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The Southern Kitchen team
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Get to know the Southern Kitchen team

The Southern Kitchen team is made up of unique personalities who enjoy eating and drinking delicious things, just like you.

And just so you know we’re real people — the only catfishing we do is the fried kind — we got our staff to answer a few questions about themselves and Southern food, drinks, kitchen tools and more, in order to give you a better idea of who we are, and to make sure you’re familiar with the good folks who deliver the stories and products you love.

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Derick Jaros

Derick Jaros, General Manager

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
I’m a bit of a throwback, so chicken and sausage gumbo. I love gumbo in general, but I love our roux hack, as I can’t stand to stand in one spot and whisk to perfection.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Cast iron cookie with a side of mousse. If you go, go all out!

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My Cangshan knife. We upgraded to this knife this year, and it’s been a huge time saver from our big box knives we had before. I didn’t realize cutting wasn’t so much work until now!

What is the best kitchen product you’ve ever purchased?
Cast iron that I now use on the grill. (It really expanded the number of things I’m interesting in cooking …I just like to be outdoors.)

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
Charleston —just the general vibe and proximity to water. My second-favorite place is somewhere along the Gulf Coast. Pretty much anywhere there’s water!

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
Family fare at an Atlanta restaurant called “PTA” (for both the school definition and "plane, trains and automobiles"). It would be near the MARTA station not far from Peachtree Dekalb Airport. Kids would stay entertained while parents enjoy food and drink in peace. Please somebody open this. [Ed: It's a true dream. Derick talks about this all the time.]

Who is your favorite chef?
My mother-in-law. (No, she didn’t pay me to say that!)

Instagram: @derickjaros

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Sean Pruett

Sean Pruett, Chief Merchant

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
Ham and beans, with cornbread, onions and banana peppers.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Banana pudding.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
Shears. They’re super-useful and versatile.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
I don't bake. That's like, math.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
Things you can't make at home. Why try to outdo the classics people love?

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
Atlanta — it's home!

Instagram: @skp725

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Ashley Twist Cole

Ashley Twist Cole, Editor-in-Chief

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
Answering this question while hungry is proving to be a terrible idea. I can’t even begin to think about picking just one Southern meal or food. I will say that the best thing I’ve eaten recently is Southern Kitchen’s bacon cornbread dressing that Chef Jeffrey made for our all-outdoor Thanksgiving. It’s perfect in every way — crispy on the outside and mushy and flavorful on the inside; plus, everything good starts with bacon and cornbread. I took the leftovers home and ate it for days and was unreasonably sad when I ate the last bite and there was no more.

But … if I could eat and never be full, here’s my perfect day. Breakfast: shrimp and grits and buttermilk biscuits. Lunch: fried chicken, mac and cheese, fresh veggies. Snack: deviled eggs, pimento cheese, pickles. Dinner: chicken and dumplings — especially in the winter. Dessert: banana pudding or pecan pie.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
If it walks, talks, acts or looks like a cookie, I’m in.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My go-to kitchen tool has to be cast iron skillet(s). We have three at my house of various sizes, because sometimes there are meals that require two cast irons! From baking pound cake to searing a fillet or pork chop, cast iron really is the best pan for so many dishes. Everyone at Southern Kitchen knows I also love my Blanc Creatives sauté — it sits out on my stovetop at home because it’s basically art. It’s beautiful. We use that a lot, too, especially for cooking veggies because the long handle allows for really great jump (and it’s not too heavy for me).

My go-to barware tool is a Hamilton Beach citrus juicer. We don’t mess around with a hand-juicer in my house — we’re serious about our citrus. This tool is perfect for anyone who enjoys margaritas, freshly squeezed OJ (or screwdrivers, rather) or makes multiple cocktails at once. I highly recommend investing in one if you’re into making cocktails.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
Charleston (and the Low Country in general) has my heart. I’ve been there a few times, but most recently was for my husband’s birthday a few years ago. We stayed at the Francis Marion hotel, walked around King Street, went to McCrady’s, Hall’s Chophouse, The Gin Joint, Hominy Grill and a few other places. We didn’t make to Husk, so that’s still on the list for us. I love being able to meander around the city, pop in shops and restaurants at our leisure and just relax. The pace is slower there, for sure. I also love being able to take a short drive and be at the beach; I’ve been to Folly Beach a few times and I just love the little town and the beach vibe there. I definitely need a trip back now!

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
I’m pretty ambitious in the kitchen — I’ve successfully made macaroons and I make my own pasta (self-high-five!) — but I’m afraid of baking a pie. I know there are really easy guides (and I think we have one!) but it just seems like too much work for me. My mother-in-law and sister-in-law make pies, so I’ll just be the pie eater.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
That one’s easy — Italian food. Why? It’d give me an excuse to go back to Italy, for one. I just love the Italian dining experience, as they’re big believers in the order, rituals and experience of eating. I’d love to serve simple, authentic Italian food and create a meaningful experience for my guests. I’d do it like the Italians do, where you have your table for the night. Stay, drink, laugh, enjoy the food and company. Uh oh, I’ve just gone to Italy in my mind. … If you need me, I’ll be in Bologna.

What is the best kitchen product you’ve ever purchased?
Kitchen Aid Mixer. Remember how I said I make pasta at home? The pasta attachment is amazing. I also use the mixer for any breads or baked goods I make. It makes everything easier, which makes it a perfect tool.

Bourbon or beer?
Bourbon. No question. Bourbon forever and ever. Amen.

Instagram: @atwistcole

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Chef Jeffrey Gardner

Jeffrey Gardner, Chef and Recipe Editor

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
My all-time favorite Southern meal is pretty much a meat-and-three, which, if everything is executed well, can be absolute perfection. Fried chicken, buttered rice and gravy, butter beans, ham-hock-studded turnip greens, and jalapeno cornbread. And strawberry shortcake on a biscuit (get outta here with that cake nonsense!) for dessert.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
I love the effort that goes into a layered Charleston coconut cake. The cake doesn't need any sauces or accompaniments; it's perfect as is. [Ed: Correct.]

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My go-to kitchen tool is the internet. If I'm unsure about a recipe, a quick search will yield the information I need. When I want to learn a new technique, I can get on YouTube and watch a tutorial video. If I need to order a piece of equipment or ingredient, I can have it at my doorstep in less than two days. It's amazing!

What is the best kitchen product you’ve ever purchased?
I love my $1.50 plastic bench scraper. I'll never run my knives along my cutting board to scoop up chopped vegetables or herbs again.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
I'd like to think that I'm pretty open to just about anything, but I'd need some serious motivation to put balut [duck embryo] in my mouth. Beyond the exotic, I find eating challenges to be repulsive. Consuming a burrito the size of a toddler or eating 27 of the world's hottest peppers makes no sense to me.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
I don't think I could survive living there, but New Orleans is far and away my favorite Southern city. I could get carried away listing all the reasons why, but Jazz Fest, Bacchanal, debris po’ boys, Ivan Neville and Sazeracs are just a few examples. And while many Southern cities may celebrate sports championships with parades, you will never be able to top the jubilation known as Lombardi Gras!

Who is your favorite chef?
Too many to name, but here are a few: Mashama Bailey, Chris Cosentino, Dan Kluger, Amanda Cohen, Pierre Gagniere, Alex Lee, Larry Forgione, Marc Vetri, Mika Lata, John Currence and Nancy Silverton.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
Beyond a simple, clean design, you don't want me decorating your cake.

Instagram: @chefjeffreygardner

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Leslie Eisenstat

Leslie Eisenstat, Project Manager

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
I’d have to go with fried green tomatoes with goat cheese and a yummy aioli sauce.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Peach crumble. I love it!

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My Zassenhaus timer — it’s a life saver! As a mom of two young girls, I get very distracted when I’m cooking and this timer saves my food from burning!

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Cooked carrots.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
Breakfast. It’s my favorite meal of the day and I love all the different egg dishes you can make.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
I’d probably have to go with Charleston. I love all the old beautiful houses near the water, plus the downtown is just so beautiful and so much fun!

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Josh Conner

Josh Conner, Online Buyer

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
I know it’s cliché, but you can’t beat fried chicken. Bonus points for collards, fried okra and creamed corn as sides.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Tough one, but key lime pie just edges out the pecan pie.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
Everyone needs to have a good set of knives. Doesn’t need to be a big set, but a chef’s, paring and serrated slicer will do just about everything you need in the kitchen.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
I’m sayin’ nope to brains, and I’m passing on the rocky mountain oysters too.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
Bread. I don’t have the discipline or patience.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
While there are several cities which deserve consideration, Charleston takes the cake. The city just has a feel that can’t be replicated, plus the food scene is top notch. Nashville comes in a close second.

Bourbon or beer?
Both, but If I’m being forced to pick, it would be bourbon.

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Ranji McMillan

Ranji McMillan, Merchandise Coordinator and Visual Merchandiser

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
A slow-cooked steak and mashed potatoes. Steak is my favorite no matter what region’s food I’m eating. The South has a way to slowly cook a savory steak, completely eliminating the need for a knife.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
Atlanta. I grew up in the Bay Area. My entire family is in Atlanta. It's “city” with a burst of “country.” I feel very inclined to say Savannah because it is simply beautiful. But I don’t do haunted and Savannah kind of wrote the book on that.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Where do I start?! I’m EXTREMELY picky. Any fruit pie is out. This includes apple pie, cherry pie, and any other pie where a fruit was heated. I also have a texture issue. Oysters, escargot, chitterlings, all things slimy and gooey are out as well.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
A steakhouse. I’m a regular tomboy. I’m not fancy. Just great steaks cooked by great chefs, served by great people to steak-lovers. I also need a mixologist who knows his or her way around an Old-Fashioned and a Manhattan.

What is the best kitchen product you’ve ever purchased?
My All-Clad Copper Core 3Qt Covered Sauté Pan. I cook everything in it. It is not just for sauté. It heats up quickly. I have made late-night bacon mac and cheese in about 10 minutes using nothing but that pan. [Ed: Ranji should add this recipe to our collection.]

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
A nicely prepared chocolate pie. It’s hard to find a Southern dessert that does not include a fruit of some sort. Usually at a party, I’m at a loss on desserts. Until that one guest shows up with a chocolate cream pie. We instantly become best friends.

Bourbon or beer?
Bourbon. Bourbon. Bourbon. I hate beer. I’m in a committed relationship with bourbon. A few years ago, I battled severe bronchitis. I was on my way to pneumonia. The coughs would not stop. I was a vodka drinker at the time. A friend suggested a swig of bourbon before bed. I took two. I sweated the illness out through the night and slept like a baby. I chose bourbon that day and never looked back.

Instagram: @ranjiroo

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Amanda Pharis

Amanda Pharis, Graphic Designer

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
I would say my Mema's typical Sunday spread. Chicken and dumplings with bits of bone and doughy goodness, next to a stack of pork chops on a plate. Or bone-in catfish with the crunchy fins. Always cooked collards and turnips with obligatory strip of fat, ford hook [beans] and field peas, probably from Saturday lunch — “Everything is better on Round 2,” she said. Cornbread and rolls. (She also said, "You're going to turn into a roll!")

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Peach cobbler is my hands-down favorite. It should be everyone's favorite.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
I use my cast iron for everything now that I know how to clean it and take care of it. In the morning though, my French press is my best friend.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
I would probably open a barbecue place. I love playing with ingredients, cuts and trying different techniques to find that perfect combination. Still haven’t found it, but getting close....

Who is your favorite chef?
On TV, Bourdain (Is he a chef?), because I like stories and The Clash. Plus, Zero Point Zero Productions just knock video out of the park. Otherwise our own Jeffrey Gardner!

Bourbon or beer?
Beer, sorry.

Instagram: @apharis32

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Lindsay Davis

Lindsay Davis, Digital Audience Development Specialist

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
I had a rabbit dish in the French Quarter the one and only time I’ve had the pleasure of spending time in NOLA. It was during a UGA fraternity formal and Mardi Gras in 2010, right when everyone found out the Saints were going to the Super Bowl. [The rabbit] was rich and not gamey in the slightest, and it paired beautifully with my wine. I remember thinking to myself it was my favorite meal of all time and it the first time I had been served rabbit. I am constantly racking my brain trying to remember the restaurant, but the pinot noir was too much for my undergrad memory. But I’ve been a rabbit and wine fan ever since!

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
I have fallen in love with my new FINEX cast iron skillet. I love that I can pop it in the oven and it’s my first piece of (not enameled) cast iron! It’s too pretty to not leave on my stove top too.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
When I was a young latch-key kid (I have a brother almost 6 years my senior — don’t worry!), I used to rummage around our refrigerator for a snack every afternoon and found myself making saltine crackers topped with strange foods that any typical elementary-aged child in the early '90s would avoid, like pickled herring and caviar. I now pride myself on my willingness to try everything once, but I still cannot bring myself to eat Spam, despite my love of Asian food and recent honeymoon in Maui. I just can’t …even.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
My favorite Southern dessert is the key lime pie my dad made for my birthday every year. He insisted — correctly — that the limes must be from the Florida Keys. I found that keeping the whipped cream to a minimum let the lime freshness really shine. He would garnish with candied limes, too I believe. Definitely my most fond dessert memory.

Bourbon or beer?
Bourbon, in a bourbon ginger or in a red wine sangria

Instagram: @mrs.lindsay_davis

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Elisabeth Schrock

Elisabeth Schrock, Digital Marketing Intern

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
My all-time favorite Southern meal has to be chicken and waffles because of the sweet and savory combination. While sounding questionable at first, the contrasting flavors make this dish work every time. I also love how creative you can get with it! Maple syrup or Tabasco sauce — either way, it's delicious.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My go-to kitchen tool is a cutting board. Living in a small apartment, I have to give things multi-purpose use. With a nice cutting board, I can use it to chop, dice and serve. I can also leave it out in my kitchen if it has a nice design on it.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Unfortunately, I will never ever, ever eat grits. I am not a fan of the texture of grits, nor do I find them appealing. Especially if they aren't done right. Then they just look bland, mushy and lifeless. I've tried them only twice, but would be willing to try them again.

Who is your favorite chef?
My favorite chef has to be my dad, for sure. He's opened my eyes to so many different foods and cuisines. He lets me ask him a million questions about cooking, measuring and cleaning without the slightest bit of frustration, and he has never once steered me wrong when trying new foods.

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Jonathan Cone

Jonathan Cone, Chief Technologist

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
Apalachicola oysters. Not fried, not steamed, not dressed up with cheese, just raw right out of the shell, with maybe a dash of Crystal hot sauce. I grew up on the Gulf and they just instantly taste like home.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
Immersion blender. We use it for mayo, baby food, soups, almost anything you need to blend, and it’s super easy to clean and store.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Olives. I just hate them so much.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Peach cobbler. It barely edges out banana pudding because you can add ice cream.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
Pie crust. I just can’t do it. But I love practicing because you still get to eat pie at the end.

Who is your favorite chef?
Sara Moulton. When I was in college, her show, Cooking Live with Sara Moulton, got me out of that Hamburger Helper life.

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Kate Williams

Kate Williams, Associate Editor

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
It’s not necessarily a traditional combination, but I could eat collard greens (with bacon!) on top of a bed of grits at least once a day for the rest of my life.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
A huge stack of the really cheap IKEA kitchen towels. I am a huge klutz, so I’m always mopping up a puddle of spilt milk (and not crying about it). I’d rather throw reusable towels in the wash until they fray to pieces than buy pallets of paper towels at Costco, so IKEA it is.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Peanuts, because then I’d have to enlist you to stab me with my Epi-Pen.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
I am terrible at poaching eggs. I’ll fry an over-easy egg and soft scramble a dozen with the best of them, but please don’t every make me poach.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
My boyfriend and I talk about this all the time. We are always dreaming up some kind of bar/breakfast restaurant/sandwich spot/very casual diner that spins ‘90s pop music starting at 10 p.m. And then we remember how terrible it would be to actually own a restaurant or bar.

What is the best kitchen product you’ve ever purchased?
A sharp replacement blade for my vintage Cuisinart with an extra-strong Robot Coupe motor. Now it is unstoppable.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Pecan pie, duh.

Bourbon or beer?
It's cold outside right now, so bourbon. If you ask me again in the summer, I may have a different answer.

Instagram: @williaka

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Mike Jordan

Mike Jordan, Associate Editor

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
Gumbo forever.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
I love my cast iron, but it’s my large carbon steel wok that gets the most love. It’s sturdy without being heavy, so I can toss food in it easily, and cook up enough whatever to feed my wife and daughter.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
I was born in Nashville and have always had a great time in the city, even accidentally, so it’s hard not to give it the top billing. But I really, really love New Orleans. There’s no place like it. Music, drinks, food, fashion, attitude, accents and all; it’s my favorite city in America, not just the South.

What is one thing you will never, ever eat, under any circumstances?
Blue cheese. I hate pretty much all cheese except mozzarella, so I could never eat cheese that not only stinks, but also turns blue for whatever ungodly reason.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
Scrambled eggs. I don’t even really like them, but I keep trying to make them just because I’d like to finally say I did it.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
Breakfast. A very cool breakfast place with no more than 15 items on the menu that are good but simple and can be turned out quickly, with exceptionally good coffee. [Ed: Mike will not be making the scrambled eggs.]

Bourbon or beer?
I’d like both please, but if I had to choose I’d say beer, only because drinking a can of bourbon isn’t the best idea.

Instagram: @mikejordanatl

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Rachel Taylor

Rachel Taylor, Staff Writer

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
Kevin Gillespie has a chicken sandwich called “Closed on Sunday” that is sold at his food stand in Mercedes-Benz Stadium. It's two sliders of fried chicken, pickles and a creamy sauce served on King's Hawaiian Rolls. It's so simple, but very well composed and hands down some of the best fried chicken I've ever eaten.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
My favorite kitchen tool is my KitchenAid mixer. I got it as a college graduation present from my parents and I mainly use it for baking. I recently got a pizza stone, so I want to branch out and experiment with making pizza dough and bread with the dough hook attachment.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
I love Savannah. The city is gorgeous and covered with history everywhere you look. From rooftop bars to award winning restaurants, I always leave Savannah happy and full.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
Rice. I love rice, but it never turns out right when I cook it, whether I cook it on the stove or in the microwave. At this point, I think a rice cooker would be a good investment.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
I would serve Italian food. I have a weak spot for Chianti and pasta. Not to mention, Italian food is delicious and beautiful. Whenever I see someone making homemade pasta it looks like a work of art. [Ed: Clearly Rachel and Ashley need to team up.]

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Peach cobbler fresh out of the oven with a giant scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.

Bourbon or beer?
I'm more of a gin drinker, so I'll go with beer. It's crazy the variety of beer that has been created by craft brewers over the past few years. I love drinking IPAs during football games and coffee stouts in the winter. During the summer, if it's brewed with raspberry, peach or pineapple, you can bet I'll be drinking it by the pool.

Instagram: @RayTay_17

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Ramona King

Ramona King, Visual Content Producer

What’s your all-time favorite Southern meal, or the best Southern thing you’ve ever eaten, and why?
The best Southern cook of all time is my grandmother. She has the innate ability to turn what looked like an empty fridge two hours before supper into the most incredible from-scratch Southern meal you’ve ever seen. She was a Southern cooking magician. The perfect roast, fried okra, mashed potatoes and biscuits seemed to appear out of thin air right at the time you worked up an appetite.

What is your go-to kitchen tool (this can include barware), and why?
I love a good spatula, wooden spoon and stand mixer. In my kitchen, you can touch everything else but you better not touch or misplace Mama’s items above. I’m an avid baker and I need those three tools to be at hand and of good quality.

Which Southern city is your favorite, and why?
I basically grew up a second citizen of Savannah, and it will always hold a big portion of my heart. I know every street and square like the back of my hand. When I think of my childhood I think of walking with my grandparents down River Street, pralines from River Street Sweets (And nowhere else — my husband even proposed to me there!), fried oysters at my grandmother’s favorite restaurant and the museums we visited 100 times.

What food is the most difficult for you to cook or prepare?
I make great pancakes but I always burn the first two in the pan. Every. Single. Time.

If you could open a restaurant, what type of food would you serve?
I would serve soul food with a modern and international-at-times flair, with a huge emphasis on desserts and baked goods.

What is your favorite Southern dessert?
Oh goodness. I love them all, so it is hard to pick one. A moist and correctly made red velvet cake is hard to beat. However, a 12-layer fudge or caramel cake would always be my pick.

Bourbon or beer?
Oh, don’t do that to me! Don’t make me choose. How about a craft double IPA and then a bourbon and coke on the rocks? Both!

Instagram: @3kingstudio

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Author image

Mike Jordan is Southern Kitchen's former associate editor. He was also the host of our podcast, Sunday Supper. His work has appeared in a variety of publications including The Huntsville Times, American Way, Upscale, Time Out, NewsOne, Fatherly and Thrillist, where he served as the founding Atlanta editor. He lives in East Point, Ga., with his amazing wife and daughter, and loves writing, playing alto saxophone, cooking, craft beer, and cocktails. He is admittedly much better at these things than basketball, so never choose him for your pickup team.

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