John Egerton, author of Southern Food, writes, “The best of Southern food, as it has evolved through the centuries, has been passed down and modified and expanded from one generation to the next.” We're highlighting just a few of the many great Southern restaurants in quintessentially Southern cities in this piece, honoring both the storied, old-school
Dave's Seafood and Carry-Out, Charleston, SC
icons and the innovative, contemporary restaurants of the genre. As Egerton says, “Whatever else they may have to offer, many Southerners can still set a fine table and surround it with conversation and laughter and love.” No matter the generation they were born into, good food and gracious hospitality are the threads common to these restaurants, each a worthy representation of the region.
Mary Mac’s Tea Room - Open since 1945, Midtown's time-honored Mary Mac's Tea Room remains a Southern cooking institution for the likes of pork roast and cornbread dressing, braised oxtails, a list of fresh vegetables that numbers in double-digits, and house-made desserts.
Restaurant Eugene – With its star now firmly affixed in the Atlanta sky, Restaurant Eugene’s meat and fish dishes from much-heralded chef Linton Hopkins can include guinea hen with spoon bread puree and seared grouper.
The Bright Star - The Bright Star opened in 1907 as a small café and has remained in its same welcoming location in south suburban Bessemer since 1914. Greek- and Creole-influenced steak and seafood dishes are the stars here, both reasonably priced compared to their chain competitors.
Highlands Grille – Oh, let us count the ways in which this restaurant has pleased diners and inspired cooks around the country since 1982 with its French-influenced Southern dishes, not the least of which is the stone ground baked grits with country ham and fresh thyme, a staple on the menu for years.
Dave’s Seafood and Carry-Out - Fried seafood, and fantastic fried shrimp in particular, have set Dave's Seafood Carry-Out apart since 1987. Non-fried seafood options and vegetable sides vary daily.
Husk - Sean Brock’s temple to all foods Southern has been a smashing success and is frequently mentioned among the country’s elite restaurants since opening in 2010 — a Nashville branch just popped up this year as well. Begin with snacks and starters such as crispy pig ear lettuce wraps or pimento cheese and griddle cakes.
Lusco’s – If walls could talk, this Greenwood favorite might reveal all kinds of colorful stories about the deals and conversations that have taken place in the privacy of its curtained booths since 1933. And maybe those walls could give us the recipe for Lusco’s wonderful pompano as well.
Delta Bistro - Chef-proprietor and artist Taylor Bowen Ricketts creates beautiful food and art inspired by her life in Mississippi and the memories of her family’s Louisiana kitchen. Try anything that’s offered with the delicious Comeback Sauce.
New Orleans, LA
Galatoire’s - At Galatoire’s, the grand dame of New Orleans cuisine, the word is tradition and their shrimp remoulade is a favorite in Crescent City. This award-winning restaurant continues to serve outstanding French Creole food under the direction of the restaurant's fourth-generation family-members.
Willie Mae’s Scotch House – The reopening of long-standing Willie Mae’s Scotch House after hurricane Katrina represented a spiritual renewal for the city. Locals and visitors alike clamor for the city's most superlative fried chicken and Southern mainstays such as butter beans and rice. Extra credit: watch Joe York’s excellent film on Willie Mae’s post-Katrina rebuild.
Cochon – With its rustic and inviting ambiance, this "swine"-dining establishment is a great example of the city's true Southern appeal. (They even have real moonshine.) The boucherie plate is a must-try, as is the signature roasted Gulf fish "fisherman’s style”.
Arnold’s Country Kitchen – Kingpin caretaker of the meat-and-three genre, owner Jack Arnold has handed the reins to his son Kahlil, who oversees the daily activity at this unassuming eatery just south of downtown. Shake a hand; make a friend at this place: You and your banana pudding-laden tray may be sharing a table family-style in the cozy confines.
The Southern - The Southern manages to be country and citified and the same time, not unlike a lot the hit tunes cut in Music City recording studios. Fast becoming a menu favorite is the wood-fired double cut pork chop with red onion marmalade.
Mrs. Wilkes' Dining Room – Sema Wilkes took over a boarding house in 1943 and transformed it into one of historic downtown’s Savannah’s most iconic restaurants. Now entering its 7th decade, Sema’s great-grandson Ryon Thompson has taken the reigns, and locals and tourists alike still line up for their famed fried chicken and family-style Southern lunches.
Local 11 Ten – Housed in a restored 1950’s bank building in downtown Savannah, stylish and striking Local 11 Ten features the locally sourced Southern cuisine of executive chef Brandy Williamson. Seasonally changing menus may offer seared sea scallops with peach preserves and pickled ramps, or North Carolina frog legs with succotash and bacon.