Wrapping up its fourth season, True South continues its noble mission to offer viewers an insider’s perspective of the American South. It’s meant to surprise and delight but also provoke deep thoughts and prompt some serious conversation.
There’s some extra special itty bitty eye candy that plays a small part of episode 5 of season 4, intriguing artwork that adds to the show’s enduring appeal.
Celebration of the South
Hosted by John T. Edge and producer Wright Thompson, this virtual ride along introduces audiences to places that are legendary – hello, Dookie Chase’s – and a few that are under the radar. Doe’s Eat Place in Greenville, Miss., occupies both camps. If you’re a seasoned Southern food fan, you’ve probably made the pilgrimage to this iconic spot on the map. One meal there and you’re hooked for life.
That’s the way it was for John T., who moved to Mississippi in 1995 and made a point of dining at Doe’s as soon as possible. “Getting to the dining room at Doe’s is the ultimate gauntlet,” he said in a recent phone interview. “You enter the back door and walk through the kitchen. The first thing you’ll see is fat sputtering on those monstrous broilers and sticky notes everywhere keeping track of how those huge steaks are being cooked, all while being greeted by a ‘Hi, hon, how you doing?’’
Thompson echoed the sentiment, adding that a big part of the appeal of dining at Doe’s Eat Place is that it feels like home. “It’s like a place where you’re eating dinner with dead and gone relatives,” he said. Or, in the case of the season finale, your chosen family.
The meaty feast at Doe’s – part of a meander along the Mississippi River that begins in New Orleans and ends up with biscuits at Bryant’s Breakfast in Memphis – was an unofficial thank you to the crew for their tireless efforts chasing the hosts around this season. Well done, y’all.
Oh, but don’t you dare order a porterhouse well done at Doe’s. Medium rare is the way to go. Ask for the garlic butter brushed on top and a side of au jus for dipping the crispy fries. “When the au jus starts to congeal, you know it’s time to go,” John T., said.
A tiny tribute makes a big impression
Now, for the big surprise: Thompson commissioned Oxford, Miss., based artist Lee Harper to create a miniature version of the restaurant to be featured on the episode’s poster. Each show shines a spotlight a different Southern artist, which, along with the always entertaining soundtrack weaving through the visual storytelling makes True South like the best house party at a gallery-slash-dive bar-slash-diner. Cooks and bartenders and artists and musicians celebrated in a show that’s guaranteed to make viewers hungry? We’re so there for that.
Lee Harper has been creating miniature art with a nostalgic twist for years for her tiny history studios, but it wasn’t until she began showcasing local Oxford landmarks that her work got a whole lot of attention. “This might sound corny, but I mean it 100 percent: Oxford is an amazing place filled with people doing things, making things happen,” said Harper, whose tribute to the erstwhile Hoka, an art house theater run by the late Ron Shapiro, rocketed her work into the community’s collective consciousness. “It’s almost like I’m being pranked, getting attention for what I’ve always been doing.”
What she does is replicate beloved restaurants, bars, cafes and juke joints with the kind of painstaking attention to detail that it prompts fans to shout: WOW! How does she do that? (Buy a copy of her Tiny Oxford book for the full download.)
Harper spent weeks creating the miniature Doe’s, though she’s never actually visiting the place. “I asked my friend Euphus Ruth, who lives in Greenville and is an amazing photographer, to go take some photos of the exterior because I couldn’t find any in my research,” she explained. Those images translated to the teeny shingles, the funky wires, water-stained stuff.”
Thompson calls the finished piece the work of a twisted genius. “It’s unbelievable, every time I look at it, I see something new. It really evokes the spirit of that special place.”
Just one of the ingredients
Harper’s piece, which is also featured in a stop-action film for this episode’s sneak preview, is just one piece of this wonderfully complicated True South puzzle that offers a look at a region that’s wonderfully complicated.
The deepening divide in the United States isn’t glossed over, but addressed in a reasoned conversation and thoughtful voice overs. Through their extensive road trips for the making of this series, John T., and the Bluefoot Entertainment team have seen that even when there are disagreements over politics, people of all backgrounds often find common ground when sitting down at the table together.
Thompson said: “No matter where we’ve been, we’ve been greeted in every community in every community by nothing but generosity, hospitality and grace.”
True South’s season 4 finale airs Jan. 16 on the SEC Network, while the entire series is available to stream on ESPN + and Hulu.