“It’s just a biscuit.” That’s a phrase that only a naive child would utter (my Mama would have sent me to fetch a hickory switch) or an individual sadly denied of culinary bliss, due perhaps to their unfortunate geographic origin, physical challenges, or adherence to some geopolitical philosophy that denies followers the privilege of partaking in a delight of taste and texture. A Southern biscuit is truly a work of art, love, and culinary science that, made correctly, rivals the best that Gordon Ramsey or Bobby Flay could muster. I set out to find the “best breakfast biscuit” around. It has been a challenge of great hardship, the weight is a burden that I carry on this quest. Many have helped me along the way.
Most of us who were raised in the South compare any biscuit we eat to those made by the loving hands of our moms or grandmothers. Finding THAT kind of biscuit at a restaurant or convenience store is like finding the pot of gold at the end of a rainbow. Unless your folks baked like Elly May Clampett (youngsters can turn to Google here), you’re not likely to match the taste of the homemade biscuits anywhere except home. Part of that taste comes from the love and ambience of home and hearth, not likely to be matched at a diner table or a store counter. That being said, let’s talk about the basics.
At its most simple a Southern biscuit has as few as three ingredients: self rising flour (frowned upon by some purists), shortening (or butter), and buttermilk. Add to that a very hot oven and, if old school, a cast iron skillet (or at least a well worn baking pan) and you are in business. Combining those three ingredients is where the art comes in. I’m guessing Alton Brown would say it’s science, but I’m pretty sure he never met my mama. “Cut in your shortening with a fork or a butter knife, until the flour feels a little like meal. You’ll know it by the feel. Then add your buttermilk in a little pond. Work it into a dough. Don’t work it too much, but don’t work it too little. You’ll know by the feel.” That “feel” is hard to achieve and harder to repeat. I wish my Mama, who never seemed to measure anything when cooking, was still here to give me a daily lesson or just a serving of homemade biscuits and gravy.
I thought I should mention what a biscuit isn’t. It’s not a tube of dough waiting to explode from a cardboard can when you “whomp” it on the counter. Jerry Clower (another Google assignment for the younger crowd) was right in lamenting the rise (no pun intended) of these store-bought anomalies. Yes, they have their place, but let’s not call them biscuits. It’s also not what good folks in other places serve unsuspecting victims under the name of “biscuit.” I had a biscuit at a diner in northern Montana that should have been labeled “crumble-puck,” that even has a nice ring to it. In Montana, they know beef, but they’re lost on biscuits. Don’t even get me started about my experiences ordering a biscuit in England. Mercy. Who taught those folks English? I digress.
So, who does it the best out there? I asked folks on Facebook a while back. What I learned is that there are far more places offering breakfast biscuits than I realized. In the “convenience store” category, a handful were nominated as “great” by several people. In the Douglasville area: Charley’s, just across the bridge in old Campbellton rated highly. The Shell station at Post Road and I-20 also received high marks. Grands, on Ridge Road, was also listed as a favorite by several people. In the Carroll County area: The BP on Highway 27, just past the Carrollton Walmart, rated well. The Citgo at the Triangle (Highway 166 and Highway 61 intersection) was also popular. Commuters from farther west lauded Ridley’s in Tallapoosa for their very large biscuits, especially the tenderloin and egg.
In the “fast food category,” there are equally diverse opinions. While McDonald's and Hardee’s seemed to have many fans, Martin’s and Chick-fil-A were nearly equal in double the number of nominations. That is a topic unto itself, since the styles, tastes, and textures of those two biscuits are so different. One appeals to the crowd that likes a little sweetness in their dough, the other is more akin to the traditional style of a “cathead” biscuit.
Though I didn’t inquire about “sit down” restaurants, Facebook folks did insist on mentioning two. One was Turner BBQ /Beaver Creek Biscuit Company off Factory Shoals Road at 1451 Six Flags Road. This little spot makes an award winning breakfast biscuit and is very popular with “foodies” looking for great “hole in the wall” finds. The second was a personal favorite in Carrollton, Jerry’s Country Kitchen. Other than their wonderful Southern biscuits, Jerry’s serves a generous helping of hometown atmosphere, especially to those who sit at the bar and join in the conversation.
My favorites among the above? I’ll admit that I haven’t found my way to all of them yet, but Charley’s and the Citgo at the Triangle are worth a return visit. Ridley’s is out of the way, but they make a big ol’ cathead biscuit that is both good and BIG. Either of the two sit down places are a good choice. I’ll keep trying biscuits, you know, for research purposes. You tell us, what’s your favorite and why?