Saturday, May 17, 2014

G-ville Fry Day

It was a splendid day to go to Virginia's fast food emporium of the 1870s.

So with no plans for the afternoon, when I spied a blurb about today's Gordonsville Fried Chicken Festival, I thought why not?

Sure it's an hour away, but a lovely day for a drive. True, I'd just had fried chicken on Mother's Day, but can you ever have too much fried chicken? And alright, I had no clue if it'd be worth it or not.

So with road music in hand, I headed west through the rolling hills of Orange County hoping for the best.

Given that Gordonsville is pretty much a one-street town at an important railroad junction, the festival, which was in full swing when I arrived, was a cinch to find.

And while I've been there several times, once for an interview and several times to eat, I'd never seen anywhere near so many people there.

Given, it's a one-horse town so it doesn't take all that many people to look full, but it was definitely happening today.

As a former visitor, I knew all about the women who used to sell their fried chicken to the passengers when trains stopped there, having seen the pictures and read the history, so I understood the reason for six hours devoted to yard bird celebration and consumption.

I immediately got in the "order here" line to get me some chicken.

Although the order line was short, the pick-up line, both of them, stretched back to the wine garden where Well Hung Vineyards and Wilderness Run Winery were pouring.

And, just for the record, more than a few guys - oenophiles undoubtedly - were walking around in Well Hung t-shirts.

Waiting in line for my lunch, I chatted up the two women in front of me, one of whom was explaining how her Texas grandmother had taught her how to fry chicken and she was wondering how hers would fare against what we were about to eat.

I said I was willing to put my Richmond grandmother's fried chicken up against anyone's in the world (if she weren't long gone, that is), resulting in her asking me where I lived.

When I told her, she was amazed. "You came all the way from Richmond? Don't they have good fried chicken there?"

Explaining that the point was to enjoy more than just bird, I asked where she was from. Turns out she and her companion were cousins and both had grown up in Gordonsville before moving to some place bigger.

For them, bigger was Barboursville and Troy, which, given that Gordonsville's population is 1500 and Barboursville's is 4800, technically is bigger although I can't imagine the way of life is all that different.

We continued to chat while the line slowly inched forward and I couldn't help but notice more flip phones in use than I'd seen since probably 2008. And this from a non-cell phone owner.

Finally we got our meals, I found a spot open at one of the many picnic tables and I got to dive into my thigh, wing, green beans and the unsweetened ice tea that had gotten a raised eyebrow when I ordered it.

If what I was eating was representative of the kind of chicken local women used to sell to passengers, I can only imagine there were some happy eaters as the trains chugged away from G-ville. I still think Bessie's was better, but of course I would.

The green beans were exactly like the ones she used to make, long cooked in salt pork until the beans begin to fall apart and are so salty you need a gallon of tea to keep your tongue from turning inside out like a slug caught under a salt shaker.

I talked to the trio seated down near me at the table who wanted to know if I'd paused to listen to any of the singers who were performing on the steps of town hall as part of the festival. Of course I had.

Unfortunately, I told them, I was going to miss the pie judging contest because I needed to leave before it began. A shame, really, because I just know I'd have enjoyed it.

After I ate, I walked around, using some old stone steps to get up to the railroad tracks and survey some of the historic buildings on the other side. And I couldn't very well leave without walking over to the Exchange Hotel which also served as a hospital during the Great Unpleasantness.

Strolling back through the festival, I stopped in the visitor's center because I wanted to use the facilities before I hit the road.

Telling the girl at the desk that I'm a visitor and I need to go to the bathroom, she burst out laughing. "That's the funniest thing I've heard in a long time. You're not from around here, are you?"

Is it that obvious?

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