Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South
By Emily Wallace
Austin: University of Texas Press, 2019
Hardcover, 188 pages. $24.95

Reviewed by Ralph S. Wilcox

Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South book coverEmily Wallace’s book, Road Sides: An Illustrated Companion to Dining and Driving in the American South, is a delightful exploration of a wide variety of Southern institutions and phenomena related to the roadside. Liberally illustrated with Wallace’s own sketches, the book is an easy read, but chock full of interesting stories about many things Southern.

Described as “an illustrated glovebox essential,” Wallace notes that “There are hot dogs and hot sauces herein. But this is not a guide to singular Southern foods or where to find them at their very best. Rather, this is a handbook that examines some of the ways we’ve gotten where we’re going: the signs that bait, the burgers that sate, the maps that guide, and the mixtapes that score the ride. As they do on the road, chains appear in these pages … but there are also detours to spots out yonder and beelines to specific destinations—oftentimes a road trip’s reason for being.”

Set up as an A-B-C book for adults, Road Sides covers everything from Architecture to Zealots with tasty morsels of billboards, fixins’, kudzu, nackets, que, XXX, and yonder, among other topics, in between. Each letter of the alphabet has an essay on the history of a particular item in the South—Que, for example, talks about barbecue, while Junque talks about souvenirs and tchotchkes—followed by a separate section on a restaurant somewhere in the South. For Que, Wallace features Craig’s Bar-B-Que in De Valls Bluff, Arkansas, one of many fine barbecue establishments in Arkansas. Believe me—I’ve tried a fair number of them …

However, not all of the food establishments featured are typical restaurants. For example, the chapter on Kudzu features Coates Produce in Asheville, North Carolina, where Robin Pridmore turns the pesky vine into jelly. Who would have thought that something that is an invasive plant across the region could be turned into something edible and delicious?

For those interested in the South and its food, or for anyone planning a road trip to the region, Wallace’s book, Road Sides, is a valuable reference. The variety of topics covered, as well as the geographic distribution of the restaurants that she features, makes this a book that will appeal to a broad audience. Besides, with only 188 pages and measuring 6 x 8 inches, it is the perfect size to fit in anyone’s glove box. Let the culinary car trips begin!

This book review originally appeared in the SCA Journal, Spring 2020, Vol. 38, No. 1. The SCA Journal is a semi-annual publication and a member benefit of the Society for Commercial Archeology.

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