Is there such a thing as being too southern?

"Nottoway Plantation" by Ed Schipul
“Nottoway Plantation” by Ed Schipul (Creative Commons)

A few days ago, my hubby and I decided to grab lunch. We try to slip in mini-dates anytime we can. (Being married 10 years takes work, folks.)

We went back and forth, trying to figure out where to go. We love Sitar and it’s yummy naan, but we’ve been there a bunch. Yo’ Mama’s and it’s chicken and waffles is a party on the tongue, but is always crowded. We thought about El Barrio, our ALL-TIME FAVORITE, but we wanted to expand our culinary repertoire.

So, we headed toward Uptown. We pulled onto Richard Arrington Jr. Blvd. and looked at the logos outside the newly-minted brick restaurants: Texas De Brazil (delish, but too pricey for lunch)… Mugshots (we’re taking a break from beef)… Southern Kitchen Birmingham… (Hmm).

I heard a lot about Southern Kitchen, have seen Facebook posts of folks smiling on its patio and checking in during the happy hour. Plus, I read somewhere that Garth Brooks ate there when he was in town for a concert. If it’s good enough for Garth, surely it’s good enough for me.

We decided to give it a try. We found a parking space right across the street. YES!!! This was shaping up to being a great lunch date.

We walked inside and braced ourselves for some southern cuisine.

The place wasn’t too packed. It had a minimalistic decor with its metal chairs and gray walls. The mood was chill and we sat down ready for lunch.

I skimmed the menu, eyeballing the Bayou Salad with its blackened shrimp and smoked bacon. Mmm…

Then, my husband made a noise. He spotted something on the menu called “plantation pimento cheese.”

“Do you see this,” he said, and pointed out the $8 cheddar cheese blend.

I contorted my face. I thought it was annoying, too, but blew it off and went back to plotting which dressing would top my Bayou bliss.

It was too late, though. Although he hadn’t sampled it, that menu item had put a bad taste in my husband’s mouth (no pun intended). He grabbed his car keys, stood up and motioned for me to join him as we headed toward the door. We hadn’t even gotten our complimentary glass of water yet.

At first I thought he was overreacting. I want my Bayou Salad, man! What is the waiter going to think? The salad has smoked bacon!

Hubby wasn’t having it. We politely excused ourselves and walked next door to Cantina Laredo. We munched on chips and salsa, ordered the chimichangas and had a discussion about cultural sensitivity.

Plantation. When I think about a plantation, I think about a large, usually white, house with plentiful food, warm beds and well-dressed slave owners, while outside were shacks inhabited by African-Americans who worked sun up to sun down, ate scraps and lived in fear of being lynched. The last thing I think about is pimento cheese.

A plantation, for me, symbolizes oppression. The word is grating on my nerves. I don’t think of genteel southerners sipping sweet iced tea and saying “y’all.” I think of people who look like me wishing for the freedom of death because the thought of living outside of chains was unimaginable.

What do you think? Is naming something after a “plantation” offensive? Is it comparable to calling something (fill in the blank with some other symbol of racial oppression) chicken salad?

Don’t get me wrong, I do not believe the folks at Southern Kitchen are trying to hurt African Americans with their pimento cheese!!!  I am sure they were simply making a play on words, just like their Charleston cheese dip, Savannah salad, Red Mountain chicken and dumplings, or The Jefferson large plate.

On it’s website Southern Kitchen touts itself as being “inspired by its deep southern roots,” which makes me ask, “Just how deep do we want to go?” It also says “It exudes a casual sophistication that enables all of our guests to feel at home.”

For me, though, a plantation would be the last place I’d think of as a humble abode.

Tell me what you think.

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