“I wanted Weaver D’s to be a place where there is a bounty, a land flowing with milk and honey, like Moses talked about in Exodus.” – Dexter Weaver in Automatic Y’all: Weaver D’s Guide to the Soul
ATHENS, Ga. – Dexter Weaver uses “automatic” the way Italians use “prego.” The definition fits the situation.
When the proprietor of Weaver D’s Delicious Fine Foods takes a customer’s money and says “automatic,” he means “thank you.” When the guys who drive the Blue Bell Ice Cream delivery truck stop in for lunch and explain where Athens sits on their route and Weaver says “automatic,” he means “I understand.” When Weaver describes himself or his restaurant as “automatic,” he means each produces such consistent quality that a customer need never worry about an off day or a bad batch of fried chicken. There are no such things at Weaver D’s, because Weaver D’s is Automatic for the People.
Weaver D’s is so Automatic that in the early ’90s, frequent customers Michael Stipe and Bill Berry asked Weaver if they could borrow his slogan for the title of their group’s upcoming album. In his book, Weaver writes that the boys seemed like good people – and they treated their families well – so he didn’t mind one bit. R.E.M was already huge, but Automatic for the People was the group’s most critically acclaimed album. It received a five-star review in Rolling Stone and reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart. (It includes my favorite R.E.M song, Man on the Moon, as well as hits Everybody Hurts and Drive and cult favorite Nightswimming.) What’s funny is that even though they paid tribute to the place in their magnum opus, Stipe and Berry weren’t eating the best thing on the menu at Weaver D’s.
Stipe and Berry were – maybe still are – vegetarians, so they didn’t order the delicate, juicy, perfect fried chicken. Fortunately, I have no such qualms about poultry. During a visit last week, I ordered a white-meat plate with collard greens, mac and cheese and an extra leg.
Cooking great fried chicken is difficult because diners’ standards for the dish are already so high. A McDonald’s burger looks (and tastes) like dog food when placed next to a burger from a place such as Slater’s 50/50 in Anaheim, Calif. But the fried chicken chains have – for whatever reason – maintained a higher standard. A box of Popeyes may not be quite as good as the chicken at the beloved local meat-and-three, but it’s usually close. It takes someone special to fry chicken on a higher level. Weaver is one of those higher level fryers. How do you know when you’re eating next-level fried chicken? In spite of the grease, the skin tastes lighter than air. The meat has soaked up the seasonings, and a little juice explodes from every bite.
There are other tactile and gustatory clues, but mostly, you just know when you’ve taken a bite of truly great fried chicken. The sensation is, for lack of a better term, automatic.
Post-meal workout: Five-mile run around the University of Georgia campus.