Humble Kitchens // Ben’s Brown Bag

July 9, 2013 § Leave a comment

Saturdays, no matter how sunny, are designed for sleeping in. Hence the blackout curtains and complete disregard for alarms and elephants on the staircase. Nevertheless, when the clock strikes noon and you’re still spending quality time with your mattress, there’s that pesky guilt complex and you have to get up and do something. In a culture structured around get-up-and-go, it seems we’ve forgotten how to rest guilt-free. We tend to be strung up by the rush of life, so we go to the gym or go to the store or just GO, and go quickly. Thus, bigger traffic jams, longer lines at restaurants, fuller theatres. Where’s the appreciation for a Friday night date with sweatpants, Netflix, and a bottle of cheap wine? Or in this case, a pulled-pork sandwich from a greasy paper bag, eaten on a mossy rock in the middle of a sultry green river?

That was my Saturday afternoon. A short drive from my little yellow house in Atlanta’s west side brought me to Ben’s Brown Bag, a bright orange edifice on Howell Mill Road, reclining in a pitted parking lot next door to a tiny law firm. No indoor seating, just a couple classic silver booths with umbrellas folded in preparation for a summer rainstorm. Behind the counter, Ben himself stood, grinning with the promise of a new customer. It seems everyone smiles a bit wider when he tells them they can get a local, hormone-freeĀ Brasstown Beef burger for $5. It takes me a small eternity to pick something off the tall yellow menu. Everything is fresh and natural and made with love, Ben tells me. “I’ll take the pulled pork sandwich,” I say. “And a Cheerwine.”

He sets a frosty Cheerwine on the counter with a glassy clink. Old South jazz crinkles from the speakers lining the metal overhang and I get that summer feeling, sipping the South’s best cherry flavored soda and reveling in pure, unadulterated sunshine. You know the feeling; usually brought on by picnics and sprinklers and the fourth of July.

“Pulled pork on a potato bun with cajun chips!” We make the exchange. A crinkled five dollar bill for a brown bag with grease seeping through the bottom, but in an appetizing way, not a McDonald’s way.


Chattahoochee River on a sunny Saturday in Georgia

Twenty minutes later, perched on a rock in the middle of the Chattahoochee River, I pull the sun-warmed sandwich from its bag and dig in, lost in the pure feeling of good food, sunlight, and icy water lapping at my toes. Spices roll over my tongue, teasing sensory memories and I remember childhood evenings by the grill, watching my father get crazy with the hot sauce. The click of a lighter still sparks those memories, dashing out to the grill to watch, mesmerized by the flames and my father’s showmanship.

I recognize the culinary passion infusing the sandwich I now hold, similar to the dedication seasoning my father’s grill creations, and I realize the best food tends to come from humble kitchens. Go visit Ben’s, if you fancy a taste of the best fried pickles in town, cozied up to an all-natural, hormone-free burger.

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