Irene grounds dinner on the grounds

Published 12:59 am Wednesday, October 12, 2011

I’ve enjoyed my share of all-you-can-eat buffets over the years, especially breakfast buffets.

If my memory serves me correctly, my first buffet was at a pizza parlor when I was about 10 years old. It was about eight years later I discovered the joys of the breakfast buffet. That discovery came at a Shoney’s in Spartanburg, S.C.

For me, Shoney’s became the mainstay of breakfast buffets for many years. On my visits to Emerald Isle over the summers, three things were bound to happen during my time at the beach — a visit to Jungleland, a visit to El’s drive-in and having the breakfast buffet at Shoney’s in Morehead City on Saturday morning. Alas, the Shoney’s in Morehead City is no longer there, which may explain why I have not been to Emerald Isle since it closed.

But as much as I enjoy breakfast buffets, there is one meal deal that tops them all. I’m talking a dinner on the grounds. If you are wondering just what is a dinner on the grounds, you ain’t from around here — or another part of the South — are you?

Ask any GRITS — that’s Grandma Raised in the South — to learn about dinner on the grounds.

Dinner on the grounds is a church picnic on steroids. Dinner on the grounds is a journey through Southern cuisine. Dinner on the grounds is 12 versions of potato salad. Dinner on the grounds is enough sweet tea to float the USS North Carolina.

My church, First Baptist Church in Washington, had planned a dinner on the grounds to celebrate the completion of its building project. I had been looking toward Sept. 18 since early this year. Alas, Hurricane Irene came along. Needless to say, things, including dinner on the grounds, were delayed.

Instead of dinner on the grounds, it was debris on the grounds.

As summer progressed, I began anticipating the culinary creations that grandmothers and great-grandmothers would bring to the church that third Sunday in September. At least one was bound to bring tomato pudding. At least six versions of squash casserole would tempt me. I could count on countless bowls of butter beans, each bowl seasoned differently. Someone would bring a carrot-raisin salad. Next to it would be five versions of macaroni salad. As for potatoes, there would be mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, twice-baked potatoes and sweet potatoes.

Fried chicken would abound, followed by ham, beef roast, pork roast, pork chops. A venison roast or a stew made with venison, potatoes, onions and carrots would be somewhere on the table laden with meats. Joining them would be about three lasagna dishes, several Crock-Pots filled with meatballs in differing sauces and at least one king-size chicken pot pie.

I’d also be on the lookout for homemade pimento-cheese sandwiches, those miniature ham biscuits, chunky chicken salad and a seven-layer salad. And don’t forget the deviled eggs.

Of course, desserts would be plentiful and varied. I’ll pass on the pecan pie. I’ll pass on the five-layer chocolate cake. I’ll pass on the cherry pie.

Give me a bowl of banana pudding.

What’s better than dinner on the grounds? A dinner-on-the-grounds meal in my stomach.

Someone ask the blessing, please!

Mike Voss covers the city of Washington for the Washington Daily News. The most unusual food he ever ate at a dinner on the grounds was fried squash blossoms. They taste like eggplant.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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