First Taste

Justin Beckett's Southern Rail: Southern Food Requires A Little More Soul

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We paired the cocktail with an order of cornbread muffins ($5). The starter comes with three good-sized pieces of cornbread and a side of black pepper honey butter. The bread is baked with pieces of corn, bell peppers, and other veggies, which unfortunately did little to boost the bland biscuits. Maybe they were designed that way to let the delicious butter shine? If so, it worked. We were looking for anything to spread the peppery, sweet butter on. If it were sold by the tub, we'd be buying.

Off the small plates section of the menu we chose an order of fried green tomatoes ($9) and smoked chicken and andouille gumbo ($8). The trio of battered and fried tomatoes comes with a spread of spicy pimento cheese and two stems of green leaves. It wasn't until we looked back at the menu that we realized they weren't just decoration, but rather "local greens." To us, they were superfluous. The tomatoes themselves were salty -- maybe even overly -- thanks to the heavy cornmeal batter and pieces of chunky sea salt. We would have preferred a lighter batter and juicier tomatoes, but the pimento cheese added a nice heat to the dish.

The bowl of gumbo, a bit small for $8, may be troubling to those with a real affinity for the dish. For starters it's served with a giant scoop of white rice in the middle (as opposed the gumbo being on a bed of rice, not a deal breaker on its own) and a fork. Sure, gumbo can come in a range of thicknesses, but we prefer to eat -- and to need to eat -- ours with a spoon.

Had we not known the chicken in the stew was chicken we would have guessed it was beef, as it was rather tough. But the andouille sausage was even worse, with a texture reminiscent of chewy meatloaf. We mostly left the sausage untouched.

On the recommendation of our server, we also ordered a dish of collard greens ($8), which come dressed in hot sauce and vinegar and mixed with ham hock and bacon. The kitchen must be slow cooking their greens since they arrived at the table an unattractive shade of greyish green. For those who like the sour, bitter taste of vinegar these will be a pleaser. They're also likely to be a winner with Tabasco fans; the sauce practically oozes out of the leaves when you go to cut them into more manageable pieces. We saw, but couldn't taste, the pieces of ham and bacon.

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Lauren Saria
Contact: Lauren Saria