FEBRUARY 2016 – Life is a peach

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Georgia’s nickname is the peach state. It smacks of dessert. The problem is that by the time dessert comes round, you may not have room for peaches. If, as is oft said in the trade, food is the glue that holds international tourism together Georgia has got the culinary concept by the belly. The region’s come-and-eat story has sizzled and fried. Today you are more likely to find southern fried calamari than chicken, but when they serve chicken they do it with a drawl: “if the colonel served chicken this good he would be a general” went one post.

Georgia has big time celebrity chefs in the cities, the trendy flatbreads, peel and eat shrimps and black ruffle fries, the foods of the rich and the poor alike of the country being lovingly recreated for a food-fascinated new age, and the old staples that will never go away. Tripadvisor reviewers picked Georgia as the best state for barbecue, because Tripadvisor
reviewers would know. We sampled one of the most iconic food south f the line: treats the state has to offer on a recent visit. Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room and its succotash amid the laden tables. There are no bookings, so people queue for their time at the table. It costs $20 for an all you can eat session, they serve just 250 a day and stop serving 2pm. “You need to wear stretchy pants,” Marsha Thompson says.

Savannah’s cuisine is not all based on size, tour guide Philip Sellers walked us through the storied streets and squares are dotted with curated small shops set up by entrepreneurs and little eateries, like Hoppinjohns, the creation of cookery writer and chef John Martin Taylor,
which apparently put stone ground grits on the map. In Savannah you think you are in a movie set, as the black horse drawn carriages with red mortarboard tops pull by, clipping and clopping like a southern melody, the passengers refusing to view anything except through an oblong screen. At John and Ginger Duncan’s V&J Antiques we caught up on the best
known: the novel Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and its movie version. The book is all humidity, Spanish Moss and atmosphere, and so is the Duncan homestead, laid out like it belonged to an age that has never passed. There is another city, Charleston, that claims to be the custodian of America’s glory days but John Duncan had an answer to that: “Charleston is older and finer Savannah is prettier they had 200 years of slavery we had
100.” In one of the squares a statue commemorates William Jasper, the Irishman who saved Savannah in the fight against the British in 1779. A beautiful place to die.

There is a line in Anne Tyler’s novel (and subsequent movie) The Accidental Tourist that in the southeast they say that if you want to go to heaven you have to change planes in Atlanta. It was a bit like that for many Irish people. We fly the Delta service to Atlanta has been around 20 years, and having changed terminal and aircraft, continue to somewhere around. What is this mysterious Georgia that we spend two hours and fourteen minutes in without ever trying to find out more. Atlanta has decided it has enough of transit passengers. It wants more Irish to stop by. What to see? First advantage: the business of getting around has become so much easier. The Atlanta streetcar has been in action for about a year now doing a 2.7 mile loop that opened on New Year’s Eve and was declared free for the first year. After that it will cost one dollar travel. The MARTA from the a irport to join this looped line is $9 a journey which, considering the usual cost of transportat ion in the USA, is a giveaway.

The signature attractions of Atlanta are the CNN studio tour, the world of Coca-Cola and the huge Georgia aquarium, which is among the biggest inland of its kind in the world. We were looking beyond that, and where better to start then the walking tour of the Martin Luther King Jr historic district.The landscape of the great man’s childhood. We passed through the sweet auburn kerb market and sampled best burritos in Atlanta. And then another surprise, René Garcia brought us on part of the project to transform 35.4km of disused rail sections into parks, green space and bicycle greenways through overgrowth and fringelands. Atlanta’s BeltLine trails attract 1.2m million visitors a year. Appropriately the inventor of the concept was a gentleman called Ryan Gravel.

So many diamond back turtles were being run over on the causeway to Jeckyll Island that they turned part of this complex into a turtle sanctuary. Here children come and navigate their way past the plastic circular tubs and their incumbents, infected, wounded or damaged turtles, like passing through a sick day on the way to the playground, starting with a room full of untidy display cases, storyboards and not-very-fun “fun facts” and exiting, as tourists are used to doing nowadays, through the gift shop with its overpriced tee shirts. Jekyll Island has a feel of faded grandeur about it. The grandeur, has been given a dusting down and a lick of paint. We watched that sunset from the vantage point of a pier side restaurant with the exquisiteries of local seafood being delivered to the plates below our noses. The sunset smells of dinner. The wild Georgia shrimp and grits festival takes place in Jekyll island in the third week in September, but you don’t have to wait until then. We were driven through the island by our hostess in a convertible with Knee Deep by Zach Brown band (appropriately, from Georgia) with Jimmy Buffett. The music and the landscape converged, like there was no margins. Later on skeleton beach we walked through the sand with the broken branches all around.

The following morning as the daylight ramped up it was silent where the troubadour had been singing Roberta Flack a nd the party glasses tinkling only a few hours before. A lone bird stood on the top of the mast of a dolphin watching craft, one of 11 moored on the pier. The water looked invitingly muddy-marsh dark and salty and beckoning to the swimmer, while the fish jumped in plops pursuing their lifestyle secure in the knowledge that nobody was going to chase them from their habitat. At Fort Frederica there is a church with honey bees in the steeple that was built with hard pine that does not exist any more. The forest was lumbered out of existence. They grow peaches there now, no doubt.

ATLANTA LANDINGS

  • Centre for Civil and Human Rights (100 Ivan Allen Jr Blvd NW) uses theatrical and high-tech exhibits to recreate motion, sights and sounds to immerse visitors in the American civil rights movement. Try to sit through the abuse and intimidation that was used on blacks in white only restaurants.
  • World of Coca-Cola (121 Baker St NW) visual and interactive museum dedicated to Atlanta’s native soft drink with multi-sensory theater, an 1880s soda fountain and an opportunity to sample the corporation’s 70 beverages from around the globe. n Georgia Aquarium (225 Baker St NW) North America’s largest aquarium features aquatic animals from around the globe in 10m gallons of water. n Inside CNN Studio Tour (190 Marietta St)
  • Behind the scenes of the Global Headquarters of CNN. JCT. Kitchen & Bar 1198 Howell Mill Road Atlanta warm and friendly restaurant on the Westside serving up sophisticated, Southern fare,
  • Atlanta Streetcar a 4.3km loop con- necting downtown’s convention and tourism district to the historic Sweet Auburn district on the Eastside.
  • Birth home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr and International Civil Rights Walk of Fame in the Sweet Auburn neighbourhood.
  • Krog Street Market, 99 Krog St, renovated 1920s warehouse and the former Home of Tyler Perry Studios
  • Ponce City Market, 675 Ponce De Leon Ave, housed in the fully renovated 1925 Sears, Roebuck & Company building, the largest brick building in the Southeast, to feature a central food hall, leading retail brands, and living and working spaces.
  • Porter Beer Bar (1156 Euclid Ave NE) cosy restaurant with its handcrafted wooden booths and exposed brick wall, 44 beers on draft or one of the 700 bottled beers.

ISLAND DRESSING

  • ECHO Restaurant, King & Prince Beach & Golf Resort, iconic St Suons Island resort with its own beaches, 201 Arnold Road, St Simons Island, 912638-3631.
  • St Simons Island highlights include Christ Church, Fort Frederica National Monument, remnants of fort and town built by James Oglethorpe between 1736 and 1748, and St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum
  • Jekyll Island Georgia Sea Turtle Museum and National Historic Landmark District millionaire cottages, site of the first transcontinental telephone call, and first condominium
  • Driftwood Beach, Jekyll Island, one of the most photographed tree graveyards located at the north end of Jekyll Island.

SAVANNAH SCENE

  • Mrs. Wilkes Dining Room, 107 West Jones St., Savannah 912-2325997, No bookings for this iconic eatery, queue and hope to get into a living room environment with tables heaving with classic southern produce.
  • Savannah Old City Walks, Phil Sellers, provides walking tour of historic district, access to period houses not usually available to tourists.
  • Leopold’s Ice Cream Parlour, 212 E Broughton Street Savannah, try the classic 1950s tutti frutti,
  • Bonaventure Cemetery Savannah’s most famous, former location of the famous bird girl statue, used on the cover of the Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, it is now in the Telfair Museum of Art.
  • Wormsloe State Historic Site, with its Avenue of 400 Live Oaks leading to the tabby ruins of Noble Jones’ colonial estate – the oldest standing structure in Savannah.
  • Tanger Outlet Mall, newly opened north of Savannah in April 2015, with 80 outlet stores n Bubba’s Bistro, Ways Station Shopping Center, Richmond Hill, fine food in the historic Richmond Hill district 912-756-3663.
  • Hofwyl-Broadfield Plantation Historic Site, 5556 U.S. Highway 17 North, Brunswick, GA. 912-264-7333. Representing the pre-Civil War history and culture of Georgia’s rice coast.
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