Advice to Paula Deen

Friday, December 3, 2010

If you like Southern charm and history next to an ocean, you can't beat Savannah, Ga.

That's where my wife and I spent much of Thanksgiving week. We had never been there, which is always a good enough reason to go anywhere.

With nearly 300 years of history, Savannah's large historic district with 24 public squares woven into its grid of streets offers beauty rarely found in urban areas.

And Savannah's riverfront is both a busy international port as well as a center for hotels, dining, nightclubs, souvenir shops and upscale schlock.

What's not to like about that?

Then there is the plain fact that the current darling of Savannah is Paula Deen. Her beautiful smile is everywhere. One of the most popular tours in a town that features history tours, ghost tours and porpoise tours is the Paula Deen tour.

Paula Deen, just in case you don't know, is a Food Network superstar who happens to live in Savannah.

She also has one of the city's most popular eating establishments and half interest in another.

I like Paula Deen's cooking because it's close to the food I ate when I was growing up. Even though I wasn't from the Deep South, my mother knew the four essential ingredients in any good meal: flour, sugar, butter and lard.

My wife and I planned on eating at Paula Deen's Lady and Sons restaurant while we were in Savannah. But, in the end, we didn't.

Which leads to a bone I have to pick with Paula Deen.

I know. I know. Giving advice to the ultrasuccessful Paula Deen is a little like saying the Bible makes some good points, but .

Paula Deen's restaurant doesn't ordinarily take reservations. Would-be diners go to a sidewalk-based hostess and take a number. You are seated in numerical order. Period.

OK. I can live with that. But while strolling past the restaurant we noticed that the food is served buffet style. We looked at the steam table through a window, and it was obvious some of the food had been there a while.

So Paula Deen is famous for crusty fried chicken. Good grief. Even tap water will get a crust is if sits on a steam table long enough.

We were not willing to go through all the hoops to get a table to eat food that gastronomically rises to the level of a truck stop.

I still think Paula Deen is one of the best cooks to have a TV show. I will continue to watch her pan frying and all-in-good-fun goofiness.

But, Paula, ditch the buffet line.

This isn't likely to happen, of course. Paula Deen has learned the secret to commercial success that Southeast Missourians have known forever: all you can eat.

The AYCE buffet is a staple hereabouts, where eating until you literally can't swallow another bite, all for one price, is close to a national pastime.

Paula Deen, we love your city. We love your TV show. Someday we would like to come back to Savannah and eat one of your specialties cooked just for us, not for the thousands of AYCE scarfers.

Please let us know when you're ready.

Joe Sullivan is the former editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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