Sunday, February 26, 2006

The deacon of bird

Today marks the 13th anniversary of the death of an Atlanta institution, a void yet to be filled.

Deacon Burton's looks like what a Hollywood set designer would tell you a soul food restaurant should look like. One exception: This place is 100 percent legit.

Mismatched silverware, mismatched chairs; a film of ancient grease that covers the hospital-gown green walls; the kind of tables you see in high school cafeterias --- the ones with the laminated top and collapsible metal legs. And proudly hanging on a column in the middle of the room is Deacon Burton's diploma from TV repair school.

Not to mention the TV's that littered the store front, vestiges of Deacon's former career. I didn't know any of them worked until Feb. 26, 1993. Al Kosa and I were there for our usual fix (two pieces of chicken, two hoecakes --- that's griddle-fried cornbread, flattened into ecstasy --- beans, rice and gravy and dessert, all for less than $5) but something was amiss.

The staff was hovered around the tube, watching coverage of the first World Trade Center bombing. They seemed to be taking the news rather hard. Burton's was otherwise empty, and the lights were dim.

We didn't discover until the next day that Deacon had died. I wish I had known that was my last time at his restaurant ... I would've gotten some hoecakes to go.

Institutions die all the time in Atlanta, and they're never replaced. Sometimes they can't be --- Deacon's son has opened an eatery next door, and it's good, just not as good, and not nearly as affordable --- but this city is typically cavalier about what it deems outdated. Progress always seems to trump tradition.

Meanwhile, I continue my quest for the perfect piece of fried chicken. I found it once, but it's been a long 13 years.

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