A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Morgan Murphy, author of Off the Eaten Path, and talking to him about his newest book, Off the Eaten Path: Second Helpings.
This book is full of recipes from restaurants of every kind, all scattered across the South. From pies to salads and smoothies to comfort foods, this book has got it all!
I was fortunate enough to visit Mr. Murphy at his home and talk to him about these incredible recipes and the process of creating the book.
If you know anything about the South, you know that we love our Southern food. I don't know the exact number of restaurants that exist in the South, but considering all of the possibilities, I wondered how in the world Morgan Murphy decided on which restaurants to visit.
He laughed and said, "Mostly word of mouth, but I do keep a running list on my phone." He showed me this list and it took a good, long moment to scroll through all of them. He said that airline stewardesses and antique dealers always know of popular restaurants and local eateries as well.
"Once I figure out which restaurants to visit, I go to each one in person. To figure out which restaurants make it into the book, I go by food, service, and ambiance." Because most of the restaurants have been run by multiple generations of one family, Murphy says the food is really like "history on a plate." He made a good point. "We don't give up food," he said. When you look back through the years, through history, food is always there.
When I asked what it was like travelling to all the restaurants and how long it took, he said, "All summer. It's around 10,000 miles and I bring two interns with me. Usually they're from the U.K. They typically say our food is spicy, but they love biscuits and cornbread." He said that it's always interesting to see how people from outside our country react to our food.
I wondered if any of the owners of the restaurants he visited were reluctant to give away their secret or prized recipes. Murphy said, "At first, but once they saw how well the first book did, it was no problem getting people to share their recipes." He also said that he would ask for little trinkets or menus from the restaurants and use them in the photos for the cookbook. That way, when they photographed the recipes, he could add little pieces of the restaurants and recreate the atmosphere as well.
I knew it would probably be a difficult question to answer, but next I asked him what his favorite recipe is from Second Helpings. He took a moment and finally said, "The Banana Pudding from Niki's West." I was excited that that was his answer because my family and grandparents have been going to Niki's West for as long as I can remember. They serve the epitome of Southern comfort food. It's one of those places that always makes me want to order fried chicken, mac and cheese, and...banana pudding.
Because our office is in Alabama, and Morgan Murphy is also a resident of Alabama, I asked him if he had any favorite Alabama restaurants that are featured in the book. "Definitely Niki's West, Queen G's down in Mobile, and PieLab in Greensboro," he said. As someone who says his favorite food groups are bourbon, bacon, salt, and pie, his choices didn't surprise me!
While I asked him these questions and admired his kitchen, Morgan made us the Buttermilk Cornbread Muffins from Weaver D's, which is in Off the Eaten Path: Second Helpings. He told me all about Weaver D's, which is a small, bright green building in Athens, Georgia. Murphy said owner Dexter Weaver made these cornbread muffins by just throwing the ingredients in a bowl and stirring them together. He didn't even need a recipe! These muffins were just as good, if not better, than I thought they would be. It's pretty hard to mess up cornbread, right? They had a very slight hint of sweetness, but were extremely moist and buttery. Luckily, I got to take them home with me!
If you enjoy Southern food as much as we do, and as much as Morgan Murphy does, his book Off the Eaten Path: Second Helpings is available in stores and on Amazon!