Oh the Deep South. How do I love thee? This is where I was born. This is where I was raised. This is where I spent all my yesterdays. I mean whats not to love about this place where a lazy afternoon is spent on the front porch sipping lemonade, where speaking to passer-by’s is a common courtesy, where next to God football is king and where you can find the finest cuisine. And I’m not just talking about good ole’ fried chicken and homemade buttermilk biscuits. I talking about dry-aged prime USDA steaks, fresh local seafood, sauce dripping down your arm Bar-B-Que and everything in between. So come on down and visit with us a spell. We’ll welcome you with open arms and while you’re here go ahead and “Put Some South In Your Mouth!”
Quick, where will you find the restaurant with the biggest wine list in the world? That’s right, Tampa, Fla. Founded in 1956 by the late Bern Laxer, Bern’s Steak House is still a family-run restaurant, with Bern’s son, David Laxer, at the helm. The wine list isn’t the only draw here, of course. With some calling it the country’s best steak house, the food isn’t bad either.
Commander’s Palace, New Orleans
A slice of New Orleans dining history — it opened in 1880 — this culinary landmark has long been collecting accolades for everything from its service to its wine list to its “haute Creole” cuisine. The gold standard of family-run restaurants, Commander’s offers a dining experience that could win you over on its Southern charm alone — but you’d be remiss to not order the turtle soup, practically synonymous with the place.
“Eat at Joe’s” may have been a running joke in classic Warner Bros. cartoons, but this almost 100-year-old establishment is a serious Miami institution. The old-school seafood house boasts a massive menu, but your order is simple: stone crab claws (jumbos if available, nothing smaller than large), hash browns, and Key lime pie.
The Pit, Raleigh, N.C.
Barbecue is religion in the South, and without question, pitmaster Ed Mitchell is one of its patron saints. The legendary barbecue baron oversees this destination-worthy joint, specializing in North Carolina-style whole hog, pit-cooked ‘cue. The word “authentic” should only be dispensed with caution when it comes to food, but Mitchell’s generations-old family recipe is the real deal, widely regarded as the standard for its genre.
In a town full of great Tex-Mex places, Fonda San Miguel stands out for its superbly made “interior Mexican” food, from tacos al pastor and spinach salad with toasted pasilla chiles and panela cheese to Gulf shrimp in chipotle cream sauce and crêpes filled with goat’s milk caramel.
Cochon, New Orleans
A cult favorite since it opened in 2006, Cochon is the domain of pork-loving chef Donald Link, proprietor of the popular Herbsaint and winner of a 2010 James Beard Award for his cookbook Real Cajun. Inspired by Cajun and Creole culinary traditions, Link serves up dishes like deep-fat-fried hog head cheese with field beans and ravigote and Louisiana cochon (roast pig) with turnips, cabbage, and cracklins’ as well as such non-porcine delights as fried alligator with chile garlic aïoli and rabbit and dumplings.
This is what you should know about Galatoire’s: the food is classic Creole and all-around New Orleans in style and it’s not on your diet; the menu has changed little over the past century-plus, and is full of things like turtle soup au sherry, crabmeat au gratin, eggs Sardou (with creamed spinach, artichoke bottoms, and Hollandaise), and Louisiana seafood eggplant cake; and you’ll have a good time if you go hungry — and a better time if you go hungry with a regular at your side.
Kreuz Market, Lockhart, Texas
Definitive Hill Country barbecue — meat on butcher paper — in a big barn of a place perfumed with woodsmoke.The brisket is what it’s all about, but there are also fans who drive for hours for the housemade sausages, including the impossibly delicious “regular” and the more complicated jalapeño cheese links. Side dishes include German potato salad and sauerkraut alongside the usual cole slaw and beans — a reference to Kreuz’s teutonic origins.
John Besh is one of the most interesting and ambitious chefs in the Crescent City today. The American menu at this splendid eatery betrays his love for, and understanding of, French, Italian, and high-level American cuisine, much of it interpreted with a New Orleans lilt.
Lambert’s Downtown Barbecue, Austin, Texas
Texas barbecue gets a new look at this friendly, casual, but gastronomically serious establishment. Crispy wild boar ribs with Cabrales blue cheese, oak-smoked brisket with brown sugar and coffee rub, cold-smoked rainbow trout, waffle fries with Spanish smoked red pepper — this is not your father’s ‘cue.
Located at the Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. Choose from one of the many dining venues on site, from the outdoor patio to the more upscale Gallery; if you’re dining chef-side in Dean’s Kitchen, or at the Chef’s Table, look for the ebullient chef Dean Fearing himself, who is often present.
Hominy Grill, Charleston, S.C.
Located in downtown Charleston, Hominy Grill, located in a onetime barbershop, features chef/owner Robert Stehling’s classic Lowcountry cooking, served with relaxed, at-home feel. Don’t miss his stone-ground grits, house-made sausage, or rich Southern-style desserts like buttermilk pie or butterscotch pudding.
Peer into Reef’s buzzing open kitchen to watch renowned chef and devoted Houstonite Bryan Caswell expertly craft elegant, fresh seafood dishes that show his patrons the true meaning of Southern coastal culture. Caswell grew to fame under culinary greats like Charlie Palmer, Alfred Portale, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Thoughtful touches, such as presenting the lump crab lollipop with claw intact, express Caswell’s devotion to the ocean.
Eugene, Atlanta, Ga.
Eugene pays homage to those who grow the local produce they use right on the menu. The list typically includes around two dozen farms, dairies, and even elementary school gardens, and pays tribute to the ingredients by altering them as little as possible while making everything in the kitchen from scratch. Named as one of Food and Wine‘s Best Chefs of 2009, Linton Hopkins offers refined dishes, such as his wild mushroom tasting plate, that come from the ingenuously rustic roots he describes as “folkways meeting Escoffier.”
The Fearrington House Restaurant has kept its AAA Five Diamond rating for 16 years and is the only restaurant of its caliber to receive Green Certification from the Green Restaurant Association. Executive chef Colin Bedford offers a highly refined blend of classical French and New American cuisine, inspired by his commitment to environmental sustainability. Unsurprisingly, it was also mentioned in our list of 10 Inns Worth Dining In.
Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami
According to Michael Schwartz, winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Southern Chef, the most important thing you can take away from dining at this New York Times Top 10 establishment is: Know Your Source. The restaurant procures its Old World rustic-breed chickens, for instance, from North Carolina’s Joyce Foods, the only producer of Label Rouge poultry in the U.S.; heirloom tomatoes figure not only on the menu (more than once), but as decor in the minimalist dining room.
The cuisine is so emblematic that it has inspired a new category — Foothills Cuisine, a term that has actually been copyrighted. Truly farm-to-table, the Barn uses the farm estate’s produce and products for a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with a global flair.
Quinones at Bacchanalia, Atlanta
Consistently considered one of best restaurants in Atlanta, the dining room at Quinones, adjacent to the older and also acclaimed Bacchanalia, has only 11 tables. The menu, which changes daily, boasts a collection of dishes that mixes modern and classic Southern cuisine, with the results skillfully prepared.
At the premier establishment from renowned cowboy-chef Tim Love, the culinary style is what Love calls “Urban Western Cuisine”. This translates to Texas-style meat and potatoes with an edge of sophistication. Located in the historic Stockyards District of Fort Worth, Lonesome Dove proposed a menu featuring large servings of protein — whole fish, cowboy steaks, roasted turkey, and a variety of wild game among them.
Hot and Hot Fish Club, Birmingham, Ala.
Christopher and Idie Hastings, the chef-owners of Hot and Hot Fish Club, located in a historic building on Birmingham’s Southside, pride themselves on crafting what they call “memory cuisine”, using simple ingredients to create dishes that trigger a sense of nostalgia in their diners. Fish is — no surprise — the specialty, but vegetables picked at the optimum point and top-quality meat and poultry are also treated with respect and skill.
McCrady’s is an establishment richly steeped in Charleston history, residing in a structure, built in 1788, that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks. Juxtaposed against the staid surroundings, the menu at McCrady’s is anything but traditional, though chef Sean Bock, who received the James Beard award for Best Chef Southeast in 2010, weaves touches of Southern tradition into the otherwise highly modern cuisine. The bar has become known for its specialty pre-Prohibition-style cocktails.
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