I grew up in a small town.
Actually, I grew up on a farm out side of a small community, outside of the small town, outside of a slightly larger town, about an hour east of Memphis.
When I was a kid there were two barbecue restaurants on the west margin of town. They were direct competitors. They were directly across the street from one another.
Pulliam's, on the north side of Main Street, had a small hotel and a nice lounge. Pulliam's had chess pies. Pulliams had been there longer.
Sam's, on the south side of Main Street, had barbecue. They had no hotel. They had no lounge. They did have chess pie. But Sam's certainly had barbecue.
I loved them both.
Pulliam's has since shut. Sam's is still open. It's burned a couple of times in the past few years, as one would expect of a bbq restaurant. But he's still there slowly applying heat to pork.
When I was a kid. Humboldt had a several restaurants. It has one or two now. Liquor by the drink was supposed to fix that, but it didn't. Turns out that old Church of Christ/Baptist guilt/fear precludes folks from drinking in their hometown. Country Club and home don't count.
Jackson, just south of my hometown, has an overabundance of places that charge money to prepare food. They're all chain restaurants. They all serve food procured from the same suppliers. They each have a "signature" dish, but they're all the same. They all pile plates high with food, cheap food. Processed food. They pile the plates so high that - I'm totally guessing, but based on my observations I can't be far off - well over two thirds of the people that eat there are morbidly obese.
I mention the portions for one specific reason. The people who love to eat at these interstate interchange chain restaurants often cite the portions as their reason for going there. "It's a lot of food for the money." They say. "Why would I pay $30 for a steak and a small side of veg, when I can get a steak, baked potato, bloomin' onion, and a side salad (upsized for $2) and ... and desert for $18.95?"
Maybe because you don't need to eat the whole goddamn plate of food?
Maybe because you just got a cheap steak and what amounts to filler when the more expensive place offers a prime hand selected cut of beef from Mr. Butler's farm down the road with fresh locally grown veg. (Oh, BTW, Chef bought the local veg from your uncle Lem for 30% more than the she could have had "baby carots" delivered from Robert Oor Sysco.) They taste better. There's love in the food. You can still approach a reasonable calorie count and you support local.
But, "Dang!" you say, "What's the differns? I like 'em baby carrots just fine."
I can't help you.
I've watched culture in my region slip away. I've watched WalMart kill small towns. I've watched chain restaurants thrive while local farms die.
I'm certainly not helping the problem. I just moved away. Never came back, except to visit.
But I have a notion that my southern friends and family can still assemble some of the most amazing food on earth. We've just fallen out of practice.