The word ham changed over the years and as far as I’m concerned Murphy’s Diner in the rural Southern town of Paulie, Georgia has been taking every single definition of those three letters literally. Don’t expect an abundance of peaches and Cherokee roses when the doors are pulled open. Murphy’s Diner is more your American Gothic than Norman Rockwell kind of place. What brought me to Murphy’s Diner was not a TV special with Guy Fieri. It was because of their swine; and Boy, they sure know how to make a pig squeal.
There are only two items on their one-page menu that are significant: their country and city ham. This is not Tennessee, Virginia, or Kentucky ham. This isn’t some fancy European prosciutto. This is Georgia ham. And it tastes better than anything else.
City ham is what one will eat over Christmas or Easter, a ham steak with a sugary glaze. It’s fine, and I ordered it this time around for the sake of this article, but when I’m eating at Murphy’s without any deadline due, I opt for the South’s national treasure, Country Ham.
All of those new craft charcuterie foodies out there might want to try American’s bread and butter when it comes to cured, thinly sliced ham. The country hams at Murphy’s Diner are cured for 14 months. They’re strong and salty, just like the stuff a person would get for a premium price in Spain. Even better, whereas one translucent slice of Iberico ham costs six to eight dollars, you receive at least a fourth of a pound for fewer than four bucks at Murphy’s.
Murphy’s gets its product from its own backyard. Purebred Wilburs are raised in open pastures and are fattened until they are humanely slaughtered in the Fall. The parts for city hams are butchered and brined as needed. The country ham parts are salted, sugared, and spiced in the winter; cleaned, hung, and smoked in the Spring, and aged throughout the hot summers. Humans, not machines, monitor the small smokehouse in the back. Murphy’s country ham is chewier and saltier than one might expect. Therefore, the wait staff brings you the perfect palate cleansing accouterment for the delectable “ambient” cure, a perfect biscuit.
There are two kinds of biscuits served at Murphy’s. They are both plop biscuits. Not molded at all, but textured and tasty with the right amount of fat and significant amount of crumb. The first is more of a breakfast biscuit. It goes well with the country ham and a runny fried egg. The cake flour and lard make it delicate and silky. The second kind, which are served for lunch and supper are much more dense and creamy. They’re made with all purpose flour and butter. They do well when used to scoop up Murphy’s homemade sausage gravy. It’s a Southern thing to tell another person that they’re making their biscuits wrong, but I do declare without a shadow of a doubt that these are made just right and so is their ham.
ATMOSPHERE: No frills, quaint and quiet. 40-50 year olds eat their ham, pick at their biscuits, and sip their coffee as they reflect on their past until it catches up to them.
SERVICE: You’ll get your food and coffee if the waitress likes you. If you cause trouble or are rude, service might be slower than usual.
SOUND LEVEL: Quiet for the most part. There’s occasionally a riff between local town folk, but for the most part, Murphy’s Diner is an ideal place to collect your thoughts.
RECOMMENDED: The country ham and biscuits.
DRINKS: Juice, soda, and coffee
OPEN: 7 days a week from 8am-8pm
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes