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Southern Tour

Exploring the South through Food and Hospitality

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Liz Birnbaum, Food Historian
Just traveling through space and time for the best stories. ✧ #foodhistorian to the core.
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Southern Tour

Exploring the South through Food and Hospitality 

Article by Liz Birnbaum
Photography by Liz Birnbaum & Kevin Masse

We recently took a group of five #feedfeed Influencers on a Southern Tour of three Luxury Collection Hotels. Read all about it below! Plus, we've created original recipes inspired by our visit to the South - click the links below to make these today!


Southern Inspired Cheese Board

Beet Cured Salmon

Tater Tot Waffles

The Southern Tour Group, left to right: @TanaGandhi, @Kevmasse (TheFeedfeed), @MeaghanMurray, @ZoryMory, @_TamaraPeterson, @ACupofKeen, @TheCuratedFeast, @MikeMcGue
Photo by Jess Nash

Even a highlights reel feels ambitious to compile for this amazing six day tour of the South; and after just two days in Charlotte, Atlanta, and Savannah, each city feels so dear to my heart. But come along with us as we eat our way through three great Southern cities and experience the true meaning of Southern Hospitality and cuisines with The Luxury Collection Hotels and Resorts. 

Let’s get this out of the way: southern food doesn’t have a reputation for being the healthiest food out there. So when you think of a Southern Culinary Tour, you might just think of fried chicken, boiled peanuts, and sticky pecan pie . . . but over the years, the South has revitalized its cuisine and has become a hotbed for some of the greatest chefs in the country. 

While the traditions upholding classic southern charm are alive and well in nearly every interaction and detail, the cuisine of the south is full of surprises and fresh twists on old classics. A great example of this, the “Green Mary” we had at the Ballantyne in Charlotte: Green Tomato juice nods to the Southern fried green tomato, and the cocktail has a contemporary look when topped with shrimp, tomato, cucumber, and bacon — a fun and refreshing twist on this old classic. 
 

Photos by Liz Birnbaum
On this grand tour we had the pleasure of visiting Charlotte, Atlanta, and Savannah — each a world class food destination unto itself, but when combined together, this trip packed an extra sweet Southern punch!

On a personal note, Southern hospitality is a keystone in my family.  From my Alabama-raised grandpa to my great grandma raised in Mississippi, many of my family’s traditions hinge on southern reverence. We used to visit the south annually as I was growing up, but I had never made it to these three cities, and I’ve wanted to visit for so long. These three stops along our culinary journey were more charming and more welcoming than I had even been able to imagine.

At each stop, we stayed in one of the stunning Luxury Collection properties. In each, we found unique character, stories in every detail, and charm, charm, and more charm. And as we gleefully ate our way through each of these cities, so, too, did we gleefully make new friendships. We developed a kind of chemistry that cannot be duplicated or faked. We had a very special group! 
Photos by Liz Birnbaum (pictured: @zorymory, @meaghanmurray, @_tamarapeterson)
I could wax poetic about the teamwork that we developed on this trip. Traveling with a group of like-minded and ultra-talented creatives, you can’t help but feel inspired. There is a special bond among the food photography crowd. We all know without instruction that any given latte may need to get a little cold while we style the table and select the hand model. That while that person holds their hand on the cup for the photo, they may be gaining the only warmth that cup will have to offer. 
We began with a Whiskey Tasting experience hosted by Maker’s Mark, a classic southern company.  Learning the ins and outs of whiskey we also learned that Maker’s Mark has a storied history and it was the perfect welcoming ice breaker for our group. 
Photos by Kevin Masse (Pictured above, @zorymory)

Two days in CHARLOTTE, NC

The Ballantyne, Southern Hospitality Enriched 
Once we were officially ‘acquainted’ with one another, we toasted the start of our tour at the Ballantyne Gallery Restaurant, over dinner. The Gallery restaurant prides itself on using the best quality ingredients. The scallops and steak did not disappoint; they were the perfect fare for the cold, rainy Charlotte evening. Like a good cinematic experience, the best was saved for last with a curated platter of desserts! 

What we love about food is that it brings people together, and on this first night, 10 relative strangers quickly started to become friends. By the end of that first evening, our group started to feel like family, well-cared for by the wonderful team at the hotel, full from a tremendous dinner, and excited to tackle the days ahead.
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
Top photo by Kevin Masse, bottom photos by Liz Birnbaum
As food writers, we seldom take pause when learning new things about a city or place — and our first full day on the trip was right in step with that ethos. We were off to a running start! Over coffee, we learned the ins and outs of salmon curing from the head Chef at Gallery Restaurant. A spice-forward technique, designed to preserve and flavor the fish, we learned that lavender & beet root powder was what set this recipe apart. So in tune with the world of spice is the Ballantyne, that they worked with famed spice alchemist Lior Lev Sercarz to create a custom Ballantyne Blend, featuring lavender, Aleppo, honey powder, and more! It was the perfect segway into a gorgeous brunch, served in the hotel’s newest space, Bar Ryal.
Photo by Liz Birnbaum (top to bottom: Brunch at The Ballantyne, Salmon curing in beet root powder) 
Out and About — Destination Discoveries in Charlotte:
We enjoyed the historic NoDA neighborhood (named for the street North Davidson) food tour with Feast Food Tours. We got to try a mouth-watering array of treats on the tour, including 28-inch pizzas at Benny Pennello's, Heist Brewery’s coveted creative brews, to Reigning Doughnuts, oh my! This once-industrial neighborhood has become a vibrant, eclectic and playful locale for artists and food innovators alike.
Photos by Kevin Masse
The Bechtler was a great place to pop into on an overcast Charlotte afternoon. The 17-foot Firebird statue out front is a whimsical beginning to the whole museum experience.
Photo by Liz Birnbaum
To cap to an already informative day, we also learned about the art and science of wine blending! This was a fun interlude before dinner, and we even got to bottle our wines and compete in two teams. (Disappointingly, it ended in a tie.) 

Then we had a special dinner in a truly enchanting setting. The ambiance, from the grand tablescape to the musician playing softly, instantly took our collective breath away. The table itself was adorned with dusty-pale roses, show-stopping dahlias, fragrant eucalyptus, and full-bodied grapes surely taken straight from a renaissance still-life. The only way to describe the scene is to say the table was set like a fairy tale, with every detail thoughtfully curated. The food was equally thoughtful, with beautiful wine pairings and not one, but two dessert courses!
On Sunday, we had a leisurely morning, allowing us time to relax and take in the luxurious atmosphere at the Ballantyne. We even had time to leaf through a beautiful book over breakfast!  See below for this gorgeous book called ”The Spice Companion” by Chef Lior Lev Sercarz, who created the spice blend the hotel gifted us. 
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
And now we come to that aforementioned Green Mary! With that and a beautiful blood orange mimosa, both cocktails were perfect showstoppers to send us off on our flight for Atlanta with a splash!
Photos by Liz Birnbaum

Two days in ATLANTA, GA

The Whitley, Chic and Fun Southern Style
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
Situated in the trendy Buckhead neighborhood, The Whitley Hotel is a beacon. Even late at night, the bar was spirited, cozy, and humming with guests.

Our first dinner was a chef’s tasting, and as a gorgeous series of plates and pairings continued to arrive, we were increasingly impressed — and miraculously able to have enough room for dessert! (Look how beautiful the dessert was, though. Could we even resist?) 

The Trade Root culinary team did a stunning job with food, dessert, and wine pairings alike! It was all such an amazing treat to arrive in Atlanta with this welcoming fare. And as a fun nightcap, we we were given a small bottle of homemade limoncello, to go. We instantly began to scheme how we could take it home with us.
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
Out and About — Destination Discoveries in Atlanta:
The next day, we had a full itinerary planned... packed with architectural and artistic marvels in equal measures. After brunch, we started our day at the historic Fox Theatre, a venue with a truly unique architectural style. I studied architectural history, so as we rounded each corner with the tour guide, I was amazed. 

Built in 1928 for the Shriner organization, the Fox contains some rooms that mimic Egyptian Pharaohs tombs (specifically the ladies’ powder room), others that have Moorish inspired filigree and vaulted ceilings, and still other that quote from Moroccan styles, including horseshoe archways and elaborate geometric patterns. The sum of the experience was an absolutely dazzling assembly of spaces.
Top Photo (By Kevin Masse) left to right: @tanagandhi, @thecuratedfeast, @acupofkeen, @zorymory, @jessnash, @meaghanmurray, @mikemcgue, @_tamarapeterson, Elsie Swank
Bottom Photos by Liz Birnbaum
First photo by Liz Birnbaum, second by Kevin Masse
And after the grand tour of the architectural mashup in the main Fox theatre, we walked through what felt like a looking glass, to the Marquee Club (pictured above), a contemporary remix of the styles from the older 1920’s building — with no detail overlooked in this exceptional and luxurious interior.

After that, we explored the city on the Beltline Trail, beginning at Krog Street Market and ending at Ponce City Market. These two bustling marketplaces were so much fun to explore! In particular, Ponce City Market has a rooftop amusement park called Skyline Park with carnival games, mini-golf, a slide, and a rooftop bar (9 Mile Station) with amazing city views — this spot is a must-see for any Atlanta visitor!
First Photo by Kevin Masse, second by Liz Birnbaum
Photos by Liz Birnbaum from The Beltline
Photos by Liz Birnbaum from Ponce City Market and Skyline Park
And after this jam-packed day, amazingly there was still a dinner to enjoy! We dined at King and Duke, whose wood-fired ovens provided a lively and cozy welcome. And from the cocktails (I got a Surfer on Acid and it was amazing) to the wine list to the warm and savory entrees, the whole team ate with outbursts of happiness and gratitude speckled throughout the whole meal.
Photo by Liz Birnbaum
Photos by Liz Birnbaum, The Whitley rooms

Two days in SAVANNAH, GA

Perry Lane, Artful and Storied Southern
For a full-immersion into a Southern gothic fantasy, go to Savannah. While there, walk the city parks, the Victorian neighborhoods, and check out the local eateries. There’s no questioning their ranking in the top three of the Best Small City category for Condè Nast Traveler. This city brings history to life in its own unique way, and the Perry Lane Hotel is no exception. The property attains world-class luxury and sophistication while honoring the spirit of the city through its muse, Savannah socialite, Adelaide. Every detail is worth investigating — it has a playful charm all around, including an unmarked drawer in the reading parlor where there is a collection of vintage thimbles. (But you have to know where to look.)  
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
While we were there, there were three movies being filmed, including the forthcoming live action version of Disney’s classic, the Lady and the Tramp. We walked through the film set to get to Forsyth Park for our amazing picnic by Savannah Picnic Co., which was the most photogenic and elegant Southern picnic dream we could have dreamed.
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
We had some time to do what any Savannah visitor should do: just roam the city, looking for architectural gems (which are around nearly every corner), parks with moss-dripping trees (plenty!), and cute cafes to check out. You can’t go wrong here! Every place we went was so rich and extraordinary — filled with so many photo opportunities, we could hardly get a block before stopping again.
Photo by Liz Birnbaum
Photos by Liz Birnbaum, Breakfast at The Collins Quarter
When we returned to our rooms, we found a veritable jewel box of Adam Turoni chocolates by our bedsides. Turoni is Savannah’s only artisan chocolatier and his chocolates and shops are both like storybooks. And these boxes, filled with handcrafted artisan truffles, are also filled with curiosity and beauty. At one of his shops, the chocolates are nestled among books, as equally intellectual objects on the shelves. 
Photo by Kevin Masse
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
We had rooftop patio drinks at Peregrin, at sunset. The whole pool and sun deck was such a fun design, and a fresh space from which to view Georgia’s oldest city. This was undoubtedly one of my best sunsets of 2018! 
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
With its playful decor and photo-ready city views this spot is too dazzling to be missed. Our sunset viewing session was followed by a delicious dinner at The Emporium Kitchen & Wine Market, where the chef serves all-American fare with Southern twists. 
Photos by Liz Birnbaum, Emporium Restaurant at The Perry Lane
Out and About — Destination Discoveries in Savannah:
The Wayward Bar
Opened just this summer, this fun and funky bar has its eye set on supplying the wayward traveler with a perfect spot to socialize. The bar provides a space for all — renegade art, highbrow and lowbrow décor, and hand-crafted cocktail connoisseurs all welcome.
Photo by Liz Birnbaum
Lunch at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room
This has been Savannah’s most beloved restaurant for that absolutely classic, delicious Southern food. The food is all there when you sit down — you can’t quite call it family style as much as boarding house style food, since that is the deeper legacy of this storied eatery.
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
The Grey
Situated in a renovated Greyhound bus depot from the 1930s, this striking art deco space by chef Mashama Bailey and restaurateur John Morisano has been lauded as one of the best in the country. And during this last supper at The Grey, in a scene that felt like the end of summer camp, we signed postcards to each other; each of us wanting to put in ink how special these six days had been!
Photos by Liz Birnbaum
So 3,600 photos later (only counting the ones @kevmasse and I took), we have more than a handful of cherished memories, a couple new pounds to work off, and ten precious new friendships we will always be grateful for.