Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

June 21, 2012

Choose Vidalia, Ga., for an onion holiday


CNHI

— Onions just might trigger new vacation planning and Vidalia, Ga., would be the place. Rural America.

Since five million 40-pound boxes of these specific sweet onions ship around America every year, there must be a lot of travelers with taste buds wanting more.

Professional chefs will compete for the Golden Onion trophy April 14, 2013. That’s also the date for the 36th annual onion festival in Vidalia.

This is the onion with a protective federal market order and a museum. Only onion I ever knew with a pledge!

Intrigue in the growing of these sweet treasures is nothing new. Guess that’s why Bob Stafford is known in Vidalia as the “onion high sheriff.”

He keeps everybody honest, enforcing the federal order naming 13 full counties and parts of seven as the only true Vidalia sources.

You can visit them. Claim you grew such an onion elsewhere and the fine can reach $10,000.

Building an onion traveling schedule? Georgia tourism at www.ExploreGeorgia.org can help with details.

Stafford’s office is in the Onion Museum where the story of sandy soils explains the special sweetness.

Seems it’s sulfur that makes an onion pungent, even hot, but South Georgia sandy soil lets the sulfur leach and the onions grow sweet.

In nearby Statesboro, home of Georgia Southern University, museums and academic experts tell tales of the influence of the sandy soil on flowers, grasses and people here.

Fossils and ancient creatures too when this region was an ocean.

Museum stories offer perspective.

Where to eat sweet Vidalia onions in their land?

Dinner prepared by Executive Chef John Mark Lane happens Tuesday through Saturday at Elements Bistro and Grill on the downtown corner in Lyons.

Handsome place of brick and wood, bold colorful art, spacious windows, community pride and exquisite cooking.

Clint and Teri Williams are the owners, high school sweethearts married 32 years with grown children, and a strong love of place.

That’s why they devoted three years turning a dilapidated abandoned space into a quality restaurant.

“I walked these downtown streets when I was a boy and they were lively, busy,” Williams says.

“Downtowns can be that way again,” he believes. Keep an eye on his latest project if you want to overnight in Lyons because he’s renovating four apartments above the art gallery in Elements Bistro.

Might also visit Vidalia Valley in Lyons – population reaches 5,000.

Ask to chat with the family farmers when you go there to buy onion relish. Onion salsa. Onion jam. Onion everything.

Fifty onion recipes are processed in this valley’s family business.

First time I’ve ever been somewhere with 6,000 pounds of onions being peeled each hour.

I went there to buy onion relish and met the patriarch R. T. Stanley who also talks about his personal little-boy experiences on the same land, “doing what my daddy did.”

I do believe I’d like to meet the other 100 farmers in these counties growing real-deal certified Vidalia onions. Maybe family farming still does mean something in America.

In addition to visiting the Onion Museum, I recommend talking to the Vidalia Area tourism experts to see about a tour, or at least conversations with onion experts.

Where else to eat in Georgia when craving a Vidalia onion?

Probably The Hil on the Hill in Palmetto, south of Atlanta since executive chef and owner Hilary White won the 2012 Golden Onion trophy for her caramelized Vidalia onion fritter with Serenbe Farm vegetable slaw and mustard vinaigrette.

---

Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the Tifton, Ga., Gazette. Contact her at www.TibbettsTravel.com.

x x x x

When you go:

www.VidaliaArea.com

912-538-8687

www.elementsbistro.com

912-526-8005

www.VidaliaOnion.org

912-537-1918

Golden Onion Trophy winner

www.thehil.com

770-463-6040