"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."
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.
When they opened adorable neighborhood restaurant Seersucker, 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 (pictured).
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 Farm Burger's 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.
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 foods—frogs, crawfish, rice."
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."
With its classic cocktails and late-Victorian sconces, Comstock is inspired by the West Coast's turn-of-the-century saloons. Still, after researching old cookbooks, Carlo Espinas discovered, "When you look at historical American cooking, all roads lead to the South." Among his new Southern classics: red-pepper jelly spread on cheddar crackers that are a cross between Cheez-Its and Wheat Thins.
F&W restaurant editor Kate Krader: "I've been eating Korean food in New York City since I was a teenager, but this outpost of Los Angeles's Koreatown barbecue spot, in a suburban strip mall, is my new favorite. Each oversize table is outfitted with a giant domed lid for cooking condiments (caramelized kimchi is delicious; bean sprouts are fine) to accompany the marinated slices of kurobuta pork belly."
Some chefs would be content to stay forever near the ocean at the nicely situated Montage in Laguna Beach, California. But last year, James Boyce relocated to the South—specifically to Huntsville, Alabama, where he opened Cotton Row in a three-story 1821 brick building that was part of the city's historic cotton exchange. Boyce's lovely menu includes a few dishes that don't evoke the South (e.g., grilled king salmon with Provençal vegetables and tapenade). But he has many that do, including...read on
Jill and Keith Forrester sold heirloom vegetables and herbs at the Memphis farmers' market for five years. "We saw plenty of locally grown food, but no place serving it," says Jill. So in June, the Forresters opened Trolley Stop. Meat and dairy are sourced from no more than 150 miles away, produce from less than 100 miles (Trolley Stop doubles as a CSA distribution point). Pizzas topped with bacon or sausage and lots of vegetables are popular, especially the Old MacDonald with tomatoes, corn, carrots and squash. "It's really colorful, and kids love the name," Jill says.
The year-old Balliceaux is named for a Caribbean island, but its design, with concrete walls and skylights, is more evocative of downtown Manhattan. Chef Russell Cook covers a lot of ground on the menu, with dishes ranging from braised pork belly with charred onion slaw and tortillas to panko-crusted tofu with house-made kimchi. The nice surprise is that he does most of it so well.
Until recently, the Italian restaurants in New Orleans were the kind that served red sauce by the truckload. Now, with the opening of the terrific A Mano, the city's Italian-food scene is a lot more interesting. Chef Josh Smith spends a lot of time shopping at the Crescent City farmers' market, so there's a decidedly local influence in his food: He calls his coppa di testa "hogshead cheese" and serves it with an herbed green-tomato relish...read on
Linton Hopkins (an F&W Best New Chef 2009), his wife, Gina, and mixologist Greg Best—the team behind Holeman & Finch—honor the bottle shop, the precursor to pubs. Look for house-made items like H&F's own gin, epic Bloody Mary mix and peach-and-cola bitters. "We have to use Coca-Cola—we're in the South," Gina says.
At Bettola, James Lewis serves stellar antipasti and pizzas using heirloom vegetables from imported Italian seeds. At his soon-to-open place—still unnamed at press time—he'll take advantage of butchering techniques he picked up from Italian star Dario Cecchini. He'll offer small northern Italian plates and meat by the pound, including German-style sausages.
The "whole animal" ethos and minimalist look of Abattoir in Atlanta reminds writer Julia Reed of hunting-club meals during her Mississippi Delta youth. The menu also offers genteel cocktail-party staples, such as pickled shrimp.