cookin’, but it’s a hole-in-the-wall in terms of atmosphere.

The pulled pork sandwich was an experience in itself. On my following trip to Savannah I suggested the pulled pork sandwich to a client on my travel tour, and when I saw him later that day he literally got down on his knees and started bowing stating that was the best sandwich he had ever had!

Christopher Elliot - Angel's BBQ Photo by Christopher Elliott 

Location: 21 W. Oglethorpe Lane, Savannah, GA 31401 (Hint: If Angel’s runs out of BBQ for the day, they close, so get there early!)
Recommendation: Pulled Pork Sandwich
Expect to spend: $6-10 a plate (plus tax and tip)
Bonus travel tip: Right up the alley is the Independent Presbyterian Church of Savannah that is famous for being the steeple filmed in the opening scenes of Forrest Gump.

2. The Hyppo – St. Augustine, Florida

Florida is known for its hot, humid weather and when sightseeing for a full day anything ice cold is good, but America’s oldest city serves a frozen treat that is perfect. Frozen yogurt and inventive ice cream flavors are a big craze in the United States; however, Hyppo puts a twist on the traditional popsicle making your childhood summer treat a gourmet dessert. Using fresh, local ingredients the store’s current flavors include Mexican Hot Chocolate, Cucumber Lemon Mint, Mango Habanero, Pineapple Cilantro, and Elvis Presley (bananas, peanut butter, and honey). If you’re more into KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid) then Hyppo offers the more traditional flavors such as vanilla, strawberry, and the nostalgic orange cream popsicle. A new flavor that was not there on my last visit is the Riesling Pear. “Fresh green Bartlett pears blanched in a bath of sweet Riesling wine,” sounds absolutely divine.

Hyppo Elvis Presley pop

Location: Historic St. Augustine - 15 Hypolita St., St. Augustine, FL 32084
Recommendation: The flavors are constantly changing, so try something out of the ordinary.
Expect to spend: $3.50 per popsicle (plus tax)
Bonus travel tip: The Spanish colony of St. Augustine, founded in 1565, is the oldest continuously occupied city in the United States. The Castillo de San Marcos, the oldest masonry fort in North America, is just a few minutes away by foot.

3. Café Amelie – New Orleans, LA

Tucked away on Royal Street, this quaint restaurant in the French Quarter offers a tranquil place to dine, especially on Saturday and Sunday for brunch. Plus in a city full of history, this restaurant delivers. “Café Amelie was named for Amelie Miltonberger, the mother of the first American Princess of Monaco, Princess Alice, who lived in an accompanying townhouse in the mid-1800’s,” the restaurant’s Web site explains. My favorite aspect of this restaurant is its picturesque outdoor patio. You can expect traditional Louisiana cuisine, such as chicken gumbo and local jumbo shrimp and andouille, plus some house favorites making this dining experience in the historic 150- year-old Princess of Monaco Courtyard and Carriage House a special one.

Cafe Amelie 1 Photo by Stacey Warnke

Location: 912 Royal St., New Orleans, LA 70116
Recommendation: Shrimp and Grits plus dining in the courtyard is a must
Expect to spend: $10-30 per plate (plus tax and tip) depending on the time of day (brunch, lunch or dinner)
Bonus travel tip: About a minute walk up Royal Street is the Craig Tracy Gallery (827 Royal Street), the self-proclaimed only body painting art gallery in the world. Also, a 10-minute walk away is United Apparel Liquidators (518 Chartres Street) where storeowners buy fashion pieces straight from designers or hot off the runway and pass the discounts on to you!

4. Flight – Memphis, Tennessee

If you choose one restaurant to splurge on during your trip to Memphis let it be this one. Flight knows the Latin phrase “omne trium perfectum” (everything that comes in threes is perfect) well. Knowing how large our portions are in America, I normally split one appetizer, one entrée, and one dessert with whomever I dine with. That way we can try more dishes without sticking to two entrees that probably will not be finished anyways. The restaurant’s concept is being able to try different items that the kitchen has prepared. Just like we are used to ordering a flight of wine or beer, the restaurant allows you to do the same with salads, soups, entrees, and desserts. Each flight provides three different preparations for what you ordered (e.g. seafood). One of the bonuses of dining at Flight is you can try expensive wines without having to break your wallet.

Opacity - Flight red wine Photo by Opacity

Location: 39 South Main St., Memphis, TN.
Recommendation: The wine, soup, and seafood flights
Expect to spend: $33 per entrée flight (plus tax and tip)
Bonus travel tip: Ride the Main St. streetcar right outside the restaurant to the historic South Main Street for some great shopping at local boutiques.

5. The Big Texan – Amarillo, Texas

In Texas, where everything is bigger, you can’t get a larger slice of the kitschy Americana pie than this. A steakhouse, slot machines, live music, fudge shop, and microbrewery rolled into one gives you The Big Texan. This restaurant is most famous for their big steak challenge. Contestants have one-hour to eat a 72-ounce steak, and a few side dishes, to win and receive the meal for free; otherwise, it costs $72. Challengers are treated like celebrities, being seated on stage, having a proper Big Texan style introduction, and being filmed while eating the slab of meat so that all on the restaurant’s Web site can see. If you stay at The Big Texan Motel next door you can burn some calories afterwards by swimming in their Texas-shaped pool. The eccentric decor, friendly service, and quality of the food and people are the reasons I always leave full of memories.

Big Texan outside

Big Texan Fudge Counter Photo 1 by Marcus Claessen by and Photo 2 by Xavier de Jauréguiberry

Location: Located on the east side of Amarillo, Texas on the north side of Interstate 40 East between the Lakeside and Whitaker exits. The Big Texan offers free limo service, pick-up and drop-off from I-40 motels and RV parks, for groups of any size. Call 806- 372-6000 ext. 304 in advance of your arrival.
Recommendation: The steak and fudge
Expect to spend: $15-25 per plate (plus tax and tip)
Bonus travel tip: A 20-minute drive west on I-40, outside of Amarillo, is Cadillac Ranch. Grab some spray-paint and make art on these classic Cadillacs half buried in the ground.

This is a guest post by Eileen Street

eileen 600x871-1 Eileen is a tour manager, for a travel company, who spends most  of the year between the United States, Canada, and South America encouraging travelers to have no regrets! Her wanderlust started at a young age while volunteering and improving her Spanish in Mexico. After living in Spain for a year and backpacking throughout Europe she knew travel was essential to living a happy life. In between
tours she lives in the San Francisco area where she never tires from eating Dungeness Crab. Find where Eileen is in the world on Instagram at estreet85.