Chicago: Kith & Kin
© Andrews Braddy Photography
"I was born and raised in Queens, in New York City; I was as far from being Southern as you could be," chef David Carrier says. But after cooking at Trio outside Chicago (another far cry from the South), Carrier moved down to the Florida panhandle and immersed himself in the region's food. Kith & Kin's menu isn't strictly Southern, but there are a fair number of Southern dishes, like a wonderful pimento cheese. As for the shrimp with okra, confited veal heart and orzo, "It looks like jambalaya, but it's not," Carrier says. "I love good Cajun food, but it's not my thing."
Los Angeles: First & Hope
Photo courtesy of First & Hope
The menu at this new supper club in a strip mall near the Disney concert hall is over-the-top, even by very generous Southern standards. Shelley Cooper, a Memphis native, trained with Louis Osteen, the South's hottest chef after Emeril Lagasse in the 1990s. At First & Hope, she has created best-sellers like a flight of mac and cheeses and Praise the Lard, which combines crispy pig ears, bourbon-braised pork cheeks and creamy grits. "I've realized ingredients that are very familiar to me are a fun novelty to people in L.A.," she says.
Brooklyn, NY: Seersucker
© Sarah Lemoncelli
When they opened this adorable neighborhood restaurant, Arkansas-born chef Robert Newton and his girlfriend, Kerry Diamond, agreed on the food: the South via South Brooklyn. Except, says Diamond, "I wanted barbecue spaghetti; that's Rob's nightmare." Instead, Newton offers a snack tray with deviled and pickled eggs and, every Tuesday night, a terrific, two-day-brined-then-fried half-chicken.
Atlanta: Miller Union
© David Naugle
Tina Ujlaki, F&W's supersonic executive food editor, came back from Atlanta raving about this place. She loved chef Steven Satterfield's simple, Southern-influenced food, particularly the grits fritters with country ham, and perfectly seared flounder topped with six salted capers. And she said she'd fly to Atlanta just for the house-made ice creams.
Atlanta: Farm Burger
Burgers and farm-to-table cooking are huge right now, but George Frangos and Jason Mann's interest predates both trends. (In fact, Mann owns an ethically raised beef cooperative.) Frangos favors the No. 4 burger on the blackboard menu with pickled beets, goat cheese and arugula. From the "build it" option, F&W restaurant editor Kate Krader would go for smoked-paprika mayo and maybe roasted bone marrow.
Lafayette, Louisiana: Cochon
© Chris Granger
Donald Link of New Orleans's wildly popular Cajun spot Cochon has family history in the Lafayette area. And he found a pretty patch of land for sale, near a river with oak trees and cypress. Those are two reasons he's opening a branch of Cochon here, in 2011. He's just hired a forager: "We're beginning to source local foodsfrogs, crawfish, rice."
North Carolina: Herons
© Liza Gershman
Most hotel restaurants are lucky to have one very talented chef; Herons, in the Research Triangle's luxurious Umstead Hotel and Spa, has two. Scott Crawford and Steven Devereaux Greene team up to prepare dishes that manage to be elegant, local and Southern all at once, like roasted foie gras with pickled rhubarb, pecan hash and just a little banana puree. "It sounds like too much, but it's not," says Greene. "The pickled rhubarb just nails it."