Is there such a thing as biscuit terroir?
In wine, as in coffee, we can talk about the soil and growing conditions of the grapes or beans and how that affects the end product. But with biscuits, there are so many variables–the butter, the flour, the baking powder and the buttermilk–you can’t explicitly tie the biscuits to a place. For all you know that baking powder came from Newark, New Jersey.
And yet, the best biscuits I’ve ever had all come from the South. Specifically: Atlanta, Georgia, where I went to college and law school and where I just spent a week cooking with chefs for my cookbook.
The biscuits I ate on this most recent trip ran the gambit from inauthentic cakey discs to deeply authentic biscuits worthy of the most discerning Southern scholar.
But let’s start with the inauthentic to get it out of the way:
That there, what you see on the left, is a Flying Biscuit biscuit. For those who remember my last trip to Atlanta (see my Atlanta Lover’s Guide to Atlanta), I have a sentimental attachment to the Flying Biscuit biscuit because it was the biscuit I fell in love with during college.
As time has marched on, though, The Flying Biscuit—which used to be a quirky hippie-dippy cafe with only two locations—has become a chain and many of my Twitter followers warned me to lower my expectations. @runwithtweezers wrote: “I hope you find it to be the way you remember it being. For me (and I live near the one in Candler Park)…not so much.”
Indeed, The Flying Biscuit biscuit has seen better days. This particular biscuit was good enough—Lizzie the Photographer, my fearless companion, enjoyed it as much as I did—but it lacked the pizazz of the original. Whereas the Flying Biscuit biscuit used to feel like it was made in the kitchen by hand, this one felt like it came off the factory line. But with a dollop of apple butter, I couldn’t complain. It still hit the spot.
Biscuit #2 comes to us from Ria’s Bluebird:
Our gracious Atlanta hostess, Nicole Miller (who put us up for five nights!) recommended that we breakfast at Ria’s Bluebird before driving up to Athens on Monday. We liked it so much, we went back for our last breakfast before departing on Saturday.
Here’s a bluebird on their wall:
At that first breakfast, I had their world famous buttermilk pancakes:
These were hefty flying saucer pancakes and what made them truly great were the toasted pecans they sprinkled on top. The New York Times apparently called them “the world’s best pancakes” (it says that in their menu) but I wouldn’t go that far. They were very good, though.
Lizzie had Country Fried Tempeh which she enjoyed so much, she ordered it again at that second breakfast:
Having tasted a bite, I can attest to the wonder of this dish: despite being fried and despite being doused in gravy, it was surprisingly light. And it makes you forget that you’re eating tempeh, whatever in the world tempeh might be.
But we’re talking about biscuits, and at that last farewell breakfast I ordered a plate that came with an omelet (stuffed with roasted tomatoes and ricotta salata), a pan-fried mashed sweet potato cake (how did they do that?), a few strips of bacon and–the reason for this post–a biscuit:
The omelet disappointed me—it felt like they just cooked the eggs first and stuffed them after they came out of the pan—and the fried mashed sweet potato cake was too gloppy and buttery and sweet for early in the morning (no one wants to eat Thanksgiving dinner at 9 AM.)
But that biscuit? Oh that biscuit is a wonder. It’s big and fat and fluffy and, when you spread on some jam, it tastes like heaven. It’s a serious contender for Atlanta’s best biscuit.
And yet, what the biscuit lacked was the word we started with: terroir. It tasted like a wonderful biscuit you might get anywhere. I once made a biscuit like the Ria’s Bluebird biscuit using a recipe for Touch of Grace biscuits. Here’s a post Molly Orangette once did about them.
The best biscuits in Atlanta, then, come from a place that could only exist in the South. It’s a place that you must visit if you want to fully immerse yourself in Southern culture. The place is called The Silver Skillet:
I wrote about The Silver Skillet long ago on my blog (see here).
The place is like a mausoleum for a certain Southern way of life. Our waitress, who was at least in her 70s, had a deep Southern accent and told us to write our orders down on the check ourselves. In the corner booths, women with hair-sprayed heads sat sipping coffee. On the wall by the cash register, there’s a wall of cartoons mocking Obama and Tiger Woods. There are also several cartoons with mammogram humor, including one of a guy with a cardboard box around his neck that says “Free Mammograms” and two slots for a woman to place her breasts in his face.
There’s nothing politically correct about The Silver Skillet. The eggs are greasy and the grits are lumpy:
(Though the lumpy grits are good, don’t get me wrong.)
But the biscuits. Oh the biscuits. Here, take a look:
These are the real deal, what I consider to be the best biscuits in Atlanta.
What makes them so great? They’ve got the fluff, they’ve got the lift. They ooze with fat (long ago I tried to get the recipe from someone there on the phone, and they only told me this much: they brush the biscuits with margarine). Most importantly, though, they’ve got the terroir: this is a biscuit you could ONLY get in the South.
I’m sure many out there will disagree (and obviously I didn’t taste all the biscuits in Atlanta) but when I go back for my next trip, The Silver Skillet is where I’m headed for biscuits.
If I detour to The Flying Biscuit first, though, please don’t judge me: it’s hard to let go of a former favorite biscuit. Oh Flying Biscuit biscuit, we’ll always have apple butter.
Other Biscuit Related Posts: