Hot Eats: Southern

 In Food

When Rick Lewis sat down to find inspiration for his new restaurant, it was behind the steering wheel: He and his wife, Elisa, stopped in at fried chicken restaurants across the South in a quest to experience the ultimate comfort food in all its regional glory. But it was Nashville’s hot fried chicken that jumped out at them—and nobody in St. Louis was making it yet. Lewis pounced. But there was another idea on the table that the chef didn’t want to put aside: sandwiches. Lewis grew up on fried bologna and BLTs here in St. Louis, and he wanted to celebrate his heritage, too. The concepts were fused, and Southern was born.


Rick Lewis, chef at Southern | photo by Jennifer Silverberg

About that hot fried chicken… To describe spiciness, “cluckin’ hot” sounds cute—until you’re trying to wrap your lips around a piece of fried chicken coated in cayenne and chili oil. Although there are delicious options for those who like their chicken without such a punch, this place is heaven for heat-lovers: The “medium” proves too hot for some, and it’s second from the bottom on the heat scale.

Lewis grew up watching his mom and grandma season and fry St. Louis-style fried chicken, and a couple of their tried-and-true seasonings made the cut: black pepper
and garlic. But he’s quick to point out this isn’t an old family recipe. Lewis’ meat is
marinated in beer, vinegar and lime juice, rubbed with seasoning, coated in white flour and fried in corn oil. The tender, juicy results can be ordered individually or as a multipiece plate with two sides, pickles and bread.

Speaking of sides: They are fantastic. The kitchen leaves a bit of chunkiness in the mashed potatoes—a universal signal that they’re homemade. Those and Lewis’ other starchy options (mac ’n’ cheese and housemade chips) shouldn’t be over- looked. For those looking to cut through the heat, you can’t do better than the fresh, seasonal vegetables or the slightly sweet vinegar slaw, which is delicious between bites of crunchy chicken.

About those sandwiches… Like his chicken, Lewis has taken the sandwiches he grew up with and put his own twist on them: The best example of the reimagined fillings is The Dirty South, with thick-sliced bacon, fried green tomatoes, greens and mayo—a BLT for the modern foodie. The fried bologna is spiffed up too, with pimento cheese and a sunny-side-up farm egg.

The meats are cured in-house, and it’s worth sampling as many of them as possible. The Hog Father and the Cubano are the two best means to this end: The Hog Father is stuffed with salame cotto, pepperoni and coppa, and the Cubano shows off pulled pork from Pappy’s (next door) and sugar-cured ham. Or, if you prefer a little of this and a little of that, try the rotating Butcher Board, found on the “snacks” menu.

But don’t get too full: It’s practically a requirement here to leave room for dessert. There’s usually one made in-house—the banana pudding is a big winner—and there are also some from partners like Pint Size Bakery and Sugaree Baking Company.

Looking around Southern, you’d have a hard time picking out fine-dining veteran Lewis: Rather than standing apart from his team, he stands with them—each dressed in retro gas station shirts and moving through the dining room with a smile. His history with high-quality producers and suppliers clearly shapes his approach to the food and the experience at Southern, and he’s hoping more of his colleagues follow in his trailblazing footsteps with their own hip takes on fast-casual concepts. After a meal here, it seems like a very good idea.

Entrees $9.50-13.50

Hours Wed.-Sun. 11am-4pm

Top dish Fried chicken with a side of mashed potatoes and pan gravy

Best place to perch Wherever a seat opens up

Insider tip If you’re curious about the cluckin’ hot style but don’t think you can handle a whole plate of it, order a single cluckin’ hot tender with your plate of medium-hot pieces.

This story appeared in the October 2015 issue. 

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