Where to Eat in the South in 2012
A list of 50 restaurants that are redefining Southern food.
Southern food is fast becoming the nation’s new “it” cuisine. New York restaurants are all trying their hand at fried chicken, and eateries with a Southern theme are popping up in each of the city’s boroughs. Based in the Big Apple, Bon Appetit Magazine called the South “America’s New Food Capital” in its February issue. Southerners have long known we have a special cuisine and some downright good food down here, but Southern food used to be limited to home kitchens, with mothers and grandmothers serving as the keepers of family recipes.
Now that the rest of America is discovering the cuisine, chefs are stepping up to the plate to show that Southern food can be modern and healthy. (Pictured above is Lafayette farm-to-table restaurant Saint Street Inn’s Green Gumbo.) Bon Appetit does have a piece of fried chicken on its cover, but acknowledges inside the magazine, with a recipe for Potlikker Noodles With Mustard Greens by Chef Jason Alley of Pasture in Richmond, Virginia, that Southern food is so much more than that. The 50 chefs and restaurants on our list (in alphabetical order by state), like Alley, are either carrying on long food traditions or starting new ones. Food trucks are also entering the Southern food scene, so we’ve got a couple of mobile restaurants, plus several vegetarian spots that are really stretching the limits of Southern food. In the words of another Richmond Chef, Lee Gregory of The Roosevelt, ” We’re breathing a little life into the cuisine, so people can start understanding what it can be.”
Named for the owners’ rescued dog, Cosmo’s on Canal Road features a laid back, beachy atmosphere, but with serious food. Sushi is fresh from the Gulf, with such specialty rolls as the Fried Green BLT. Softshell crab, Pecan Redfish and Banana Leaf Wrapped Fish, named one of “100 Dishes to Eat in Alabama Before You Die,” can be found on the dinner menu. Bars inside and on the deck outside the restaurant keep patrons hydrated with frozen drinks while they wait for a table.
2. Cotton Row
Chef James Boyce and his wife, Suzan, opened Cotton Row restaurant in historic downtown Huntsville in 2008. Serving American cuisine with a refined Southern charm and a focus on seafood, Cotton Row has received the prestigious Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence and the AAA Diamond rating. Chef Boyce, who worked under Daniel Boulud, also owns Huntsville eateries Commerce Kitchen and Pane e Vino Pizzeria.
Q&A with Chef James Boyce by Carol Marks.
What’s in a name?
JB: We wanted to bring notoriety to the downtown area. Huntsville’s rich history with cotton merchants, lawyers and bankers, and the cotton farmers who harvested these crops, met in the downtown area to do their trading and selling. This area, back then, became known as “Cotton Row.” It just seemed like a natural fit that we named our restaurant Cotton Row.
How did you get to Huntsville?
JB: Our friend Jeff Sikes introduced us to Huntsville. We had been in the Birmingham area for a while, also in California, but when our friend suggested we come to Huntsville for a visit, we decided to stay and set up business.
JB: That would be the Braised Meyer Ranch Beef Short Ribs. The entrée is served with local Anson Mills grits, balsamic-Portobello mushroom, herb salad and Provencal tomato.
What’s the most ordered dish on the menu?
JB: That’s a toss-up between the Braised Beef Short Ribs and the Seared Maine Diver Sea Scallops, which are served with Amish Field Bean Cassoulet, Savoy cabbage and roasted garlic butter.
JB: Hands down, the favorite dessert is the Peanut Butter and Jelly in Phyllo [named one of “100 Dishes to Eat Before You Die in Alabama”] . It comes served with a strawberry compote, milk chocolate ice cream and salty peanuts. Our favorite cocktail right now has to be the Canadian Old Fashioned. It has maple syrup in it and makes a great seasonal drink for winter.
Why should people eat at Cotton Row in 2012?
JB: We are always redeveloping ourselves.
3. Cups Café
Located inside Scottsboro’s famous Unclaimed Baggage Center – where your luggage goes if you don’t pick it up from the airline – Cups is known for its award-winning chicken salad and local Barry’s Backcountry BBQ.
4. Full Moon BBQ
Included in Alabama’s Year of Food for its half-moon cookies and chow chow, Full Moon is a favorite for barbecue in the Magic City. With eight locations, the original one can be found on the city’s Southside. Half-moon pecan cookies are baked fresh each day and dipped in chocolate, the perfect finish to a rib or BBQ pork plate.
5. Ollie Irene
New to the Birmingham suburb of Mountain Brook, Ollie Irene was named “Best New Restaurant” by Birmingham News last year and has foodies abuzz with specials like Crispy Pig Ears With House Kimchi, Sticky Toffee Pudding and a Pickled Cherry Lime Rickey cocktail.
6. Shindigs Food Truck
With a focus on healthy comfort food and vegan dishes, Shindigs can usually be found downtown serving up grass-fed burgers on sweet potato rolls from a local bakery, spaghetti squash with vegan meatballs, and farro salad with local lettuces, beets and kumquats. Co-founder Mac Russell says business is booming due to word of mouth and that as soon as people taste the food, they love it.
Mobile native Chef Wesley True (pictured at right) was a James Beard Award finalist last year and changes out the menu at his Springhill Avenue restaurant several times a week. Featured dishes for February include Braised Pork Shoulder Risotto and grilled zucchini with pickled jalapeno. True has described his restaurant as having the feel of Manhattan, where he worked for Bobby Flay and Gordon Ramsey, “but with a little Southern softness to it.”
8. Empire State South
Chef Hugh Acheson’s been indirectly promoting Southern food on this season of Bravo’s “Top Chef,” and diners can test his chops at his new Atlanta restaurant, with Executive Chef Ryan Smith at the helm. On the menu are “Snackies,” which include such things as jars of pimento cheese with bacon marmalade and toast, grab-and-go sandwiches for lunch and North Carolina catfish for dinner.
9. The Four Coursemen
You may have seen this Athens foursome on “The Cooking Channel” preparing supper club-style dinners with sustainable ingredients in a small shotgun house. Dinners are usually offered monthly, paired with wine, and reservations fill up quick, so check www.thefourcoursemen.com for upcoming dates.
10. Grapes and Beans
A cozy vegetarian hideaway in the North Georgia mountains, this café serves lunch, wine and coffee daily, with a focus on local and organic ingredients. Their veggie burger special and a slice of homemade coconut cake may be the perfect meal.
11. South City Kitchen
With two locations to choose from, one inside the perimeter of the city, the other outside, the South has risen again at South City Kitchen. Diners can sip on a South City Cosmo and feast on updated classics like Buttermilk Fried Chicken, shrimp ‘n grits or fried green tomatoes. You might even bump into a celebrity or two. Cameron Diaz, Bethenny Frankel, Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner have all dined here in the past year.
12. Table and Main
Billing itself a “Southern tavern” outside Atlanta, Table and Main was opened by Ryan Pernice with Chef Ted Lahey, a protégé of Hugh Acheson, in the summer of 2011. Locals are talking about the Preservation Platter, a chef’s selection of cured meat, Sweetgrass Dairy cheese, pickled veggies, Vidalia bacon jam and country bread, and sides like smoked tomato grits.
13. West Egg Cafe
Named “best breakfast in Atlanta” by Creative Loafing, West Egg serves menu items like the Georgia Benedict, buttermilk pancakes and the Pimiento Cheese and Bacon Omelet all day long. Brunch on weekends includes sandwiches and burgers, and lunch and dinner are also served. Fans of “The Great Gatsby” will be glad to know the restaurant is in fact named for the book’s new money peninsula, and Atlanta’s bustling West side.
For over 10 years, Wisteria and Chef Jason Hill have been delighting Inman Park patrons with traditional Southern fare reminiscent of your granny’s cooking. Southern food wasn’t necessarily popular when Hill opened the restaurant, “but I wanted to cook foods that would make my grandmother and mom proud,” he says. Wisteria is much more than just comfort food though. It’s an experience – taking the neighborhood restaurant seriously. People laugh and chat at the bar, tables are filled with families and neighbors, and that’s how Hill wants it. A salt-of-the-earth kind of guy, in true Southern terms, Chef Hill is good people. It’s not unusual to see him working the room during dinner service, greeting his guests, chatting with his own neighbors or the many regulars who frequent the restaurant. The energy – and food – Jason Hill puts out at Wisteria make it one of the “must eats” in Atlanta.
Q&A with Chef Jason Hill by Beth McKibben.
What’s in a name?
JH: We were just a few days away from opening. I wanted to name the restaurant something that represented the South. I liked “Iris.” My sous chef, Walker Brown, who is still with me, said he thought it should be “Starry Nights.” We couldn’t agree on a name. Walker loves to garden and so he suddenly came up with “Wisteria.” I fell in love with the name instantly. After reading up on the vine, I really liked that it was beautiful, hardy and took root fast, like I wanted for the restaurant.
Why did you choose Inman Park and a 100-year-old building?
JH: I moved from Cobb County to Atlanta when I was 17 years old. Back then, Inman Park was a pretty rough neighborhood, but I fell in love with it and its old buildings. I love old houses and so a few years later I bought my own house and immediately began restoring it. I had been toying with the idea of opening a restaurant and began to look around. This historic building came up for lease on North Highland and the landlord liked me enough to take a chance on me.
JH: That is the hardest question to answer. But I will say the Braised Greens Mac ‘n Cheese (pictured) is the first thing that comes to mind. Who doesn’t love mac ‘n cheese? But if I had to tell you right now what I’m craving, it would be our shrimp and grits.
What’s the most ordered dish on the menu?
JH: Definitely our Molasses-Rubbed Pork Tenderloin with sweet potatoes and onion, apple and walnut relish. I really thought when we put it on the menu it would be one of the first things to go, but here it is 10 years later. It’s really a simple dish too. We brine the meat with molasses and rosemary, let it sit overnight, then grill it. We serve it over the sweet potatoes and garnish it with Granny Smith apples and walnuts.
JH: The Old Wives Tale cocktail is very popular. We’ve also picked up on the ginger beer craze. For this cocktail, we use Woodford Reserve Bourbon, wildflower honey and ginger beer. For dessert, the old standby, Bread Pudding with Bourbon Sauce, hands down. But we just added a Nutella Whoopie Pie to the menu. It’s definitely coming in a close second.
Why should people eat at Wisteria in 2012?
JH: I want people to come to Wisteria and experience a neighborhood atmosphere. My chefs and most of my staff have been here since the beginning. Our service is friendly, and our food is inspired by home-cooked meals.
Serving up dishes like Seared Foie Gras French toast, Truffled Fried Oysters and Braised Veal Cheek and Conecuh Sausage Cassoulet, Beausoleil hit the Baton Rouge dining scene in October 2011, taking over the Silver Spoon. Chef Nathan Gresham previously led the opening of the city’s location of Galatoire’s Bistro and has built the Beausoleil menu around fresh, local ingredients.
New Orleans’ pork-themed hit restaurant opened its second location on the river in Lafayette last year, bringing Chef Donald Link closer to his roots and food sources. Grilled sausage, served with grits and peppers, comes from just down the road, as do the smoked ribs with watermelon pickle, Louisiana cochon with turnips, cabbage and cracklins and the delectable rabbit & dumplings (pictured). Some meat is even smoked on site, and we predict the outdoor patio overlooking the river will be the place to be this spring and summer.
17. High Hat Café
Showcasing food from Louisiana and the Mississippi Delta, High Hat is New Orleans’ latest casual eatery on Freret Street. Catfish is the star, but Delta Hot Tamales, the High Hat Burger with Pimento Cheese and an Oyster Remoulade Poboy also grace the menu.
Taking its name from Blue Dog artist George Rodrigue’s painting, “Jolie Blonde,” Jolie’s focuses on farm-to-table South Louisiana cuisine, from Pork Belly Cassoulet to Fried Rabbit Livers. The bar also takes its craft seriously, mixing up hot toddies and Bacon Old Fashioneds, and bar snacks have been known to include Boudin Pizza.
19. The Lakehouse
A culinary institution on the waterfront in New Orleans’ bustling Northshore, The Lakehouse used to be Bechac’s Restaurant, where writer Walker Percy dined on dishes like oyster-artichoke soup and grits and grillades weekly with friends. The restaurant no longer serves lunch, but its exterior hasn’t changed and it’s still one of the oldest buildings on the lake.
20. St. James Cheese Co.
A lovely lunch spot in Uptown New Orleans on Prytania Street, St. James Cheese Co. offers up sandwiches like the Smoky Blue – smoked Mycella blue cheese, roast beef, Worcestershire mayo, tomatoes and lettuce on multigrain bread – along with generous salads and cheese and charcuterie boards, several featuring local cheeses. Grab a bottle of wine from the shop next door and while the day away, as often happens in New Orleans.
21. The Saint Street Inn
Former journalists turned restaurateurs Mary Tutwiler and Nathan Stubbs opened Saint Street Inn late last year in Lafayette’s Saint Streets neighborhood. The pair immediately began serving farm-to-table lunches, dinner and cocktails, and partnering with locals farms and suppliers. Saint Street’s menu changes often, but favorites include the Acadian Poboy with slices of smokehouse andouille (pictured), Ossun Bosco, a Cajun take on Osso Bucco with local calf shanks, and the Tabasco Toddy.
Q&A by Erin Z. Bass.
What’s in a name?
MT & NS: Our intent was to create a neighborhood restaurant located in a historic neighborhood, Lafayette’s Saint Streets. This building has been a restaurant since the 1940s. Adding the nomenclature “inn” is a throwback to the days of the drive-in and the 1950s, so we felt that the name Saint Street Inn had a specific, localized, always-been-there ring to it. However, we do get weekly calls requesting that we reserve a room for two. Can’t win them all.
MT: Our cook, Buffalo’s, smothered cabbage, whenever it runs as a special.
NS: Any of our local wild mushroom dishes. Currently, Wild Mushroom Cannelloni.
What’s the most ordered dish on the menu?
MT & NS: Hard to call. At lunch, our club sandwich, sausage poboy, oyster poboy and burger all take turns. Dinner is often dominated by our Sweet Potato Crab Cakes, fried oyster salad, homemade pasta dishes with wild mushrooms, and steaks.
Is there a signature cocktail?
MT & NS: Right now, it’s our Satsuma Sour, made with fresh-squeezed local satsuma juice. Since we use fresh seasonal juices, we’re sure there will be a strawberry cocktail coming up next.
Why was it important to have Pabst Blue Ribbon on tap?
MT & NS: It’s a high-quality, hipster-approved beer that we can afford to sell for $2. What’s not to love?
Why should people eat at Saint Street Inn in 2012?
MT & NS: Our menu is a constant work in progress. As the seasons turn, we will always have what is fresh and local. It’s important to stay in tune with the changes in nature, and our food reflects the flow of time. Balance, harmony, all that groovy stuff. Get your body ready for the great shift, according to the Mayan calendar, which will occur on December 21, 2012. You’ve got nine months to become one with the universe.
In response to damage at his fine dining restaurant Stella! after Hurricane Katrina, Chef Scott Boswell opened Stanley as Tennessee Williams’ most famous character’s casual counterpart. Serving all-day breakfast and brunch in Jackson Square, Stanley also features house-made ice cream and an authentic soda fountain.
23. Viva La Waffle
Celebrating all things waffle, Lafayette’s one and only waffle truck serves up sandwiches like the Roscoe – buttermilk fried chicken with Sriracha honey – and the Figgy Piggy, layered with local fig preserves, prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula, around town daily.
24. Big Bad Breakfast
Chef John Currence of City Grocery fame opened his breakfast spot just north of the town square in 2008. His biscuits with sausage gravy can be found here, along with omelets, pancakes, burgers, fried chicken and shrimp and grits. Diners on Yelp also rave about the bacon.
25. Brent’s Drugs
Located in Jackson’s Fondren district, Brent’s Drugs has been open since 1946, when it was a popular gathering spot for cheeseburgers and ice cream. New owner Brad Reeves took over the business in 2009 and brought back the diner concept, along with the burgers, egg and olive sandwiches, pimento cheese and milkshakes.
26. Delta Bistro
A semi-finalist for “Best Chef” in last year’s James Beard Awards, Delta Bistro Owner Taylor Bowen Ricketts has been weaving traditional Southern food with global flavors for Delta locals and such culinary celebrities as Ruth Reichl and Thomas Keller. One look at her menu and offerings like Black-Eyed Pea Cakes, Bourbon & Coke Fried Chicken Sliders and Alligator Ravioli explain why. Locals will be glad to know there’s plenty of Comeback Sauce to be found as well.
27. Le Bakery
Evidence of the influence of Vietnamese cuisine on coastal Mississippi, Le Bakery in Biloxi is known for its bahn mi, pork buns, fresh French bread and bubble tea. Southerners won’t have a hard time making the leap from poboys to the bakery’s Vietnamese version, filled with julienned carrots, jalapenos and meats like lemongrass garlic grilled pork.
Taking over Waltz’s spot on the square last summer, McEwen’s is a second location for the Memphis restaurant, with Lee Cauthen of beloved Downtown Grill at the helm. Small plates consist of BBQ Duck Confit Enchiladas and Baked Sweet Crab Au Gratin, with entrees including lots of fish, free-range chicken, veal shortribs and the “Trust Me Vegetarian Plate.”
29. Parlor Market
Opened in downtown Jackson last September, Parlor Market offers up a “truly Southern experience.” Materials, like salvaged wood from an old plantation, are Southern, the wine list is all Southern, and the food – from the cheese plate to the caviar, Koolickle bar snack and Mason Jar Cake – is distinctly Southern. Parlor Market hosted the cast of “The Help” during filming last year, and actress Emma Stone was overheard saying dinner there was one of the best meals she’s ever had.
30. 12 Bones Smokehouse
A favorite of President Obama, with locations in the River Arts District and in Arden, 12 Bones boasts being casual to the point of laid back. Baby back ribs, pulled pork and chicken, smoked turkey and brisket come with cornbread and two sides, ranging from jalapeno cheese grits to collard greens and corn pudding.
31. The King’s Kitchen
Truly a feast for the soul, not-for-profit King’s Kitchen Owner Jim Noble donates 100 percent of the proceeds from sales of his famous Aunt Beaut’s Skillet Fried Chicken and other menu items, from Seared Scallops With Butternut Squash Succotash to Lemon Ice Box Pie and Coconut Cake, to feeding the poor in Charlotte and around the world. Sounds like a culinary mission from God.
32. The Pig
Serving whole hog barbecue, The Pig has become a popular spot in the college town of Chapel Hill for its house-made charcuterie, vegetarian options and focus on humanely made meats. This is owner Sam Suchoff’s first restaurant, but he previously worked at The Barbecue Joint, predecessor to The Pig. He describes himself as a recovering vegan, hence the popular Sweet PLT Sandwich with sweet potato, bacon, lettuce and tomato. Beware, his potlikker does contain pork fat.
Their website is piefantasy.com. If that doesn’t give away Scratch’s focus on seasonal, artisan baking, daily lunch specials (pictured) like Broccoli Tartine, Garlicky Mac ‘n Cheese and Lemon Chess Pie will. Scratch was named one of the “Top 10 Places for Pie” by Bon Appetit, and locals will recognize owner Phoebe Lawless from the Durham Farmer’s Market.
34. Tupelo Honey Café
Asheville’s award-winning creative Southern restaurant has two locations in the city and a third coming to the Oliver Hotel in Knoxville, Tennessee, this summer. Honoring local farming, Tupelo Honey puts its own twist on Southern food in the form of Appalachian Egg Rolls, a veggie bowl with Goat Cheese Grits and Southern Fried Chicken Saltimbocca.
35. Will and Pops Food Truck
Serving exclusively local products five days a week, this food truck focuses on grilled cheese – all from North Carolina – and soups. The “Primitive” sandwich, with North Carolina Hoop and Pepper Jack cheeses, is a good place to start.
36. Big Gun Burgers
One of several burger joints opened in Charleston last year, Big Gun specializes in artisan burgers paired with classic cocktails and craft beer. There’s the Southern Hospitality burger with fried green tomato, bacon, pimento cheese and chow chow or the Duck Burger with duck confit, bacon, a fried egg, goat cheese and apple jam. A Pimm’s Cup or pale ale from the bar will help wash it down.
37. Butcher & Bee
Promising “honest to goodness sandwiches” for lunch and late night, Butcher & Bee changes out its chalkboard menu daily with specials like chicken salad with fennel and garlic, BLT with black pepper mayo, grilled cheese with pimento pickled okra and French Toast Bread Pudding.
38. The Grocery
Opened in December by Chef Kevin Johnson of Slightly North of Broad, The Grocery blends Mediterranean and Southern influences for a communal dining experience on Cannon Street. On the menu: Dirty Green Tomato Martinis, Wood-Roasted Vidalia Onion Bulbs, fried oysters with Deviled Egg Sauce and banana trifle.
Possibly the hottest Southern restaurant right now, Husk is the latest venture from James Beard Award-winning Chef Sean Brock. He and Chef Travis Grimes are bringing about the vision of a new Southern cuisine through the use of heirloom products and preservation techniques, which can be tasted in dishes like Benne and Honey Lacquered Duck, Sassafras Glazed Pork Ribs and Sea Island Red Pea Baked Beans.
40. Poe’s Tavern
Named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe, who spent time on Sullivan’s Island, Poe’s Tavern is known for its gourmet burgers and sandwiches. There’s the Pit & Pendulum Burger, Gold Bug Burger, Annabelle Lee Sandwich and even Edgar’s Drunken Chili. The restaurant also recently opened a second location in Atlantic Beach, Florida.
41. Roastfish & Cornbread
Hilton Head Island
Island native Chef David Vincent Young showcases Gullah and Lowcountry cooking at his Marshland Road restaurant, specializing in fish and seafood, from whole roasted flounder served with collard greens and sweet potato cornbread to conch fritter and fried okra appetizers. A vegetarian menu also incorporates African, Ethiopian and Mediterranean flavors.
42. Scott’s Variety Store
Discovered in 2009 by The New York Times and several other foodie media last year, Rodney Scott’s Variety Store is a treasure for barbecue. Only pulled pork, fried skins and white bread are on the menu, served with a spicy vinegar BBQ sauce. Word is Scott’s still chops its own wood for smoking, but as the place continues to be discovered, that may not last for long.
Evoking the feeling of dining at a friend’s house, Acre’s rustic, warm environment is the work of interior designer Gwin Driscoll. Chefs Wally Joe and Andrew Adams are dedicated to cooking modern food with Southern roots, showcased in dishes like 72 Hour Braised Shortrib with a black garlic glaze, Lobster Lasagna and a Ramen Noodle Hot Pot with butternut squash and a soft-cooked egg. House-infused vodkas range from Arkansas Black Apple to Ginger & Sorghum Molasses.
44. Bang Candy Co. Café
Lunch at Bang Candy Co. on Clinton Street is really just a means to an end. A sweet ending with homemade marshmallows in flavors like rose cardamom and chocolate chili, that is. Paninis are made fresh daily and sport fun names like the Bird Dog, with turkey, brie, arugula, cranberry orange relish and wholegrain mustard.
45. Chez Liberty
Opened last March, Chez Liberty started with dinner only but has since began offering lunch and brunch. Cheese and house-made charcuterie are the stars for dinner, with cheese offerings taking up half the menu. Lunch also includes a cheese tasting, while brunch transitions to Southern staples like chicken and waffles and biscuits and gravy.
46. The Elegant Farmer
One look at this Highland Street restaurant’s menu will have Southerners booking a ticket to Memphis. Farm Fresh Deviled Eggs, Mississippi Mushroom Enchiladas and a PB&J with house-made pecan butter are just a few of the farm-to-table dishes from local suppliers like Delta Pecan Orchard, Dodson Farms and Gracious Garden.
47. The Pharmacy Burger Parlor
Opened in December by the group who brought Nashville Holland House Bar & Refuge, The Pharmacy is the city’s first official biergarten, in addition to an old-fashioned soda parlor with a menu of more than 17 burgers. The bar features craft taps in German styles, complemented by house-made sausages and sauerkraut.
48. Revival Southern Food Co. Truck
Launched last fall to bring a bit of soul to Memphis’s street food scene, Revival serves up a menu that changes daily and could include everything from fries with andouille sausage gravy to bahn mi and Krispy Kreme Bread Pudding. Sides, from greens to mac ‘n cheese, are Southern all the way.
A Southern small plates restaurant located in historic downtown Richmond, Pasture opened at the end of November. Chef Jason Alley’s (who also owns Comfort) Potlikker Noodles with Mustard Greens have already been featured in Bon Appetit, and diners on Yelp are raving about his brussel sprouts, Virginia Ham Plate and cheeseburger.
50. The Roosevelt
Open for less than a year, The Roosevelt in Richmond, Virginia’s Church Hill neighborhood is receiving glowing local reviews. A laid-back, Southern neighborhood joint, The Roosevelt is owned by Chef Lee Gregory, a South Carolina native up for “Chef of the Year” from Richmond Magazine, and Kendra Feather of Richmond’s legendary basement vegetarian restaurant Ipanema.
With an all-Virginia wine list, craft cocktails using regional liquors and food that’s all about pushing the boundaries of Southern cuisine, The Roosevelt should be a destination restaurant for 2012. Hurry up and get a seat before word gets out. They don’t take reservations.
Q&A with Chef Lee Gregory by Erin Z. Bass.
What’s in a name?
LG: Our building dates back to 1920 and was right in wheelhouse of a bunch of FDR [Franklin Delano Roosevelt] food movements and policy he was trying to do. It was more of a name for the era of the original building and just felt right.
Why Church Hill?
LG: Church Hill is the original Richmond, set up above the river and industry and market was down below. It’s slowly but surely being renovated and re-gentrified. At some point, our building was a boarding house, fish market/grocery store. It has a pretty cool history.
What’s your favorite dish on the menu?
LG: We tend to change it fairly often. Right now, we’re doing a braised short rib dish I like a lot with Anton Mills rice grits, a slow-cooked egg and Korean or red chili sauce broth. We also do a fried pig’s head terrine that I like a lot.
LG: It’s more the total package for us. Our bar manager does really cool cocktails and some off-the-beaten-path liquors and regional liquors. The Seersucker seems to sell like gangbusters. I know it’s got a grilled, charred frozen lemon in it and Maker’s Mark and sweet tea syrup. It’s probably our No. 1 seller.
How risky is having an all-Virginia wine list?
LG: It seems to be doing really well and has put us in a different category. That was one of the things that Kendra wanted to do. People are into it and are understanding there are some good wines out there. Virginia has some bad wines, but California has bad wines. If you seek out 10 or 12 people doing good things, it can stand alone.
Why should people eat at The Roosevelt in 2012?
LG: It’s farm-to-table and it’s Southern ingredients, but we do some different things with it. We’re not just making fried catfish and grits. We’re breathing a little life into the cuisine, so people can start understanding what it can be. We want to be Southern-influenced, but then cook the food how it makes sense.
Did we leave off your favorite restaurant? Please comment and let us know!
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