A not-so-Southerner’s quest for food that comforts
I moved to Boston in January with a few things in mind: winter was going to be cold, Red Sox fans would be everywhere, and I would probably be the only person in the city referring to groups of people as “y’all.”
My first semester as a Boston University gastronomy student began that same month and like any vigilant foodie, I made it my goal to eat my way through Beantown and the surrounding communities. This began to eat away at my small graduate student budget rather quickly, but it’s given me some truly memorable and at times unexpected culinary experiences.
My partner in crime (and more importantly, in eating) is my Bostonian boyfriend. It was his mother who suggested a trip to Fat Biscuit, a southern spot in Lynnfield that’s serving up biscuits and cheese grits to the ’burbs. My boyfriend’s mother said that’s where she’d eaten the “best chicken and waffles she’d ever had” and that we simply had to make the trip. While I was skeptical of her ability to judge the quality of chicken and waffles as a Massachusetts native, I’d grown to trust her judgment on pretty much everything else and I was extremely curious to sample some Southern fare north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Despite the glowing recommendation, I set my expectations low for this particular dining experience. I’m not a super-southern Southerner who was raised on fried chicken or barbecue or any of the other stereotypical Southern dishes. I consider myself “Southern lite.” My South is the vibrant metropolis of Atlanta, where I was raised by northeastern parents who cooked thoughtful and seasonal meals as much as possible, without any real regional influence. That said, I know my way around a Southern menu, and I like my iced tea with plenty of added sugar.
My boyfriend and I made the trip to Fat Biscuit one sunny Saturday morning, hungry and in search of a tasty brunch.
I tried to suspend judgment as the hostess led us to our booth. I was pleased to see a few of the South’s biggest hits on the menu: the ubiquitous Southern fried chicken and waffle, biscuits with sausage gravy, griddle cakes, and their tribute to a Southern King, the peanut-butter-banana-filled Deep-Fried Elvis sandwich. As a vegetarian my options were limited as usual, but I settled on the Skinny Veggie — an egg white, spinach, tomato, and avocado omelet served on a signature biscuit — and cheddar grits as my side.
With our orders placed, we waited anxiously for our food. What had we gotten ourselves into? It wasn’t long before our server returned with a smile on her face and our food in her hands. She placed my boyfriend’s fried chicken and waffles before him and his eyes lit up. (His mouth might’ve watered a little, too.) My plate looked pretty standard, no frills, with one exception — the tomatoes were green! Not fried and green, just green. I can say with total confidence that I have never had a green tomato that wasn’t fried, and I’m still unsure of my feelings toward it. The green varietal lacked the sweet essence of the juicy red tomato I’d been expecting, and it certainly didn’t enhance the “Southern-ness” of my dish.
Green tomatoes aside, I forged onward toward cheesier horizons. Fat Biscuit’s cheese grits tasted like everything I’d been missing about home. I let the comfort of buttery, cheesy goodness sink in for a minute; these were the real deal. Fat Biscuit’s namesake was fluffy, golden brown, and reminded me of my favorite Atlanta biscuit. This place was really living up to my Southern standards thus far, despite the green tomato.
At this point I set aside part of my biscuit and continued to devour my omelet sandwich. I asked the server for a bit of jam the next time she passed because I needed something sweet to complete my meal. This was to be the true test.
You can tell a lot about a place by its preserved fruit selection. If you sit down and you see a plastic dish with pre-packaged single-serving orange marmalade containers, you’re probably at a chain restaurant or a mom-and-pop diner. Fat Biscuit serves fruity spreads in unassuming black plastic ramekins, which made it difficult to assess the substance within. My face fell after dipping my knife in for a taste. It was grape jelly! The peach, strawberry, and fig preserves of my childhood were nowhere to be found. A local grape imposter had taken the place of my Southern sweets.
The grape jelly represented New England’s bounty and not my Southern roots. And that was just fine. I was comforted by Fat Biscuit’s nods to Southern culture and flavorful food. As I left the restaurant, I thought of my first few weeks in this foreign state. I’d been sad initially. But now, with the help of Fat Biscuit’s cheese grits, I’m beginning to feel right at home.