Editor's note: The Southern Foodways Alliance delves deep in the history, tradition, heroes and plain old deliciousness of Southern food.
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Editor's note: This piece was originally published in the Southern Foodways Alliance's Gravy Foodletter #42. Today's installment comes courtesy of Kat Kinsman, managing editor of CNN Eatocracy.
Several stories above Manhattan's Central Park, there hangs a three-Michelin-starred, monstrously expensive restaurant that an awful lot of people think is perfect. I may have thought that, too, at one point, but I know it's not, because I've been to the K&W Cafeteria.
Actually, I'm going to back that up and admit out loud in public that I have in fact boarded a plane, rented a hotel room, and stayed overnight in a city several states away for the express purpose of sitting down with a groaning tray of K&W chicken livers, fried okra, collard greens, and vegetable congeal and eating my greedy head off.
Yes, I made some preemptory noises about going to visit a couple of old friends who live in relative proximity to a K&W. I brought them along with me so I could steal hush puppies off their plates. And their child's. I have no shame. And the trip cost just slightly less than my single meal at the aforementioned palace of gastronomic fanciness.
There clearly are many, many things wrong with me as a human being, but if you've ever eaten at a K&W, you know my love of the place is not one of them.
That wasn't always the case. Though a Sunday apres-church K&W dining room is now typically a multi-racial, transgenerational, pan-denominational assembly of Southerners possessed of a great appreciation for fancy church hats and rock-bottom prices, in the early 1960s, several outposts found themselves at the center of the battle over segregation.
When Leah Chase is about to speak, the whole room goes quiet.
Democratic strategist James Carville noted this from his perch at the faraway end of the dining room table at Eatocracy's Secret Supper last Thursday. Ms. Chase, seated at the center, stirred in her seat and Carville, along with the other 14 guests, stopped talking and craned in. When the 88 year old "Queen of Creole Cuisine" has words to share, they tend to be worth hearing.