“If it ain’t fried, it ain’t cooked” is the tongue-in-cheek motto of many Southern cooks. Southerners are no strangers to battered fried vegetables. They would batter and fry salad if lettuce could withstand the heat. One of the most interesting side dishes in the vast repertoire of fried vegetable options available on the Gulf Coast is the fried green tomato.
This popular southern staple is frequently found in both family tables and restaurant menus. The tomatoes are generally sliced into circles about a quarter-inch thick, breaded with Cajun spiced cornmeal and flour and then lightly fried in hot oil.
You may wonder why southerners, who are laid back about most things, are too impatient to wait for their tomatoes to ripen. While the rest of the Northern Hemisphere anticipates the summer’s first ruby red tomatoes fresh off the vine, folks in the southern states jump the gun and pick their tomatoes when they are hard and green. How could a half-ripe tomato become a famous edible treat? You may be dubious but you should trust the Southern palate. It will not fail you.
This innocuous side dish became nationally famous when Birmingham’s Fannie Flag published her novel Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe. Of course, this was subsequently adapted into an Academy Award-winning movie. The main characters, Idgie and Ruth, idealize a cherished southern belief that ‘food is love.’
One of the best placed for your first foray into the world of fried under ripe vegetables (that are really fruits) is the renowned eating Lulu’s at Homeport Marina. The owner, Lucy Buffett, more popularly known as Crazy Sista, and famously renowned as Jimmy Buffet’s Sister, is a trendsetter in local cuisine.
Lucy grew up in Alabama but migrated to Los Angeles as an adult. The biography on her restaurant website claims she moved back south and founded Lulu’s because, “The memories of a childhood scented by magnolias in the spring, crab boils in the summer, tire swings, and the glories of Mobile Bay called her back home.”
They will arrive at the table perfectly fried with a side of ‘Fun Wow Sauce’. We are not making that up. It will be love at first bite. The tart, fresh flavor of the tomato will be greatly enhanced by the spicy kick of the sauce. It’s not surprising that this innocuous Southern side dish inspired a Hollywood blockbuster movie.
As for Fannie Flag, she and Jimmy Buffet both spent time living in the quaint town of Fairhope, Alabama. Fairhope with its moss-draped oaks, panoramic views of Mobile Bay, boutiques, cafes, and art galleries really deserves the credit for making fried green tomatoes famous because it is what truly inspired Miss Flag to write her iconic book. It’s totally worth a day trip if you are on the Alabama Gulf Coast for a beach vacation.