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Haleth's avatar

Fiction question: example of a dirt-cheap Southern food?

Asked by Haleth (19513points) May 18th, 2011

The character is practically broke. She gets off a greyhound bus, she’s starving, and she goes for a cheap meal at the first place she finds. I know that in real life, it would probably be a McDonalds or something, but I want to make every detail count and give it a strong sense of place. Thoughts?

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39 Answers

Blueroses's avatar

Maybe a Church’s Chicken or a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits?

Coloma's avatar

Black eyed peas
Hush puppies
Grits and gravy
Corn pones

I am sure if your character stopped in an obscure little diner she could get a plate of grits-n-gravy or a bowl of Jambalya for a few bucks.

JLeslie's avatar

What part of the south? Jambalya is pretty specific to LA, maybe parts of MS. Grits is a good suggestion all over the south. Church’s and Popeye’s are good for chain fast food. Also, Waffle House is everywhere in the south, you can get grits there, maybe scrambled eggs and grits?

TexasDude's avatar

Gumbo, po-boy sammiches, fried chiggums.

Yeah, I’m actually part Creole.

WestRiverrat's avatar

Biscuitville in NC and Virginia has some cheap eats. And you could probably find a mom and pop chicken or BBQ shack just about anywhere you went.

JLeslie's avatar

@WestRiverrat I never ate at a Biscuitville, I did not realize it is a large chain. There was one near where I used to get my hair cut in Raleigh, only one I ever remember seeing.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@JLeslie I wouldn’t say it is a large chain, it is mostly a regional family oriented chain.

Coloma's avatar

” Bisquitville” lol

gondwanalon's avatar

Chitterlings (pig intestines)
Pigs feet

JLeslie's avatar

Maybe White Castle? I still think Waffle house, especially if you want counter or table service, if that fits into the story better.

Haleth's avatar

@Blueroses I used to live in Richmond and hearing about Church’s Chicken again makes me feel so nostalgic.

@Coloma Something like hominy or grits and gravy is probably exactly what I’m going for. For some reason cheap food is usually starchy, right? I heard that breakfast cereal came out of the Great Depression, as a way to get people to switch to cheaper, starchy food.

@JLeslie Great question. I’m trying to decide between Savannah, GA, or Atlanta, GA. Or maybe I’ll just make up a fake city name and it will just be an expy of one of those places.
Dear god, Waffle House. Don’t even. Aren’t there chocolate chip waffles for like, $3.99? I love the hell out of that place. Oddly enough, there’s a waffle house that’s falling apart or a waffle house ripoff kind of near where I live. It’s called “Wafle House,” with one F.

@gondwanalon Now you’re just making me hungry. Chitlins smell kind of funny when they’re cooking, though. There’s this Afghani place in my area that makes great curry out of pigs feet. They’re so tender and fatty that the meat just falls off the bone. Hot damn.

JLeslie's avatar

@Haleth Breakfast cereals, as we know them, started because the Kelloggs brothers had a sanitarium, kind of politely portrayed as a place for people to convalesce, and they were Seventh Day Adventists. Anyway, they believed the grains were a healthier way to live and served cereals to the patients. CW Post, who was a patient, thought it a great idea to mass market the stuff, so he did. And there is the story of the beginning of the rivalry between Post and Kellogg’s. :)

JLeslie's avatar


Maybe it matters what year this is taking place. The likelihood of little local joints near a bus station. Today the chains have kind of taken over in many areas near bus terminals in larger cities.

Coloma's avatar

Mac-n-cheese in a sleazy hotel room, cooked on a coffee pot burner. lol

Haleth's avatar

@JLeslie Present day. That’s a good point, but it’s not 100% true just yet. I’m going back to Richmond because I know it best, but when you get off at the Greyhound station there you see:

-a baseball stadium with a gigantic, racially insensitive, Native American man clawing his way out of the side. His skin is, like, firetruck red.
-train tracks
-a local pit barbecue place (Buzz and Ned’s, home of the best ribs ever)
-a weird medical supply store full of crutches and braces and stuff; it’s never open and nobody ever goes in or out
-a storefront for the Chinatown bus
-Church’s chicken
-a tattoo parlor

I forgot my original point. I should probably just set this in Richmond.

WestRiverrat's avatar

@Haleth If it is fiction, you can always add a restaurant to the area. Make it a new one that is having a grand opening, and there can be deals on some of the food items.

Blueroses's avatar

You can add anything you want to a fictional place but be careful taking creative license with a real town. I once started reading a mystery novel set near where I lived in Montana and so many little details were just wrong (like 7–11 stores don’t exist there) that I gave it up in disgust without finding out if the story was any good.

Coloma's avatar

Okay…lets find a restaurant name…I dunno, Bisquitville is a hard one to top

How ‘bout

Jumbo Gumbo….lol

Haleth's avatar

@Blueroses That’s why I’m thinking of making up a fake town, because I can take plenty of liberties and do whatever the hell I want with it.

I heard that Stephanie Meyer did that with Forks, WA. She’d never been there when she wrote the first one, so she just made up whatever she wanted and it was completely inaccurate.

I live in DC now and George Pelecanos is pretty much the only author who gets the feel of it right. If I see one more political thriller set on Capitol Hill where the rich guy lives in Georgetown I’m going to puke.

@Coloma Bisquiteville is pretty epic. I would definitely eat there and recommend it to friends and family. There’s a strong chance that restaurant name will make it into the story.

When I was in Florida this winter, the boyfriend and I ended up in Bubba Gump’s Shrimp Co, for real. And it was amazing.

Coloma's avatar

Bubba Gumps…that is from Forrest Gump I am assuming…classic!

Haleth's avatar

@Coloma Oh yeah. And they have all kinds of shrimp, any way you want them.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

It depends on where in the south she gets off that bus. If it’s anywhere near Louisiana, I suggest red beans and rice. Closer to Florida, bisquits and sausage gravy. Down into middle Florida (Such as St. Pete, where I’m guessing you ate at Bubba Gump’s at John’s Pass) smoked mullet, or catfish. Farther south and she could eat well on blacki beans and rice with chopped raw onion and grated cheese over the top. It really depends on where in the south this woman gets off the bus, and what decade.

Haleth's avatar

@Espiritus_Corvus Thanks for your input! I’m thinking somewhere in the mid-Atlantic, because I’m most familiar with Virginia through Georgia. The Bubba Gump’s I went to was actually in Ft. Lauderdale. My favorite place in FL was the Keys, because it had such a laid-back, run-down feel to it and it was humid and rainy the whole time. Plus, it was full of old people getting hammered.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’m not too familiar with mid-Atlantic foods, but I do know the Carolina’s have a very unique BB-Q that they are very proud of. If the character is REALLY watching her pennies, then I suggest she buys at street cart vendor. Or if it is a rural setting, a roadside stand, which would probably be found near a rural bus stop. That’s what a savvy traveler who knew the turf would do. In Florida, that would be smoked mullet wrapped in newspaper for about fifty cents to a buck and she would have enough for a second meal later Mullet run in the intra-coastal water way between the out-islands and the mainland. South of Chessapeake, there is know shortage of intra-coastal. I’m assuming that they have big runs of mullet just like we do. Mullet is cheap and plentiful, and if you don’t mind an oily fish, it’s very good smoked.

If your character must go into a cafe or restaurant, there would be the “blue plate” special which is usually a fish or meat stew on rice or a risoto, both made up of whatever was left over in the kitchen from the previous meal. Then there’s the po’ boy sandwich vendor.

Old people getting hammered… Gawd, I know, I know. That’s why I stay offshore or on the smaller islands as much as possible.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Oh yeah, while travelling through north Georgia, I bought a bag of fried chicken gizzards. I thought it sounded hilarious, so I pulled over and tried some. They were actually very good, the cook spiced the batter nicely and it came with a little hot sauce. Deadly, but good. She could live three days on the pound I bought for $3.00.

flutherother's avatar

I have been in that situation in Alabama and dined on alligator po boy. Intensely salty but I finished it. It was in a black neighbourhood of town so it may be an ethnic dish.

I also had ‘hush puppies’ in a restaurant near Lucedale in Mississippi. These are maize balls fried in bread crumbs. I didn’t like them. We ate them with fried catfish.

BarnacleBill's avatar

Bus stop/diner fare:
American cheese sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, bologna sandwich on white bread with mayonnaise, $1 hot dog. Glass of sweet tea.

Kayak8's avatar

Another way to get around the issue of specific location would be for your character to step into a hotel to grab a bite to eat. This could range from cheap (anyplace that offers free breakfast in the morning) where they will have foods you would find anywhere in the country with any specific southern flair you wish to add. If it is a bit more upscale, I have found that most hotels in the south offer any variety of their own spin on southern cuisine. You character could order from the appetizer or starter menu to keep the price down and you could make up your own food. I once got a breakfast napoleon in Charleston, SC which included a layer of fried green tomatoes, shrimp, a poached egg, and some kind of sauce—it was delicious!

Tropical_Willie's avatar

Sausage biscuit wrapped in white waxed paper.

BarnacleBill's avatar

@Haleth, Bubba Gump’s is great! I ate at the one in Charleston.

If she’s broke, and getting off a bus in Monkey’s Eyebrow, KY or Petaluma, AL she is not going to check into hotel and get shrimp and grits. Shrimp and grits will set you back $12 -$15 on the cheap. The bus will most likely stop in the town center, with the courthouse, and there will be a diner off the town square. Otherwise, if the town is really small, the bus will stop at the diner/general store type of place. Lunch counter in the back, short order grill food.

Barbara Lee’s Kitchen breakfast menu

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

It might be helpful to look at some menus to get some additional ideas for offerings and prices. Here is a link to the Dixie Cafe’s menu near where @JLeslie and I live in Memphis. It might provide some additional ideas. Biscuitville’s menu looks even better…they offer country ham, which being a Virginia gal, is a common treat. Plus, the prices are cheap.

One of my favorites in Va. is the Texas Tavern in Roanoke. Their motto is, “We seat 1000 people…10 at a time”, as it isn’t much more than counter-top seating. It’s a shame that they don’t post photos on the their site…it’s a classic.

The Virginia Diner might be a good model for a bus stop in the middle of a small town.

JLeslie's avatar

Well, in NC they are known for their East Carolina BBQ, which is pulled pork with a vinegar sauce, rather than a thick red sauce. So amazingly good.

At least Richmond would be easy for you to visit if you wanted to do a field trip. Even if you place the main character in a small town outside of Richmond and make some things up, if he visits Richmond you can use some real locations in the city. I don’t think of Richmond as deep south, but for sure a little outside the city pretty damn southern. Basically for me Richmond means Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion. Lol. Oh, and that it is the capital I guess. If you want to put a little historical type info you can first refer to his arrival into the state as a Commonwealth. Most people don’t realize 4 states still use Commonwealth.

I know what you mean about Georgetown. They never use Potomac or Mclean, makes no sense.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Another thought…there are places in the South that offer ‘family style’ dining. I worked at a Va. Christian conference center that did this. There was the occasional person that wandered in off the street and wanted to buy a meal. They paid a couple of dollars and got a hot meal, as much as they wanted, as the dishes of food were passed around. Here is an example of a family style restaurant in Savannah, Ga.

Coloma's avatar

I just woke up over here and am not doing well with the chicken gizzards and alligator meat. Gah! Carry on, I need coffee.

Seelix's avatar

@JLeslie – Your comment about Kellogg made me think of a novel I read recently: The Road to Wellville. Good yarn.

buster's avatar

Here in Tennessee you go into local diners called a meat and three. The one I’m about to eat at is in Leoma TN. It’s called the Kountry Kitchen. They have the daily menu wrote on a chalkboard. The waitress always says Hi sugar, sweetie, or honey and you always ask for sweet tea with lemon that comes served in a mason jar. The choices for today are fried pork chops and gravy, meatloaf, or fried chicken. The sides today are sliced maters, turnip greens, creamed corn, mashed taters, white beans, and pinto beans. And of course you get a choice of cornbread or buttermilk biscuits. I’m having the fried chicken, turnip greens, white beans, and sliced maters. I also ask for a slice of white onion and a bottle of pepper vinegar sauce that I put on my greens. The
meat and two is 5.99. The meat and three is 6.99. The sign going out the door saysLr, “Y’all Come Back, Ya Here!”

Haleth's avatar

@BarnacleBill That might actually be perfect…

@buster A Meat and Three sounds great!

Thanks everyone for your suggestions.

Coloma's avatar

Dang nab it, ya’all are givin’ me a serious hankerin’ for some greasy, deep fried, something or other.

Fried Green tomatos!

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