Grits and Glory: The Magic of the Southern Breakfast

 Something amazing happened here.

Something amazing happened here.

I’ll have you know that I didn’t only eat sandwiches and barbecue on the road. Some days I also ate breakfast.                  

Southern breakfasts are magical: shrimp and grits, biscuits and gravy, scrambles with country ham and fried green tomatoes, beignets covered in powdered sugar. I could go on and on. Instead, I offer here a paean to the best breakfast I have ever had: the Country Ham Biscuit at Biscuit Head in Asheville.

I had the country ham biscuit, but I think anything I ordered would have been just as good*. You see, Biscuit Head is not a restaurant. It is a dream factory. Seriously, I saw things in Biscuit Head that I have barely even dared to fantasize about, and certainly never hoped to see in real life. Things like a gravy flight. A gravy flight. Like a whisky flight for people who don’t want to live past 50. People who just love too much. People like me.

 Proof.

Proof.

The biggest thing Southern breakfasts have over breakfasts the world over? Southern breakfast chefs are salt monsters. They are animals when it comes to salt, and so am I. I’m the guy salting his French fries at McDonalds. They guy licking his date’s movie theatre popcorn. I can’t eat escargot because the snails foam up and shrivel as soon as they touch my tongue. A few nights ago—no joke—mom and I had a salt tasting; just the two of us at the kitchen table, munching palmfulls of flaky sea salt like trail mix. Southern breakfast chefs really get me.

 This is also real.

This is also real.

The country ham biscuit. So much more than the name implies. First, the biscuit was perfect: crumbly but coherent, buttery, fluffy, nice and crunchy on the outside and about the size of a large grapefruit. The biscuit was spit and crudely packed with fried green tomatoes, cheesey eggs, red eye gravy—gravy made from pork drippings—and of course thick slices of country ham. Wait a minute.

 

Ham rant.

 

I like Spanish ham. I am not a monster; Iberico ham is delicious. But, it is not so delicious that I somehow forgot that all other hams exist. Seriously the world is full to bursting with lovely hams each uniquely tasty. Why limit yourself to one country. I don't mean to be controversial but I don't belive humans are meant to be manHOGamous. Sorry.

Jokes aside my point stands, remember when prosciutto used to be considered great ham? It still is. In fact, Italy has lots of lovely ham, ditto Switzerland, and even Austria. I love French ham: Bayonne, bread, and goat cheese can make me happy to the point of tears. But that’s not even scratching the ham surface, what about the deep cuts? What about the excellent ham from China? Obviously there are the famous super-salty hams from Jinhua in Zhejiang province which are used mostly in China for cooking and soups but I love to eat straight like beef jerky. Or, even better, the many excellent hams from Yunnan often served thicker than the Jinhua hams, and with a stronger porcine funk. A nice slice on a steamed white bun with a crispy wafer and lots of honey might be China’s greatest contribution to global sandwich culture. And finally what about America? American hams, especially those from Virginia and farther south are really damn good. A good country ham will be very salty but clean and richly meaty. I love it and to be honest am much more excited to see a proper Southern country ham on the menu than the ubiquitous iberico.

 Edward Biscuit-hands.

Edward Biscuit-hands.

Anyway, the country ham on my biscuit was delicious, and so salty it tasted like it had been pulled from the sea. The cheddar was sharp to the point of outright hostility. The fried green tomatoes were pickle-tart and slick with oil and there must have been a whole hen’s worth of fluffy scrambled eggs. The gravy was unlike any gravy I had ever seen, nearly a stew, thick with chunks of meat. As soon as they brought it out it started begging for a mug of hot black coffee.

I ate half and promptly passed out in the back of the truck. And, tell you the truth, when I think about that other half biscuit, sitting alone in a pool of gravy I am filled with such deep regret and longing.

Country Ham Biscuit I will never forget you.

 

*Other options included the Brisket Biscuit with with brisket, pickled onion, smoked chevre, poached eggs, and bbq hollandaise. Or the Mimosa Fried Chicken Biscuit with mimosa fried chicken, sweet potato butter, Sriracha slaw, and a poached egg. Or, The Cajun Benedict: an open faced biscuit topped with creole mustard, local andouille, 2 poached eggs, hollandaise, roasted red peppers and scallions. I can’t even keep typing this. I’m looking for flights.