Southern Dining

Julie Besonen

It's a hot time in the City for Southern restaurants, with a renaissance that includes Pies 'n' Thighs as well as Peaches HotHouse in Brooklyn and Tipsy Parson, The Cardinal and Bobwhite Lunch & Supper Counter in Manhattan. Up in Harlem, Sylvia's has been extending a warm welcome for decades, but our slideshow highlights a couple of other soul food stars that deserve some extra love. At Southern eateries throughout the City—among them, Amy Ruth's, Seersucker and Bayou—you'll find specialties like fried chicken in an array of lip-smacking varieties; classics like shrimp rémoulade, grits and jambalaya; and comfort-food accompaniments (biscuits, sweet potato fries, corn bread, et al) that satisfy cravings on the rich and savory side of the culinary spectrum. Drinks such as Cajun martinis and a Bloody Mary made with corn whiskey have that special Southern kick, and you can push your gastronomic limits with a plate of unexpectedly delicious pig tails.

The ambience at the venues—with homespun authenticity, tarot card readings and, of course, live music—heightens the experience. Read on for more, including where to go on Staten Island when you can't make it to the Big Easy's Bourbon Street.

Mad Clams. Courtesy, Bayou

1072 Bay St., 718-273-4383, Rosebank, Staten Island
Looking to alter your Sunday-brunch routine? Wend your way to Staten Island for some of the best New Orleans–style food this side of Bourbon Street. There's live jazz and a three-course prix fixe for $19.95, which includes a Bloody Mary or champagne cocktail. Eggs Hussarde evoke a famous specialty at the New Orleans eatery Brennan's, the poached eggs and ham finished with marchand de vin sauce and hollandaise. Bayou's bordello-style dining room cleaves to the Big Easy theme as well, decorated with swag red curtains, images of jazz musicians and Mardi Gras masks and beads. It's romantic at night, when you'll find shrimp rémoulade, jambalaya and crawfish étouffée on the menu. Tarot card readings add an occult flavor on Monday nights, and there's more live music on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too. Photo: Phil Kline

Amy Ruth's
113 W. 116th St., 212-280-8779, Harlem, Manhattan
Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too
366 W. 110th St., 212-865-6744, Harlem, Manhattan
At Amy Ruth's, squares of crumbly corn bread are delivered promptly from the oven, warm enough for the butter to melt in. The chicken dishes (fried, smothered, baked, honey-dipped) are rightly celebrated and, named in honor of VIPs, have such appelations as The President Barack Obama, The Ludacris and The Rev. Al Sharpton. Some of the best food in Harlem is here, including browned salmon croquettes and crunchy, golden-fried okra that's as habit-forming as any commercial snack food. The space is plain and informal, with locals filing in for takeout. But fried food doesn't always travel well, so why not sit a spell?

You'll also want to chill out at Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too, a cute country cottage with a white picket fence enclosing the outdoor seating area. Indoors is an upright piano painted red, and there are layer cakes on the counter, and vintage kitchen tools and family photos on display throughout the room. The Southern fried chicken is delicious, as are the ribs and catfish. How to decide? The sampler, of course, which allows a taste of everything plus sides like collard greens and hoppin' John.

Country fried steak. Photo: Malcolm Brown

The Brooklyn Star
593 Lorimer St., 718-599-9899, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
The notion of eating pig tails may not have occurred to you, but give it some thought. Who knew they could be so delicious? At The Brooklyn Star, the tails, slathered in rich tomato sauce, are a cross between wings and ribs, more meaty than you'd expect and served in a bowl with crusty tater tots. No complaints when it comes to country fried steak or the hot meat loaf sandwich, either. The Southern food here has a Texas twang since that's where chef/co-owner Joaquin Baca (ex-Momofuku) hails from. His drinks list is supremely eclectic, ranging from Miller High Life to a Dr. Pepper cocktail to elegant European wines. The sleek bar and dining room is spacious, a good place for groups to share the big-as-Dallas portions. This is a cool, not hokey, venue where you're more likely to hear The Kinks and the Ramones than Toby Keith.

Courtesy, Great Jones Cafe

Great Jones Cafe
54 Great Jones St., 212-674-9304, NoHo, Manhattan
The horseshoe hung over the door must have brought good luck to Great Jones Cafe, rocking since 1983. The gentrified Bowery-area neighborhood surrounding it may have gone through a massive metamorphosis, but not much has changed in the venue itself, from the Elvis bust in the window to the lip-tingling Cajun martinis. It still feels like the roadside shack it always was, strung with Christmas lights and loud with laughter and the rattle of cocktail shakers. At lunch, get the juicy, beefy hamburger with excellent fries—either regular or sweet potato. The dinner menu changes a little every day, but there's usually fried catfish, gumbo and Louisiana-style jambalaya with jalapeño corn bread. Keep in mind that you can't get the burger during brunch, when the menu is limited to buttermilk pancakes and heaping plates of eggs with fluffy biscuits.

Fried catfish. Photo: Alex Lopez

329 Smith St., 718-422-0444, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn
Seersucker, open since 2010, has settled into a groove that's as comfy as your favorite pair of pants. The modern, cleanly designed space is separated from the kitchen by shelves of pickled items, but there's little else to reveal its Southern moorings. Chef/co-owner Robert Newton is from Arkansas yet firmly rooted in Brooklyn; his menu is peppered with ingredients foraged from the Carroll Gardens and Grand Army Plaza Greenmarkets. At dinner, look for refined cornmeal-crusted oysters, grilled trout and fried chicken. The brunch-time baked pimento cheese grits with poached egg and bacon is dandy alongside a jolting Bloody Mary made with corn whiskey. Last year, Newton and his partner Kerry Diamond opened Smith Canteen, a casual café and takeout spot serving North Carolina's Counter Culture Coffee, ravishing baked goods and sandwiches. The venue is just a few doors down (343 Smith St.) from Seersucker.