With great delight, we’ve tracked the moves that Southern-inflected dishes have made over the last five years or so, where chefs borrow from this rich, storied pantry and weave it into the narrative of modern American menus.
Today, that exploration continues, with Southern staples like sorghum and pimento cheese getting play in broader applications.
Another intriguing turn this trend has taken is as a starring role in global mash-ups, where chefs are tethering flavors and ingredients of the South to those of India, Korea and more. That global mash-up sensibility, coupled with built-in familiarity and craveability, makes the opportunity here pretty spectacular—from snacks and sides to breakfast fare, bowl builds and shareables.
Stephen Barber, executive chef of Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch in St. Helena, Calif., features country ham in his Mini Ham Sandwiches with Fresno pepper jelly on the restaurant’s shareables menu, combining the South with the West Coast in a salty, sweet, spicy snack, all tucked into a rich biscuit (above).
Southern Meets Latin
Pimento cheese was one of the early ambassadors of Southern food, seen on shareable menus with crackers, or spread over Southern-themed burgers. At Better Half in Atlanta, Executive Chef Zach Meloy turns to pimento cheese for a global mash-up bar snack in his Pimento Cheese Empanada.
“We’re always examining the crossover between the Latin and Southern kitchen, and this pimento cheese may be the secret key to it all.” Creamy pimento cheese is studded with smoky chipotle, wrapped in a tender corn masa dough and fried to crisp it up. “This little bite that we’ve been serving like an amuse bouche embodies our search—crispy hominy crust, melted cheese spiked with sweet and smoky chiles. It’s pure perfection in two bites.”
The South knows how to deep fry, with fritters of all kinds serving up golden opportunity for craveability. At C&S Seafood and Oyster Bar in Atlanta, Jon Schwenk, co-owner and executive chef, menus Shrimp and Goat Cheese Beignets with a tomato compote.
“The goat cheese in the center becomes warm and creamy, with the shrimp and the crispy beignet crust creating the perfect contrast,” he says. “The goat cheese is very rich, and that is where the tomato compote comes into play, with the high acidity level of the tomato helping to cut the richness.”
Chicken & Waffles
Chefs are leveraging the creative potential of chicken and waffles, a Southern favorite. Datassential reports that this dynamic duo has seen a 143 percent rise on menus over the last four years. Chefs are playing with all of the elements, bending them so they work with the concept’s sensibility while still delivering on the promise of this comfort food classic.
On the Menu
- Chicken & Waffles: Kimchi, sancho syrup, kinako waffle—Uni, Boston
- Chicken Katsu with Hong Kong egg waffles and braised collard greens—Vandal, New York
- Chicken & Waffles: Jerk chicken, corn waffle, pimento cheese, chow-chow, Fresno pepper syrup—Dusek’s Board and Beer, Chicago
Cat Cora showcases her Mississippi heritage at New York’s Fatbird Southern Kitchen and Bar. At the center of the restaurant is her biscuit bar, boasting a family recipe and offering a number of housemade butters and jams.
Cora, a TV personality and The Food Network’s first female Iron Chef, also menus “Famous Fat Biscuit Sammies.” The Fried Green Tomato sandwich features green tomatoes that are sliced thick and dredged in an egg mixture, coated in a seasoned bread mixture, then pan-fried, served in a warm biscuit with a side of butter.
“Southern food consists of so many comforting dishes, reminding people of their childhoods and days spent with loved ones,” she says. “I think updated Southern classics are such a hit right now around the country because they bring back these nostalgic times, not to mention they’re also all downright delicious!”
With so many legumes making waves in foodservice, it’s great to see black-eyed peas getting more attention. At Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours in Atlanta, Deborah VanTrece, executive chef, offers up a Black-eyed Pea Salsa with housemade corn tortillas as a fun snack.
By blending the earthiness of the black-eyed pea with citrus from the lime, natural sweetness of tomatoes, spice from jalapeños, and fragrant cilantro, this savory dish is good to the last chip.
Deborah Vantrece, Twisted Soul Cookhouse & Pours
Devil’s in the Detail
Deviled eggs just keep getting more devilish. At Root & Bone in New York, the Drunken Deviled Eggs with pickled roots and chips turn heads with their impressive color and height. The eggs are pickled in beet juice, which gives them gorgeous color. The deviled mixture sees a blend of yolks, mayonnaise, mustard, rice vinegar, turmeric, salt, pepper, Tabasco, capers and chives, and the garnish stars pickled beets and housemade potato chips.
Meanwhile, at Bar Helix in Denver, “Devilish” Eggs are stuffed with dry-aged sirloin tartare and marbled with a red-wine brine.
Eat My Grits
Shrimp and grits is a Lowcountry dish that practically begs for signature interpretation. Geoffrey Zakarian, executive chef of Point Royal at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Fla., serves his take with his Southern-inspired Shrimp & Anson Mills Grits with andouille sausage, cheddar, scallion and pickled mushrooms.
“The savory richness of the polenta really carries and marries well with the delicate shrimp, Creole-spiced butter and sausage,” says Zakarian, a familiar face on The Food Network. “The pickled mushrooms bring a brightness to the dish and really lighten up an otherwise rich dish.”
Zakarian’s take on this Southern dish fits his restaurant nicely, which focuses on American coastal cuisine. Chefs around the country are adopting this menu hit, melding it into something new while playing off of its familiar profile.
On the Menu
- Moroccan Fish and Grits: Heirloom grits, grilled peppers, chraimeh—Butcher & Bee, Charleston, S.C.
- Shrimp and Grits with soft egg, cocoa nib, chipotle mole—Redbird, San Francisco
- Coconut Grits with 12-Hour Braised Pork, chimichurri, pickled red onion, hot sauce and watercress—Lalito, New York
- Shrimp and Grits Taco with Creole mayo, blackened shrimp, crispy pepper Jack cheese grits, charred tomato-poblano salsa, micro cilantro, corn tortilla—Velvet Taco, based in Dallas