Atlanta-born actor Ed Helms isn’t merely from the South; the guy takes it with him wherever he goes. The Daily Show veteran, Office regular, and perpetually maimed Hangover sidekick orders Chick-fil-A for his Office castmates, and also picks a mean banjo. Next month, you can hear him as the voice of the Once-ler in the movie version of Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax. For our New South issue, we grilled (or is that fried?) Helms on his homeland and his preferred Southern hangover cure.
Define Southern home cooking for us. Something on the plate has to be fried. There has to be gravy. It has to be prepared by someone wearing an apron. And there has to be a whole lot of love mixed in. It doesn’t hurt if there’s a biscuit involved as well. And, by the way, that apron thing is not gender specific.
We’re in the middle of a Southern food boom, but the diet police say you shouldn’t be eating Southern food. Whose side are you on? Was it Mark Twain who said something like, “You should eat good food and bad food and let them fight it out on the inside”? I don’t agree with the diet police on this one. Those of us who have tried Southern food and love it should stick with it. Even if it’s not good for the body, it’s good for the soul.
Which Southern dishes did your mom cook when you were growing up? There was a sauteed shrimp dish with beer in it that was fantastic. She’d also steam an entire head of cauliflower and pour like a bucket of cheese sauce on it, and it was heaven. And she made a mean pimiento cheese sandwich.
Where do you eat in Atlanta these days? There’s this fabulous restaurant called Eugene that a friend of our family started. It’s kind of Southern but upscale. That and Miller Union are my favorites.
Outside of Atlanta, what’s your favorite Southern food city? That’s a no-brainer. New Orleans is one of the greatest food towns on planet Earth. It has such a distinct cuisine and spirit behind it. Part of the fun of any meal in New Orleans is the atmosphere you’re a part of.
How do you take your hash browns at Waffle House? Scattered, smothered, and covered.
Southern hangover cure? There’s nothing that some Vidalia onion relish can’t help.
Iced tea: sweetened or unsweetened? Unsweetened, with a lemon wedge, and I am thrilled. I’m a bit of a Southern iced-tea rebel in that way.
Stereotype of Southerners that’s true. We’re always up to no good, but in a good way.
Stereotype that’s not true. We don’t put ketchup on everything, just most things. And we don’t all love Hank Williams, Jr.
What Southern food can’t travel north? Boiled peanuts. I was raised on roadside boiled-peanut stands. Those and pork rinds don’t seem to catch on up North. So we’ll just keep them to ourselves.