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Southern Comfort

little miss bbq

A transplanted Southerner satisfies her hankering for the tastes of home

By Suzanne Wright

I’m an adopted daughter of both the South and Southwest. After living more than 35 years in the Deep South (North Florida and Atlanta), I moved to the Sonoran Desert.

I swapped Spanish moss for saguaros. I traded fried okra for roasted chiles. I subbed gospel brunches for cowboy church. I replaced sweet tea with prickly pear tea. I exchanged a front porch for a shaded ramada. I said goodbye to sweet-potato pie and hola to frito pie. I stopped saying “y’all” and started learning Spanglish.

There are similarities between the South and Southwest: Both regions are defined by an unrushed pace, a welcoming hospitality and an independent streak. But, on my scorecard, the Southwest gets the edge for its spectacular sunsets, tequila flights, regular wildlife sightings and a lack of humidity that suits my curly hair. And while it’s Southern sacrilege, I never followed SEC football, so I don’t mourn the gridiron showdowns of autumn.  

And while I’m happy as the proverbial pig in slop here in Arizona (that’s a colorful Southernism for the uninitiated), there are things I still hanker for. Like being invited to a low-country boil. Kudzu. Fireflies. Being called “hun” or “sugar” by the waitress at the Waffle House.

But a gal’s got to adapt and self-soothe. It turns out there are some respectable places in Phoenix to consume bourbon and tuck into barbecue that (almost) transport me to Dixie. These are a few of my favorites:

Ollie Vaughn’s Kitchen & Bakery
The farther west you go, the healthier the food seems to get. But the best Southern biscuits are made with lard—cholesterol be damned. Ollie Vaughn’s Okie owner makes a darn fine biscuit with country pork sausage gravy. Sleepyheads take note: Ollie Vaughn’s serves breakfast all day. And, if you possess a sweet tooth and a sense of adventure, try the irresistible treat called “crack pie.”

Bar Crudo
Midtown’s Bar Crudo has an impressive bourbon collection with some lesser-known gems like Smooth Ambler Old Scout Bourbon, which washes down crispy pig ears with ease. Pork belly and pork jowl also feature in fancy appetizers and pasta, which is worth a spirited hog call or at least cause for an oink of joy.

Little Miss BBQ
Yelpers have given newcomer Little Miss BBQ five stars for many tasty reasons: flavorful pulled pork properly piled on squishy white bread, silky jalapeno cheddar grits (an inspired melding of South and Southwest) and toothsome pecan pie. But the main reason folks line up outside this instant sensation in Tempe is for slices of oak- and pecan-smoked brisket that any serious Texas pit master would be proud to call his own.

Texas BBQ House
Speaking of Texans, Lone Star transplants roundly praise Texas BBQ House, whose website opens with George Strait’s crooning and whose menu lists brisket (moist and lean), pork ribs, beef ribs and pulled pork by the pound. It augments its smoked meats with Texas sweet tea, pinto beans (a Southwest preference), pecan pie and banana pudding.

Lo-Lo’s Chicken & Waffles
Some Southerners will tell you that chicken-and-waffles isn’t a Southern dish. In response, I would point to two things: fried chicken and waffles. Come on. Demand is such for Lo-Lo’s soul-food fare that it has expanded from its South Central Avenue roots to four Valley locations. In addition to its eponymous pairing, Lo-Lo’s serves up Southern staples like super-sweet sweet tea and delicious banana puddin’.

Tuck Shop
Tuck Shop’s “neighborhood comfort food” includes a smattering of Southern dishes like red beans and rice with smoked Andouille sausage and oyster po’boy “popovers.” Sister restaurant Vovomeena offers “Mornin’ Moonshine”—infused, cold-brewed coffees to fuel your day … which is admittedly more New South than Old South, but hey, we all love caffeine.

Southsiders support Ezekiel’s in Ahwatukee, where the standouts are fried catfish, fried chicken, collards and cornbread. For dessert: red velvet cake or sweet-potato pie.

Town Talk II
Transported Louisianans can find comfort at Town Talk II, which has carved out a Creole menu with fried pickles, jambalaya, black-eyed pea salad and cobbler.

Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café
In the shadow of Chase Field downtown, Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Café has ladled up traditional Southern home-cooked meals for half a century. My lobbyist pal recommends the chicken fried steak, mac n’ cheese and smothered pork chops as something “both sides of the aisle can agree on.” I can testify: I’ve picked the bones clean on the fried chicken.

About the author: Suzanne Wright

Suzanne Wright first stepped into the Sonoran Desert some 30 years ago and was immediately smitten. She has written for national publications such as National Geographic Traveler, USA Today and American Way, but she’s happiest exploring and writing about Arizona for regional outlets like AAA Arizona Highroads, Arizona Highways and the Official Travel Guide to Greater Phoenix.