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15 Essential Albums for a Southern Road Trip

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A road trip from Nashville to New Orleans is a musical treat of a trip. Its roots and melodies are as long and deep as the roots of the trees along the Natchez Trace. Blues, country, jazz, Americana, African slave songs, and more can trace some of their development—if not their origins—to time on these roadways.

Here are 15 select albums, from historic to contemporary, with connections to these routes for you to listen to on your road trip to better understand this region of America. They’re arranged (loosely) from north to south; you can follow along to this soundtrack with the road trip itineraries in Moon Nashville to New Orleans Road Trip.

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1. Chuck Mead, “Journeyman’s Wager”

Track 1 is called “Out on the Natchez Trail,” and compresses some of the Trace’s history into a rockabilly beat.

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2. Ferlin Husky, “Essential Recordings”

Husky was one of the early adopters of the “Nashville sound,” a combination of swing and country.

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3. Patsy Cline, “Showcase”

Hear more of the quintessential Nashville Sound from Cline’s angelic voice. Start with “I Fall to Pieces.”

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4. Lynyrd Skynyrd, “All Time Greatest Hits”

“Sweet Home Alabama,” Lynyrd Skynyrd’s best-known song, name checks Muscle Shoals and its signature musicians known as Swampers, and explains some of the history of the Yellowhammer state. While the song certainly has a controversial history (and Lynyrd Skynyrd are actually from Florida, not Alabama), there’s no denying it’s a bedrock of the South and Southern music.

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5. “The Fame Studios Story 1961-73”

This two-disc set includes songs from Etta James, Otis Redding, and others who recorded at Muscle Shoals’ Fame Studios.

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6. Bobbie Gentry, “Chickasaw County Child: The Artistry of Bobbie Gentry”

Mississippi native Gentry tells a story of the region in song.

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Elvis Presley, “The Sun Sessions”

A compilation of some of the works the King of rock n’ roll recorded at Sun Studios in Memphis.

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8. Smithsonian Folkways, “Songs of the American Negro Slave”

Slavery is part of this region’s history; this album documents the songs slaves sang and passed down to the next generation.

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9. B.B. King, “Completely Well”

This best seller is a solid representation of the Mississippi Blues King’s work.

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10. Howlin’ Wolf, “The Definitive Collection”

Understand the blues music of this Mississippi native from this album.

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11. Paul Burch, “Meridian Rising”

The Nashville musician created this concept album by imagining a musical autobiography of Jimmie Rodgers.

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12. Muddy Waters, “Folk Singer”

Muddy’s acoustic Mississippi Delta roots are on full display on this album.

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13. Tennessee Ernie Ford, “Civil War Songs of the South” and “Civil War Songs of the North”

The country crooner revisits traditional Civil War songs that were likely sung along the Natchez Trace.

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14. Rebirth Brass Band, “We Come to Party”

Traditional New Orleans jazz is combined with hip hop and funk on this album.

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15. Trombone Shorty, “Say That to This”

Troy Andrews (stage name, Trombone Shorty) is one of the high-energy performers of modern New Orleans jazz.

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Set the perfect mood for a Nashville to New Orleans road trip with these 15 essential albums, from historic to contemporary, with connections to this route. Gain understanding for this unique region of the USA with this mix of blues, country, jazz, Americana, and more.

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8 Places to Eat and Drink in New Orleans

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.” Mark Twain said that, and in my experience eating and drinking my way across the city, he’s spot on. Sure, New Orleans has its must-visits (Café du Monde, Commander’s Palace, Dooky Chase’s, and anything with John Besh’s name on it) but there will forever be another hundred spots in town where any item on the menu will confirm Twain’s assertion. Here are eight favorites where you can sup, sip, sin, and experience the culinary glory of New Orleans.

spread of fried foods at Willie Maes in New Orleans
Willie Mae’s. Photo © Jason Frye.

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

It’s a bold statement, but I’ll make it. Willie Mae’s Scotch House serves the best fried chicken you’ll ever eat. Crispy, succulent — all the adjectives that could possibly be used to describe good fried chicken are applicable to this fried chicken. Throw in red beans and rice, fried okra, and cornbread, and you’ve got a simple meal that will have you making plans to return tomorrow.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

In 1939, Ernest and Mary Hansen started selling shaved ice doused in homemade syrups off their front porch. He invented the ice-shaver, she perfected the syrups, and now, nearly eight decades later, granddaughter Ashley serves up sno-balls using their original machine and original recipes. These icy treats are the only reasonable solution to the sweltering summer heat. Plus, you never know who you’ll see there: maybe Top Chef fan favorite Nina Compton.

Jason Frye and Chef Nina Compton enjoying Sno-Bliz
Jason Frye and Chef Nina Compton enjoying Sno-Bliz. Photo © Jason Frye.

Compère Lapin

Speaking of Nina Compton, her restaurant, Compère Lapin (French for “brother rabbit” and mischievous subject of many a Creole and Caribbean folktale), marries impeccable technique with the flavors of Compton’s native St. Lucia and her adopted New Orleans. Conch croquettes, pig ears with smoky aioli, curried goat, and black drum fly out of the kitchen. The bar also shakes up some crazy good cocktails and punches.

Enjoy the food and the bar at Compére Lapin
Enjoy the food and the bar at Compére Lapin. Photo courtesy of Compére Lapin.

Toups’ Meatery

Chef Isaac Toups (another former Top Chef contestant) leans on his deep Cajun roots — his family’s been in Louisiana for 300 years — and his own culinary inventiveness to create dishes that honor, elevate, and celebrate traditional Cajun cuisine.

Gulf Seafood Couvillion at Toup’s Meatery
Gulf Seafood Couvillion at Toup’s Meatery. Photo © Denny Culbert, courtesy of Toup’s Meatery.

Maypop

Maypop combines New Orleans’ palate with the flavors and techniques of southeast Asia, resulting in dishes that wow with every bite. It’s so good Chef Michael Gulotta was named Food & Wine’s 2016 Best New Chef. Go see for yourself if the crispy skinned fish in grapefruit curry or the fermented pork belly and red beans in XO sauce are worth the hype. (Hint: they are.)

Bacchanal

If wine, food, live jazz, and cocktails sound like a good time, Bacchanal is where it’s at. The menu has a Mediterranean flair, so every dish is light and lovely, and their wine selection matches the menu about as ideally as can be. Throw in a cocktail list that eschews the frozen Bourbon Street standards in favor of flavor-forward drinks and you’ve got a winner.

The Sazerac Bar

The Sazerac Bar is the epitome of yesteryear elegance and the cocktails match the ambience, especially the namesake drink. Believed by many to be the first American cocktail, the Sazerac combines rye, bitters, sugar, and an herbsaint rinse to create a powerful yet sippable cocktail. It’s spicy, tempered by a touch of sweetness, herbaceous, and fiery, just like this town.

The Sazerac Bar
The Sazerac Bar. Photo courtesy of The Roosevelt New Orleans, a Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

Cane & Table

The cocktail menu at Cane & Table is a personalized map made to your satisfy your individual tastes. Are you feeling Refreshing or Heady? Classic or Adventurous? Make a choice, select a drink from the appropriate corner of the menu, and prepare yourself for deliciousness. Creativity and flavor are King and Queen here, and combinations like coconut and scotch, aqua vit and pineapple, and habanero and mezcal delight guest after guest.

Enjoy a freshly prepared cocktail at Cane & Table
Enjoy a freshly prepared cocktail at Cane & Table. Photo © Kevin O’Mara, courtesy of Cane & Table.

New Orleans restaurants Pinterest graphic

Scoring College Basketball Tickets in North Carolina

If you’re visiting the Triangle during college basketball season and are hoping to catch a game in person, don’t count on being able to buy a ticket at the box office. In fact, count on not being able to. The 20,000-seat Dean Dome, UNC’s Dean E. Smith Center, routinely sells out for men’s in-conference games, and PNC Arena, the NC State Wolfpack men’s 20,000-seat home arena, often does as well. Duke plays at the comparatively quaint and tiny Cameron Indoor Stadium, and its 9,000 seats are the hardest of all to obtain.

aerial view of the University of Carolina campus
UNC’s Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill. Photo © Lance King/iStock.

The most prized and scarce treasure of all is a ticket to the Duke-UNC men’s game. Unless a current student at one of the schools really, really likes you, or you’re a major benefactor with a building named in your honor, your chances of paying face value for a ticket are slim to none. When the game is played at Duke, students follow an elaborately codified protocol of camping out next to Cameron in “Krzyzewskiville,” a whimsical tent city named for the legendary Duke coach, for a chance at getting into the game. The university provides K-Ville with its own Wi-Fi; however, no heaters are allowed in the tents, and someone must always occupy a tent to keep its place in line or else the whole tent is disqualified. Some students spend the better part of a semester living at least part-time in K-Ville.

[pullquote align=”right”]On game day, the scalpers are the people hanging around outside the arena, or on nearby street corners, holding signs that say “Need Tickets,” code for “I’ve got tickets.”[/pullquote]During basketball season, tickets appear on eBay, Craigslist, and ticket-scalping search engines. For a minor out-of-conference game, such as those played early in the season—the Wolfpack versus the Flying Menace of Snickelfritz County Community College, let’s say—you should be able to get a reasonably good ticket for $10-20 above face value and without much difficulty. For a sold-out game between ACC teams, prices go up steeply. If you want to go to a UNC-Duke game, seats up in the rafters will be in the hundreds, and a good seat could easily set you back $1,000 or more.

Scalping is illegal in North Carolina; it’s also pretty common. On game day, the scalpers are the people hanging around outside the arena, or on nearby street corners, holding signs that say “Need Tickets,” code for “I’ve got tickets.” If you ask one of them if he has a ticket, he’ll ask cagily what you’re looking for. Draw your line in the sand—you want a really good ticket for not a lot of money. If you ask for courtside seats for $20 each, you’ll only get laughter and lose your bargaining chips, but if you start not too far from the bounds of reason, he’ll talk business. Be firm, and be willing to turn down a best offer. There’s another scalper just a few steps away. If you don’t mind missing the first few minutes of the game, you’ll find that prices start going down at tip-off.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon North Carolina.

Visit Cumberland Island National Seashore

Not only one of the richest estuarine and maritime forest environments in the world, Cumberland Island National Seashore (912/882-4335, reservations 877/860-6787) is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, as everyone learned when the “it” couple of their day, John F. Kennedy Jr. and Carolyn Bessette, were wed on the island in 1996. With more than 16 miles of gorgeous beach and an area of over 17,000 acres, there’s no shortage of scenery.

Cumberland is far from pristine: It has been used for timbering and cotton, is dotted with evocative abandoned ruins, and hosts a band of beautiful but voracious wild horses. But it is still a remarkable island paradise in a world where those kinds of locations are getting harder and harder to find.

sunset over salt marsh on Cumberland Island
Cumberland Island has no shortage of beautiful scenery. Photo © Posnov/iStock.

There are two ways to enjoy Cumberland: day trip or overnight stay. An early arrival and departure on the late ferry, combined with rental and a tour, still leaves plenty of time for day-trippers to relax. Camping overnight on Cumberland is quite enjoyable, but it’s a bit rustic and probably isn’t for novices.

Important note: Distances on the map can be deceiving. Cumberland is very narrow but also very long—about 18 miles tip to tip. You can walk the width of the island in minutes, but you will not be able to hike its length even in a day.

You can have a perfectly enjoyable time on Cumberland just hanging out on the more populated south end, but those who want to explore the island fully should consider renting a bike or booking seats on the new National Park Service van tour around the island.


Getting to and Around Cumberland Island

The most vital information about Cumberland is how to get ashore in the first place. Most visitors do this by purchasing a ticket on the Cumberland Queen at the Cumberland Island Visitor Center (113 St. Marys St., St. Marys, 877/860-6787, daily 8am-4:30pm, $20 adults, $18 seniors, $12 under age 13) on the waterfront in St. Marys. I strongly suggest calling or faxing ahead. Be aware that there are often very long hold times by phone.

The ferry ride is 45 minutes each way. You can call for reservations Monday-Friday 10am-4pm. The ferry does not transport pets, bicycles, kayaks, or cars. However, you can rent bicycles at the Sea Camp dock once you’re there. Every visitor to Cumberland over age 16 must pay a $4 entry fee, including campers.

March 1-November 30, the ferry leaves St. Marys daily at 9am and 11:45am, returning from Cumberland at 10:15am and 4:45pm. March 1-September 30 Wednesday-Saturday, there’s an additional 2:45pm departure from Cumberland back to St. Marys. December 1-February 28 the ferry operates only Thursday-Monday. Make sure you arrive and check in at least 30 minutes before your ferry leaves.

One of the quirks of Cumberland, resulting from the unusual way in which it passed into federal hands, is the existence of some private property on which you mustn’t trespass, except where trails specifically allow it. Also, unlike the general public, these private landowners are allowed to use vehicles. For these reasons, it’s best to make sure you have a map of the island, which you can get before you board the ferry at St. Marys or at the ranger station at the Sea Camp dock.

There are no real stores and very few facilities on Cumberland. Bring whatever you think you’ll need, whether it be food, water, medicine, suntan lotion, insect repellent, toilet paper, or otherwise.

beach meets forest on cumberland island
Visitors to the island will have nearly 15 miles of beach to comb and acres of maritime forest to explore. Photo © laradyoung/iStock.

Area Information

Sights in Cumberland Island

The ferry typically stops at two docks a short distance from each other, the Sea Camp dock and the Dungeness dock. At 4pm, rangers offer a “dockside” interpretive program at the Sea Camp. A short way farther north at the Dungeness Dock, rangers lead a highly recommended “Dungeness Footsteps Tour” at 10am and 12:45pm, concentrating on the historic sites at the southern end of the island. Also at the Dungeness dock is the little Ice House Museum (912/882-4336, daily 9am-5pm, free), containing a range of exhibits on the island’s history from Native American times to the present day.

Down near the docks are also where you’ll find the stirring, almost spooky Dungeness Ruins and the nearby grave marker of Light-Horse Harry Lee. (You’re very likely to see some wild horses around this area too.) The cause of the 1866 fire that destroyed the old Dungeness home is still unknown. Another even grander home was built on the same site during the Victorian era, but also fell victim to fire in the 1950s. It’s these Victorian ruins you see today.

A very nice addition to the National Park Service offerings is a daily “Lands and Legacies” van tour (reservations 877/860-6787, $15 adults, $12 seniors and children) that takes you all around the island, eliminating the need for lengthy hikes. It’s ideal for day-trippers—if a bit long at six hours—but anyone can take the ride. It leaves from the Sea Camp Ranger Station soon after the first morning ferry arrives. Reservations are strongly recommended.

Moving north on the Main Road (Grand Ave.)—a dirt path and the only route for motor vehicles—you come to the Greyfield Inn (904/261-6408). Because it is a privately owned hotel, don’t trespass through the grounds. A good way farther north, just off the main road, you’ll find the restored, rambling 20-room mansion Plum Orchard, another Carnegie legacy. Guided tours of Plum Orchard are available on the second and fourth Sunday of the month ($6 plus ferry fare); reserve a space at 912/882-4335.

At the very north end of the island, accessible only by foot or by bicycle, is the former freedmen’s community simply known as The Settlement, featuring a small cemetery and the now-famous First African Baptist Church (daily dawn-dusk)—a 1937 version of the 1893 original—a humble and rustic one-room church made of whitewashed logs and in which the 1996 Kennedy-Bessette wedding took place.

a wild horse stands in front of the ruins of an old building on Cumberland Island
Ruins dot the landscape of Cumberland Island. Photo © Brian Lasenby/iStock.

Recreation in Cumberland Island

There are more than 50 miles of hiking trails all over Cumberland, about 15 miles of nearly isolated beach to comb, and acres of maritime forest to explore—the latter an artifact of Cumberland’s unusually old age for a barrier island. Upon arrival, you might want to rent a bicycle at the Sea Camp dock (no reservations, arrange rentals on the ferry, adult bikes $16 per day, youth bikes $10, $20 overnight). The only catch with the bikes is that you shouldn’t plan on taking them to the upcountry campsites.

Shell-and-sharks-teeth collectors might want to explore south of Dungeness Beach as well as between the docks. Unlike some parks, you are allowed to take shells and fossils off the island.

Wildlife enthusiasts will be in heaven. More than 300 species of birds have been recorded on the island, which is also a favorite nesting ground for female loggerhead turtles in the late summer. Of course, the most iconic image of Cumberland Island is its famous wild horses, a free-roaming band of feral equines who traverse the island year-round, grazing as they please.

Cumberland Island is home to some creepy-crawlies, including mosquitoes, gnats, and, yes, ticks, the latter of which are especially prevalent throughout the maritime forest as you work your way north. Bring high-strength insect repellent with you, or buy some at the camp store. Rangers recommend you do a frequent “tick check” on yourself and your companions.

Accommodations and Camping on Cumberland Island

The only “civilized” lodging on Cumberland is the 13-room Greyfield Inn (Grand Ave., 904/261-6408, $475), ranked by the American Inn Association as one of the country’s “Ten Most Romantic Inns.” Opened in 1962 as a hotel, the Greyfield was built in 1900 as the home of the Carnegies. The room rates include meals, transportation, tours, and bicycle usage.

Many visitors opt to camp on Cumberland (reservations 877/860-6787, limit of seven nights, $4) in one of three basic ways: at the Sea Camp, which has restrooms and shower facilities and allows fires; the remote but pleasant Stafford Beach, a vigorous three-mile hike from the docks and with a basic restroom and shower; and pure wilderness camping farther north at Hickory Hill, Yankee Paradise, and Brickman Bluff, all of which are a several-mile hike away, do not permit fires, and have no facilities of any kind. Reservations are required for camping. All trash must be packed out on departure, as there are no refuse facilities on the island. Responsible alcohol consumption is limited to those 21 and over.

Insect life is abundant. Bring heavy-duty repellent or purchase some at the camp store.

Visit Cumberland Island National Seashore, one of the most beautiful and romantic places on the planet, not to mention home to a rich estuarine and maritime forest environment. Plan your coastal Georgia getaway with this helpful guide.


Excerpted from the Eighth Edition of Moon Georgia.

11 Restaurants That Will Transport Your Taste Buds

Whenever I travel, one of the first questions I ask is, “Where will I eat?”

Where will I eat? What will I eat? Is there a can’t-miss meal-of-a-lifetime nearby?

These are important questions, and everywhere I go I try to find some food experience that exemplifies the place. Sometimes it’s a simple meal, sometimes it’s something decadent, but whatever is on the plate or in the glass always embodies the spirit of where I am.

So on that note, here are a few of the best spots I’ve been lately; places the food and drink are so good that, when I close my eyes and think about that meal, I’m transported and transformed.

Southern Smoke bbq plate
Southern Smoke Barbecue dishes up some twists on traditional North Carolina ‘cue. Photo © Jason Frye.

New Orleans, LA

Willie Mae’s Scotch House

Fried chicken is a Southern staple and every cook worth their salt has a twist on a family recipe they claim is the tastiest you’ll ever try. But Willie Mae’s Scotch House in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans may just have them all beat. The breading is seasoned and perfectly crispy; the meat—white or dark—so juicy you want to cry; and the sides…oh, you’ll never have a better bite of fried okra or forkful of red beans and rice.

The restaurant sits out and away from the bustle of Bourbon Street and the tourist traffic of the French Quarter. The fare is simple—fried chicken and sides—but you’ll want to add this to your list of New Orleans must-eats (which should also include Toup’s Meatery, Compère Lapin and, of course, Café DuMonde).

Willie Maes
Willie Mae’s sits in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. Photo © Jason Frye.

Hansen’s Sno-Bliz

While I’m talking about New Orleans I may as well go ahead and point out the obvious: it’s hot. Now, you can cool off with a daiquiri; Lord knows there are plenty of those to go around in the Big Easy, but if you really want some refreshment, make your way to Hansen’s Sno-Bliz.

Hansen’s serves shaved ice doused with homemade syrups and creams and it’ll give you a break from the heat like nothing else on earth. This family (it’s now owned and operated by the granddaughter of the Sno-Bliz OGs) has been serving Sno-Bliz since 1936, so they’ve got it down to an art.

Head into this nondescript little shop and see if you can spot their James Beard Award while you choose between the four-dozen flavors and toppings. If you get lucky, like I did, you may just run into Top Chef favorite and New Orleans chef Nina Compton getting a treat of her own in line in front of you.

Mills River, NC, and Nellysford, VA

Bold Rock Cider

Hard cider is making a comeback, and in Henderson County, North Carolina, cideries are popping up at an incredible pace. Bold Rock Cider is the biggest, but others—like Flat Rock Ciderworks and Appalachian Ridge Artisan Ciders—are making the most of the apple bounty from the orchards around here. (On a side note, Henderson County produces the 7th most apples in the United States, so they have a lot to choose from.) They have an interesting approach at Bold Rock: they make two distinct ciders using only apples from around their cidery. That means at the North Carolina location you get apples from Henderson County, and in Virginia, you get a totally different cider using all Virginian apples, even though they’re from the same recipe.

Bold Rock Cider
Bold Rock Cider. Photo © Jason Frye.

North Carolina

M Sushi

Can food take you someplace you’ve never been? I think so. Because when I’m in Durham, NC, and I sit at M Sushi’s bar, listening to the sushi-wizards talk and tasting the rolls they produce as if by magic, it’s like I’m in Japan for the first and hundredth time. Super fresh fish, precise knifework, and an artist’s eye for detail make these rolls the best I’ve eaten. Don’t miss the uni. Or the o-toro. Or the ebi. Or any of it. Just go already and order the whole menu. You won’t regret it!

uni and M Sushi in NC
Do not miss the uni at M Sushi! Photo © Jason Frye.

Barbecue

I’ll go ahead and get this out of the way: I’m not sorry for what I’m about to say, but North Carolina has the best barbecue around. (Next time I’m in Texas or Memphis or South Carolina or wherever you are, offended and passionate barbecue fan, I’m happy to share a plate with you and discuss.) From one side of the state to the other, you find distinct styles and philosophies for this, the greatest and simplest of foods.

In Eastern North Carolina, Skylight Inn and Sam Jones BBQ approach barbecue in the true Eastern North Carolina style: whole hog, chopped and seasoned with a peppery vinegar that unique to the region. One bite of a barbecue plate or sandwich and you’ll think twice about other sauces.

Southern Smoke dinner table
Dinner at Southern Smoke Barbecue. Photo © Jason Frye.

Moving a few miles west, Southern Smoke Barbecue dishes up some twists on traditional North Carolina ‘cue on Thursday and Friday (get there early and get in line; when they sell out, they close), but throughout the year Pitmaster Matthew Register’s South Supper Series draws inspiration from cuisines and barbecue styles across the southern U.S. to present the most elegant barbecue dinner you’ll find.

Lexington, NC, sits in the middle of the state, and is home to Lexington Barbecue (also called Lexington #1 and Honey Monk’s), serving some of the finest barbecue you’ll ever eat. Order a plate of “the brown”—that’s the bark, that outside portion of the shoulder where the smoke and seasoning meet—and be prepared for a whole new barbecue paradigm.

In the mountain town of Asheville, Elliott Moss has brought whole-hog barbecue to Western North Carolina, a land of shoulders and sweet sauce. His ‘cue is outstanding, but the sides are absolutely out of this world. And I hear he makes a mean chicken sandwich, one that’ll make you want to nominate him to be a Kentucky Colonel. Make your way to Buxton Hall to try it out.

Las Vegas, NV

Steaks

In a city as decadent as Las Vegas, there’s nothing for it but to eat the most decadent things you can find. Am I right?

Carne Vino steak
CarneVino may just change the way you think about steak. Photo © Jason Frye.

Head to CarneVino one night and CUT the next for two steak experiences that may make you cry. CarneVino, from Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich, serves two dishes that are out of this world: Carne Cruda Alla Piemontese and a dry-aged bone-in ribeye they carve tableside. I don’t know which was better, the cruda—tartare—or that ribeye, but they changed the way I think about steak.

At CUT, Wolfgang Puck and crew take steak to the next level with a Wagyu steak tasting menu. With an array of American and Japanese Wagyu to choose from, you’ll find this steak is unlike anything you’ll ever eat. Prepared simply—a proprietary seasoning and a quick sear—or made like one perfect bite I had—Indian-spiced Japanese Wagyu short rib—it’s fork tender and luscious; absolute steak perfection.

10 Incredible Road Trip Routes Across America

There’s nothing quite like the great American road trip. National Geographic compiled its own list of 50 Ultimate Road Trips around the world, and of those included, 39 are actually situated in this country, from Alaska’s Seward Highway to Maui’s Back Road to Hana to the Cherohala Skyway in the Great Smoky Mountains.

A sprawling network of interstate highways, bumpy back roads, and everything between makes it easy to craft the perfect road trip for your particular interests and timetable. And then there are the tried-and-true routes, those must-sees for road trip aficionados. Here’s a look at ten of my all-time favorite road trips across America.

Champlain Valley. Photo © Stephanie Murton/123rf.
The Vermont Cheese Trail passes through the scenic pastures of Champlain Valley. Photo © Stephanie Murton/123rf.

1. Vermont’s Cheese Trail

Ever since my first visit to Burlington, I’ve been an ardent fan of Vermont’s sharp cheddar and artisanal cheeses. If you’re a passionate cheese fan, too, you’ll appreciate this 280-mile loop (via I-89, Route 100, and Route 7) from Plymouth Notch, the birthplace of President Calvin Coolidge, to the scenic pastures of the Champlain Valley.

2. The East Coast’s Journey Through Hallowed Ground

The East Coast offers a number of amazing sights for history buffs, including the 175-mile route known by preservationists as the Journey Through Hallowed Ground. Commencing in Charlottesville, Virginia, and continuing toward Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, you’ll encounter such presidential landmarks as Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, James Monroe’s Ash-Lawn Highland, and James Madison’s Montpelier, not to mention Gettysburg National Military Park.

Map of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

3. Overseas Highway in the Florida Keys

There’s nothing quite like the 113-mile drive through the Florida Keys, via the aptly named Overseas Highway (U.S. 1). Along this picturesque route–a series of bridges and land-based stretches–you’ll encounter several unique islands and attractions, including the state parks and dolphin facilities of Key Largo, the spas and diving museum of Islamorada, Bahia Honda State Park in the Lower Keys, and a plethora of bars, eateries, art galleries, and museums in Key West, the country’s Southernmost City.

View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. Photo © Fiona Deaton/123rf.
View of the Flagler Railway and Bridge at Bahia Honda State Park. Photo © Fiona Deaton/123rf.

4. Louisiana’s Creole Country

You might be surprised to learn that northern Louisiana is as much worth a look as is southern counterpart. Starting in Natchitoches, you can take a 70-mile loop known as the Cane River Road, or the Cane River National Heritage Area, where you’ll spy moss-draped live oak trees, small riverfront communities, and several plantations, including Oaklawn, Cherokee, Beaufort, Oakland, Melrose, and Magnolia.

5. The Hill Country of Texas

Interstate 10 isn’t the most thrilling route to take through western Texas, but the state’s famed Hill Country is another thing altogether. Defined by wooded canyons, spring-fed rivers, and rolling terrain, this pastoral, offbeat region is one of the loveliest areas in the Lone Star State. Starting in San Antonio, this scenic loop will take you through small towns like the German-settled Fredericksburg and curious landscapes like the Enchanted Rock State Natural Area.

Travel map of The Hill Country, Texas
The Hill Country

6. The Southwest’s Four Corners

This is a strikingly beautiful region of the American Southwest, so named because the corners of four states–Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, and Utah–converge here. Beginning in Flagstaff, Arizona, this 525-mile route (via I-40, U.S. 191, etc.) will take you through such wonders as Petrified Forest National Park, Monument Valley, Mesa Verde National Park, and the ski resort town of Telluride, Colorado.

7. Pacific Coast Highway

Indeed one of the most scenic routes in the country–and one of the most accessible–is the Pacific Coast Highway, known regionally as the PCH. The 522-mile stretch between Dana Point and San Francisco is particularly beautiful, offering access to numerous beaches and state parks, several sun-loving towns (such as Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, and Monterey), and various historic sites, including the San Juan Capistrano Mission and Hearst Castle. It’s easy to break the highway down into more manageable chunks, such as five days exploring Oregon’s Pacific Coast or two weeks on the California coast.

A two-lane road along Washington's Olympic Peninsula.
The remote Olympic Peninsula features thick rain forest, a wild coast, and gritty towns. Photo © welcomia/123rf.

8. Washington’s Olympic Peninsula

Situated just west of Seattle, marked by snow-capped mountains and old-growth forests, and protected, at least in part, as Olympic National Park, this majestic peninsula is still one of the most untamed regions left in America. Starting in Seattle, follow the 330-mile loop (via Hwy. 101 and Hwy. 12) to explore quiet towns and gorgeous destinations, such as Port Angeles, Lake Crescent, and the Hoh Rain Forest.

Maps - Washington 10e - Olympic Peninsula and Coast
Travel map of the Olympic Peninsula and the Coast of Washington

9. The Black Hills of South Dakota

For a history buff and outdoor enthusiast like me, the southwestern corner of South Dakota offers a surprising number of Wild West towns, historic landmarks, and dramatic landscapes. On a circuitous, 350-mile route that mainly follows I-90 and Highway 16, you’ll find places like Badlands National Park, the Mount Rushmore National Monument, and the once-legendary town of Deadwood.

10. Michigan’s Shipwreck Coast

It’s easy to be enamored by the windswept beaches, massive forests, and multicolored cliffs of the Upper Peninsula. By following a series of small routes along unforgiving Lake Superior (where hundreds of ships have met their end), you’ll encounter several worthy attractions from Marquette to Whitefish Point, including the Marquette Maritime Museum, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum.

Which road trip route would you add to this list? One of the 29 others suggested by National Geographic–or another route altogether?

10 Incredible Road Trip Routes Across America

The Best Hot Chicken in Nashville

Nashville’s most sublime food experience is not to be found in a fine restaurant or even at a standard meat-and-three cafeteria. It is served on a plate with a slice of Wonder bread and a pickle chip. It is hot chicken, a very spicy panfried delicacy, made with bone-in breast and secret spices.

Legend goes that in the 1930s a woman made an extra spicy dish to punish her philandering boyfriend. But it turned out that he liked it extra hot, and Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack was born.

A number of shops specialize in this regional treat. If you want perks like indoor seating, air-conditioning, or other menu choices with your hot chicken, you have some options; several high-end restaurants offer modern takes on this old favorite. Each restaurant has its special spices, but the basic idea is the same. Order it as spicy as you can take it, but not so hot that you can’t enjoy the flavor. Panfrying takes time, so you’re likely to wait wherever you go.

Hot chicken, served on Wonder bread with a pickle, is a signature Nashville dish. Photo © Margaret Littman.
Hot chicken, served on Wonder bread with a pickle, is a signature Nashville dish. Photo © Margaret Littman.

Where to Find Hot Chicken

Downtown and Germantown

Whiskey Kitchen
This restaurant/bar is one of the Gulch’s many see-and-be-seen spots. Starting as soon as the office crowd shuts down their laptops, Whiskey Kitchen (118 12th Ave. S., 615/254-3029 11am-1am Sun.-Thurs., 11am-2am Fri.-Sat.) has a happening bar scene, with both indoor and outdoor space. The outdoor patios are heated so that they can corral the crowds even in cold-weather months. The menu is better than bar food, with good burgers, a variation of Nashville hot chicken, and lots of dishes made with—you guessed it—whiskey. The wine and cocktail list is creative.

SILO
Touted as a Southern-influenced neighborhood bistro SILO (1121 5th Ave. N., 615/750-2912, 4pm-11pm Tues.-Sat., 10:30am-2pm, 4pm-11pm Sun.) serves up sophisticated farm food in a lively, welcoming setting. Focused on regional food and talent, even the restaurant’s furnishings are locally made.

The Southern Steak and Oyster
When The Southern (150 3rd Ave. S., 615/724-1762, 7:30am-10pm Mon.-Thurs., 7:30am-midnight Fri., 9:30am-midnight Sat., 9:30am-10pm Sun.)–as locals call it–opened, it was as if a void was filled. A void perhaps few realized existed before. Nevertheless, locals and visitors alike flocked to this sleek welcoming downtown bar and restaurant to eat oysters the likes of which are not typically found outside of the coasts. In addition to the oysters, The Southern has a fun take on the classic Nashville hot chicken, gumbo, and an impressive cocktail list. Its location makes it a madhouse before the symphony or during conventions, but that buzz is part of its appeal. The Southernaire Market, around the corner, sells limited packaged grocery items, T-shirts, and other gift items perfect for bringing home to remember your trip.

The Southern Steak & Oyster.
The Southern Steak & Oyster. Photo © Rachel Chapdelaine, licensed CC-BY 2.0.

400 Degrees
400 Degrees (319 Peabody St., 615/244-4467, 11am-7pm Tues.-Fri., noon-5pm Sat.) offers a deep-fried version of this local specialty with a thick spice-loaded crust. You can also pick up owner Aqui Hines’s unique blend of spices to take home.

Midtown and 12 South

The Catbird Seat
To describe The Catbird Seat (1711 Division St., 615/810-8200, 5:45pm-9:15pm Wed.-Sat.) as a restaurant is a bit of a misnomer. It is a culinary performance that happens to include dinner. There are just 32 seats in this U-shaped space. Once you get a coveted reservation (available online only), you’ll be treated to three hours of wines paired with a seasonal meal, made before your eyes. Some of the ingredients don’t sound great—hay-infused yogurt, for example—but most of them will blow your mind. Reservations are opened 30 days in advance. The multicourse tasting menu is $115 without drinks. The nonalcoholic pairings are as inventive as the wines.

Hattie B’s Hot Chicken
For simple counter fare that doesn’t skimp on the flavor, try Hattie B’s Hot Chicken (112 19th Ave. S., 615/678-4794, 11am-10pm Mon.-Thurs., 11am-midnight Fri.-Sat., 11am-4pm Sun.). Pick from mild to very hot, add a Southern side and enjoy local brews.

East Nashville

Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish
Hot chicken is one of Nashville’s true culinary specialties. Bolton’s Spicy Chicken & Fish (624 Main St., 615/254-8015 and 2309A Franklin Pike, 615/383-1421, 11am-9pm Mon.-Sat.) is one of the best places to try this local delicacy. In fact, it is a big debate whether it is Prince’s or Bolton’s that is the city’s best. Hot chicken is served bone-in, on a piece of white bread (soaking up the heat), with a pickle on top. And it is spicy. For real. It is made to order, and panfrying takes time, so plan a 20-minute wait into your visit. As its name suggests, Bolton’s also serves spicy fish. Bolton’s has a second location (2309A Franklin Pike, 615/383-1421).

Pepperfire
Pepperfire (1000 Gallatin Ave., Suite C, 615/582-4824, 11am-9pm Mon.-Wed., 11am-10pm Thurs.-Sat.) is an airy, easy-going joint specializing in spicy chicken with sides of crinkle-cut fries. Call in your order so it’s ready for pickup by the time you arrive.

Greater Nashville

Prince's Hot Chicken Shack.
Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack. Photo © Sean Russell, licensed CC BY-SA 2.0.

Prince’s Hot Chicken Shack
Out of all the food that you eat in Music City, you’ll likely still be dreaming about Prince’s Hot Chicken (123 Ewing Dr., 615/226-9442, noon-10:30pm Tues.-Thurs., noon-4am Fri., 2pm-4am Sat.) when you get home. The most famous hot chicken shack, you’ll find the the longest lines here. Prince’s serves three varieties: mild, hot, and extra hot. Most uninitiated will find the mild variety plenty spicy, so beware. It is served with slices of white bread—perfect for soaking up that spicy chicken juice—and a pickle slice. You can add a cup of creamy potato salad, coleslaw, or baked beans if you like. When you walk into Prince’s, head to the back, where you’ll place your order at the window, pay, and be given a number. Then take a seat, if you can find one, while you wait for your food. You can order to go or eat in. Your food is made to order, and Prince’s is very popular, so the wait often exceeds 30 minutes. Take heart, though—Prince’s chicken is worth the wait.

Music City Hot Chicken Festival

The temperature is almost always hot at the Music City Hot Chicken Festival on July 4, but so is the chicken. This east-side event is a feast of Nashville’s signature spicy panfried dish. Because hot chicken is made individually, the lines are long. But music, cooking contests, and other activities help pass the time. This is a great way to sample one of the classic Music City culinary delights.


Excerpted from the Second Edition of Moon Nashville.

The Evolution of Jazz and Blues in New Orleans

While New Orleans is known for its fine art galleries and historical architecture, and has inspired countless writers, artists, actors, and filmmakers over the decades, its biggest artistic claim to fame is indeed its music. This city is one of the world’s most dynamic live-music scenes. Jazz was invented here, a conglomeration of mostly African-American traditions that has rural counterparts elsewhere in southern Louisiana in the form of zydeco and Cajun music.

There are only a handful of large-scale venues for formal concerts; in fact, many big-name musicians favor comparatively smaller stages when in town. New Orleanians are loyal, knowledgeable, and excited about music, and performers appreciate the enthusiasm, relishing the chance to play a club that’s small enough to encourage a close connection between the musicians and the fans. It takes almost no planning and very little effort to find a place to catch a jamming live show in New Orleans, even on a Monday or Tuesday night. Just check the listings in the Gambit or The Times-Picayune, or simply stroll through the French Quarter or Faubourg Marigny. Dozens of clubs bellow music from their doors every night of the week, and many of these places rarely charge a cover (or at least a terribly high one), though they will typically have a one- or two-drink minimum.

New Orleans Jazz Procession Fountain. Photo © legacy1995/123rf.
New Orleans Jazz Procession Fountain. Photo © legacy1995/123rf.

Jazz

Jazz wasn’t invented in one definitive instant—it evolved over 20 or 30 years during the early part of the 20th century and in several parts of New Orleans’s African American community. The state has produced several jazz luminaries, among them Jelly Roll Morton, Sidney Bechet, and crooner Harry Connick Jr.

Jazz music typically uses both individual and collective improvisation, syncopation, and distinctive vocal effects, and it has its origins in European, African, and Caribbean traditional music. Commonly, you’ll hear blues vocalizing sung to jazz instrumental accompaniment. Many people trace jazz to a popular cornet player named Buddy Bolden, who performed regularly in New Orleans from the mid-1890s until about 1910. Through the 1910s and ’20s, ragtime-style jazz and other music forms, with a spontaneous, upbeat tempo, began to attract a following, albeit an underground one, in New Orleans.

This thoroughly modern and iconoclastic style of music was not initially well received by the mainstream. In fact, it was shunned by organizers of Mardi Gras parades for years. During the early years, many people considered this musical style to be scandalous and impudent—they criticized it at least as harshly as early critics of rock-and-roll denounced that music. Jazz was seen as a crude bastardization of more acceptable musical styles. But through time, jazz would win the hearts of even the harshest naysayers, and today, there’s really no style of music for which the city is better regarded.

Blues

Blues music has its origins upriver a bit from New Orleans, about 300 miles north in the fruitful delta farming regions of northwestern Mississippi, especially the towns near Clarkdale. It’s said that blues derives from the field hollers of cane and cotton workers in these parts. Eventually, the soulful vocals were joined with guitars, drums, and horns to become the modern form of blues celebrated today all through the South and especially in Louisiana. Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter, who wrote such classics as “Good Night, Irene” and “Midnight Special,” grew up in Shreveport, in the northwestern corner of the state, and is often credited as the father of blues music.

Blues, along with New Orleans jazz, melded together in the 1950s to influence a new genre: rhythm and blues, or R&B. It is a distinctly commercial genre that was begun with the express intent of getting airplay on the radio and acclaim for its stars through record sales, and to that end, it has always incorporated the catchiest and most accessible elements of the genres from which it borrows.

All around the state—though especially in Baton Rouge and New Orleans—clubs present live blues performers, and this often sorrowful, sometimes joyous, style of music also influences much of the jazz, rock, country-western, and gospel music heard elsewhere in the state.


Excerpted from the Fourth Edition of Moon New Orleans.

A Guided Tour of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site

Almost a million people make the pilgrimage to Atlanta each year to pay tribute to the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Since 1980, the National Park Service has maintained the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, which includes the graves of King and his wife, the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, the King Birth Home, and Historic Fire Station No. 6.

The King Birth Home

The King birth home on Auburn Avenue. Photo © Tray Butler.
The King birth home on Auburn Avenue. Photo © Tray Butler.

Built in 1895, this Queen Anne-style dwelling housed several generations of the King family. For the first dozen years of his life, Martin Luther King Jr. shared the house with his grandparents, parents, brother, sisters, a great aunt, and an uncle. The King Birth Home (501 Auburn Ave., 404/331-6922, daily 10am-5pm) has been refurbished to reflect the aesthetics of the 1930s. Visitors who want to tour the King Birth Home should plan to arrive early to collect tickets at the National Park Service Visitor Center (450 Auburn Ave., daily 9am-5pm; tours are free but typically fill up fast because they’re limited to 15 people). The half-hour tours are led by park rangers.

Historic Fire Station No. 6

Atlanta’s oldest standing fire station, Historic Fire Station No. 6 was built in 1894 and served the Sweet Auburn neighborhood until 1991. It underwent a thorough renovation in 1995, and today the two-story redbrick Romanesque Revival building houses a museum (39 Boulevard, 404/331-5190, daily 10am-5pm, free) detailing the desegregation of Atlanta’s fire department and features a 1927 American LaFrance fire engine. Two of the original brass sliding poles also remain.

Ebenezer Baptist Church

Ebenezer Baptist Church. Photo © Lpkb/Dreamstime.
Ebenezer Baptist Church. Photo © Lpkb/Dreamstime.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s father and grandfather presided at the Ebenezer Baptist Church (407 Auburn Ave., 404/688-7300, Mon.-Sat. 10am-5pm), which was built in 1922. King was baptized at Ebenezer as a child and ordained at the age of 19. His funeral was held here in 1968. In 1974, violence erupted in the church when a gunman shot and killed King’s mother, Alberta Christine Williams King, along with another deacon. The church’s congregation moved in 1999 to the massive Horizon Sanctuary across the street. Plan to spend 20-30 minutes sitting in the sanctuary, where recordings of King’s sermons play on repeat.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Atlanta.

African American Arts and Heritage in Atlanta

Atlanta has been called “the crown jewel in the story of black America” for good reason.

The city’s distinction as a crossroads for equal opportunity dates back generations, due in no small part to the concentration of historically black colleges (the largest in the country) and long legacy of African American entrepreneurship and innovation. This unique heritage is also a major draw for tourism. Almost a million people annually visit the burial site of Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife, Coretta.

Each January, the King Center for Nonviolent Social Change and nearby Ebenezer Baptist Church host a full week of programming leading up to the federal MLK holiday and remain busy during February’s observance of Black History Month. The National Black Arts Festival, founded in 1987, has expanded beyond its traditional July programming to produce educational and cultural events year-round. No matter what the calendar says, it’s always Black History Month in Atlanta.

Frankie's BLues Mission on stage at NBAF.
Frankie’s Blues Mission on stage at NBAF. Photo © John Ramspott, licensed Creative Commons usage.

National Center for Civil and Human Rights

The latest addition to the growing tourist district surrounding Centennial Olympic Park, the National Center for Civil and Human Rights serves as an worthy complement to the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site. Interactive exhibitions help to place King’s life and the struggles of the 1960s in a global context.

The Atlanta University Center

Although the West End campuses of Atlanta’s historically black universities (including Spelman, Morehouse, and Morris Brown colleges) aren’t necessarily a must-see attraction, they do include a few gems for art lovers and African American history buffs. Clark Atlanta University Art Galleries (223 James P Brawley Dr., Tues.-Fri. 11am-5pm, free) features ambitious murals by Hale Woodruff and more than 600 works from the school’s historical collection of sculpture and paintings. Close by, the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art features works by and about women of the African diaspora.

High Museum of Art

The first general museum in North America to have a full-time curator dedicated to folk art, the High Museum of Art pays special tribute to Georgia native Nellie Mae Rowe. At Night Things Come to Me, on permanent display in the Nellie Mae Rowe Room, gives a peek at the colorful “haints” and “varmints” from African American folklore that often surface in the self-taught artist’s drawings and mixed-media sculpture. The outstanding folk art collection includes noteworthy works by Thornton Dial, Ulysses Davis, Sam Doyle, and others.

Sunner Time by artist Nellie Mae Rowe. Photo © Nellie Mae Rowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
Sunner Time by artist Nellie Mae Rowe. Photo © Nellie Mae Rowe [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Sweet Auburn Historic District

Designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1976, the Sweet Auburn Historic District stretches from Courtland Street to the Downtown Connector. The six-square-block area was once an essential enclave for the city’s African American movers and shakers. Atlanta’s first black-owned office building rose here, as did the city’s first black-owned newspaper. The Royal Peacock Club hosted acts like Ray Charles, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.

The APEX Museum includes historical information about Atlanta’s African American pioneers and the neighborhood’s role in civil rights history.


Excerpted from the Third Edition of Moon Atlanta.

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