GB2C: The food and fat of the South

One of the foci of our trip across the country is to find some of the best food in the country; Three days in, we have not been disappointed. Between some incredible meals, we've also partaken in the Waffle House (great cheap waffles) and Cracker Barrel (with surprisingly tasty pancakes). And in every restaurant we've visited, we've been shocked to see the obesity south of the Mason-Dixon line. Shocked. I have seen someone clearly over 350 pounds in every restaurant we've been to, and most of the time there have been two or three. While I'm sure there's a lack of exercise going on, the piles -- yes, piles -- of butter with which I've seen people smother their grits has to be hurting. You hear about the obesity of the South, but to see it, to see a 30-year-old girl who needs a walker to get around, is heartbreaking. Every time I've seen this obesity, I've been overwhelmed by the desire to help these people. I have to believe the education on diet is simply not there.

Beyond the chain restaurants is some amazing food. Some of it's pricey and some of it's just wonderful cheap food.

Last night in Durham, N.C., we visited Magnolia Grill, which is consistently ranked in the top 15 restaurants in America by gourmet magazine, and which has been recognized by the James Beard Foundation. It didn't disappoint. The sweet potato bisque with crab was spicy and aromatic; The quail on risotto was rich and fell off the bone; The rock shrimp was cooked perfectly; And the cinnamon ice cream on the sweet potato-pecan pie had a hint of orange that was heavenly. It's tough for a food layman like myself to sit back and say one great restaurant is better than another, but this one is certainly in contention.

On the complete opposite end of the spectrum from "Venison Bresaola with Persimmons & Chestnuts" is one of the best hamburgers I've ever had. Litton's Market and Restaurant is a not-so-little dive in Knoxville, Tenn., we found in the book Road Food. While they like to cook their burgers well-done, I got mine medium and it was cooked perfectly. The meat melted in my mouth, the bun was the perfect compliment. And after the great burger we sampled the key-lime pie and the Italian vanilla cake. The cake was (other than my mom's) the best cake I have ever had; And it had cream cheese frosting (they only make cream cheese frosting for their cakes at Litton's) that rivals my mom's.

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