Real Southern cooking is that most elusive of entities. Advertised by posh Atlanta restaurants and claimed by every cafe and roadside diner from Richmond to Savannah, real Southern fare is rarely found in any of them.
My first 30 years were spent in the South and at least 10 of those were spent seeking out any hole-in-the-wall that promised homemade cornbread, hot biscuits or fried okra.
To my mind, there is one place to get great home-cooked food: Len Berg's, in the alley behind the old Post Office-turned-federal courthouse in Macon, Ga.
The white building is nondescript and houses a warren of small rooms in addition to the main front counter. There are antique wrought-iron kitchen utensils on the walls, linoleum-topped tables and a mimeographed menu that changes Mondays through Fridays, the only days the place is open.
The waiters never write down an order, and never get one wrong.
The fried chicken is light and crisp, the salmon croquettes melt in your mouth and the meatloaf rivals rare tenderloin. Vegetables range from sliced, home-grown tomatoes to exquisitely seasoned pole (green) beans.
But it's the fried corn and H.M.F.P.I.C. that lure me back. To the uninitiated, fried corn is a delightful mush that is made by cutting the kernels from ears of corn, scraping the cob, saute'ing the corn and scrapings in butter, adding cream and simmering until the concoction thickens. It's a staple of Len Berg's menu, and latecomers often find the meal's supply exhausted.
H.M.F.P.I.C. -- that's the way it's listed on the menu -- is the kitchen's homage to the area's major crop. It's home-made-fresh-peach-ice-cream, made daily during the spring and summer in hand-cranked freezers. Some patrons have been known to make a double helping their entire meal.