Pandemic be darned as exciting new restaurants continue to open up around the South, from Nashville to Memphis, Charleston to the beaches of the Florida Panhandle. While we’re not sure exactly where they’ll find staff to work at all of these new spots, we do know that there are plenty of diners hungry to try something new! So while you’re planning your next night out or making reservations for vacation, here are four hot spots to consider.

Worth the Drive: 4 New Restaurants in the South

Lenoir

68 Wentworth St., Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 534-9031
Hours: Wednesday through Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.; closed Monday and Tuesday

Vivian Howard is probably best known for her long-running PBS series, “A Chef’s Life” where she tells the story of returning to her roots in eastern North Carolina to open her successful restaurant, Chef & the Farmer. Dedicated to the farmers and purveyors of her region, Howard’s cuisine always demonstrates a sense of place, which is why Charlestonians are so excited about her latest venture, Lenoir.

Even though she named the restaurant after her home county in North Carolina, Howard wants to combine the sort of cooking she’s already known for with some healthy dashes of Lowcountry flair and a commitment to Southern hospitality.

With Lenoir, she has created a bright and inviting space that feels like dining in the home of a friend, well … if your friend was a fantastic cook and had a real eye for decorating. Colorful tile and brilliant yellow accents bring a smile to guests’ faces as soon as they walk through the front door of the restaurant near the city’s historic City Market.

Bar at Lenoir, a new Southern restaurant

The airy bar at Lenoir pops with bold yellow accents. Image: Baxter Miller

Family pictures hanging on the wall in Lenoir

Family photos look down at diners to add a homey feel to Lenoir. Image: Baxter Miller

Together with executive chef Tyson Detzler, who previously worked at local favorite The Obstinate Daughter, Howard has created a new menu that features some of her most acclaimed dishes like blueberry barbecue chicken wings, but updated with the addition of benne seeds, a Charleston staple ingredient.

International influences harken to Charleston’s history as a port city, so don’t be surprised by a novel take on Vietnamese nuoc choy sauce made with local buttermilk accenting the local crudo dish or a side dish of cabbage slaw dressed with Korean gojuchang. Other dishes flip the script by taking traditional international foods and adding downhome Southern accents. Agnolotti pasta is stuffed with butter beans and served in a ham hock broth and topped with a pecan gremolata for an appropriately salty treat.

It would actually be a fine idea to make a whole meal out of Lenoir’s inventive side dishes, ranging from greens cooked in a ham hock dashi with the famous Carolina Gold rice, peanuts and crispy shallots added for texture to toothy farro piccolo jazzed up with international spices including za’atar butter, dates, mint and marinated feta. Besides, if you feast on mostly vegetables, you’ll feel better about finishing your meal with a slice of Howard’s pecan chocolate chess pie. It’s all about balanced choices!

Agnolotti pasta stuffed with butter beans from Lenoir, a new Southern restaurant

Butter bean agnolotti with ham hock broth is a lovely combination of downhome and international fare. Image: Baxter Miller

Spread of food and wine from Lenoir

The dishes at Lenoir are almost too pretty to eat. (Almost!) Image: Baxter Miller

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dory

716 W. Brookhaven Cir., Memphis, TN 38117 • (901) 310-4290
Hours: Monday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.; closed Sunday

The word “pivot” gets overused when describing how restaurants have reacted to the pandemic, but when restaurant industry veterans Dave and Amanda Krog decided to open their first Memphis restaurant, dory, capacity constraint regulations forced them to completely rethink their model before they served their first guest. Originally envisioned as a traditional à la carte menu restaurant where the Krogs could showcase their ingredient-driven cuisine made in collaboration with the local farmers who provide their ingredients, the Krogs realized that they couldn’t effectively operate that model under current conditions.

“It was a long haul to opening,” Amanda recalls. “We couldn’t do a traditional soft opening, so we held a series of 20-seat pop-up dinners we called ‘galleries’ to introduce ourselves.” These invitation-only meals allowed Dave to experiment with his proposed menu and practice the artful plating that elevates his creative dishes.

The new model was so well received that the Krogs decided to open in early March with a core offering of six-course tasting menu dinners by reservation only from Tuesday through Saturday. Realizing that many of their friends in the hospitality industry might not be able to pay $95 for a meal, no matter how delicious it might be, the Krogs offer a less expensive abbreviated four-course meal on Mondays along with smaller bites available à la carte in the cozy bar and lounge areas of the restaurant.

“We always wanted to do a tasting menu,” explains Amanda, “but being the first to do it in Memphis was scary. People have responded really well, and we’re excited!” dory’s basic culinary philosophy is to treat the food kindly. While the menus for the feats change monthly, individual components may switch up periodically during the month based on the availability of ingredients and the opportunity to showcase local produce at its peak.

The bar snacks menu stays pretty consistent with highlights like yakitori oysters, a pork rillette  and Parker House rolls served with a chef’s choice of compound butter, and the tasting menus are always an adventure. Although it’s billed as six courses, you can expect at least eight to nine separate tastings including special single-bite treats from the kitchen. The first course is usually some sort of salad or vegetarian starter followed by two fish/shellfish dishes, two meat courses and dessert. The kitchen is also willing and able to make substitutions based on allergies or vegetarian preferences. Optional wine pairings are available, and they are thoughtfully selected to accompany each course to help tell the story of the meal.

Yakitori oysters from dory, a new Southern restaurant

The yakitori oysters at dory are a favorite bar bite. Image: dory

Entrée from dory

Rich pork rillettes are cooked for hours, but they’re worth the wait! Image: dory

Salad from dory, a new Southern restaurant

Even a simple seasonal salad is a work of art at dory. Image: dory

The creativity on the plate is mirrored by the decor of the restaurant, with the walls covered by artwork from local artists, all of which is for sale if something particularly catches your eye. The intimate bar and lounge is the perfect spot to enjoy a drink before sitting down to the tasting menu or to take advantage of the small bites to make up your own meal. Reservations are required for the main dining room, but the bar is available for walk-ups.

The Citizen at Alys Beach

20 Mark Twain Ln., Alys Beach, FL 32461 • (850) 909-0702
Hours: Monday through Saturday, Lunch 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., Bar Menu 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m., Dinner 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; closed Sunday

Already a favorite vacation choice along the scenic Highway 30A in the Florida Panhandle, Alys Beach continues to grow as a culinary destination with the opening of The Citizen, a seaside tavern located in the town center of the coastal community. Owner Jeremy Walton has plenty of experience with hospitality, working previously with luxury properties in Palmetto Bluff and Sea Island before coming to Alys Beach as vice president of operations. His knowledge of his clientele has informed the design and cuisine at The Citizen.

Walton believes that sharing food and drink in an inviting environment is a key to developing a sense of community within the larger community of Alys Beach. A lively bar scene always helps to turn strangers into friends, and the long bar is a centerpiece of the restaurant, along with a shorter raw bar that offers the opportunity to belly up and tuck into some fantastic fresh shellfish. The cocktail program features new variations on classic recipes plus old favorites. There is also a special non-alcoholic “Zero Proof” portion of the drinks menu so that no one need feel left out.

The airy 120-seat main dining room offers views into the open kitchen where chefs prepare dishes inspired by coastal regions around the world by taking advantage of a wood-fired hearth to add a kiss of smoke to the freshest available seafood, steaks and even vegetables in the case of the delectable wood-fired carrot hummus appetizer.

Bar at The Citizen at Alys Beach, a new Southern restaurant

The long bar at The Citizen has quickly become a popular neighborhood gathering spot. Image: Devote Studios

Wood-fired hearth at The Citizen at Alys Beach

Meats cooked low and slow over an open hearth are highlights of The CItizen’s menu. Image: Devote Studios

Besides the hummus, starting the meal with a massive seafood tower piled high with treasures from the Gulf is always a great way to kick off a celebratory evening. Main dish highlights for meat lovers include a crispy smoked pork pancetta served with parsley potatoes, a braised short rib served over creamy grits and The Citizen’s signature filet of beef with bone marrow custard. Seafood dishes worth skipping lunch for range from a delicately fried crusted flounder with shrimp to a roasted grouper with charred fennel, rice and Benton’s bacon. Vegetable lovers don’t get the short shrift either thanks to options like a whole hearth-roasted cauliflower served with a Romesco sauce or a rich butternut squash coconut curry with pickled vegetables to add a piquant bite.

If you already have friends with houses in Alys Beach, don’t be jealous. It’s time to get a little chummier with them so that they might invite you down for a dinner at The Citizen. Of course, all are welcome, so feel free to make your own reservation for large parties or just drop in and wait for a table at that inviting bar.

Charcuterie plate from The Citizen at Alys Beach, a new Southern restaurant

The whipped feta with grilled feta and assorted accouterments like Valencia almonds and olives makes for an excellent companion to a glass of wine at the bar. Image: Devote Studios

Seafood spread from The Citizen at Alys Beach

The seafood tower at The Citizen is stacked high with some of the freshest seafood you’ll find anywhere. Image: Devote Studios

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Eddie V’s Prime Seafood

590 Broadway, Nashville, TN 37203 • (615) 238-2359
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 11 p.m., Sunday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Although Eddie V’s is owned by the national hospitality juggernaut Darden Restaurants, it’s not at all similar to its corporate cousins like Olive Garden and Cheddar’s. Eddie V’s is all about fine dining served in a glamorous setting, and their latest location in the new Fifth + Broadway retail, dining and entertainment complex in the heart of Nashville’s downtown is a stunning addition to the local restaurant landscape.

Known for their premium seafood flown in daily from around the world, hand-carved steaks and a cutting-edge cocktail program, walking in the door of Eddie V’s whisks you a world away from the honky-tonks of Nashville’s Lower Broad. Dramatic cobalt blue wall coverings almost look like velvet and tempt you to reach out and pet them. The main floor of the dining area is dominated by the V Lounge bar that draws the eye upwards to the mezzanine level. Small combos entertain drinkers and diners from the corner of the first-floor dining room, with the sounds of their music wafting up through the atrium to the upper level.

A massive two-story wine cellar is made entirely of glass, offering a view of the almost 4000 bottles of wine resting inside in perfectly controlled temperature and humidity conditions.

Flexible seating options include luxurious booths, formal tables spread around the upper dining room and even some outdoor seating on a second-story mezzanine with a view of the crowds below on Broadway and milling about Fifth + Broad.

Snappily dressed servers and stewards will helpfully take you through the voluminous wine list and menu of Classic American fare with a dash of modern Asian inspiration. Oysters, shrimp or caviar always make for great starters along with larger apps of sashimi, calamari, crab cakes or steak tartare prepared tableside. Steaks are hand-carved daily by a butcher on the staff and a little surf can be added to your turf with the addition of a South African lobster tail or a topping of king crab, “Oscar-style.” You can also add a cave-aged blue cheese crust to any steak for a small upcharge, and you should definitely consider it!

The Asian influences on the menu really shine through with the seafood offerings like Chilean sea bass steamed Hong Kong style, misoyaki halibut and crab fried rice, or you can take a trip to the Mediterranean with options of parmesan-crusted sole or branzino with artichokes, oven-dried tomato and olive tapenade.

Lower Broad is best known for cold beers, live music and the fried bologna sandwich at Robert’s Western World, but the addition of Eddie V’s has really elevated the neighborhood. You can always still go out honky tonkin’ a few blocks away after dinner, but take some time first to pamper yourself in the lap of luxury before joining the party crowd.

Chilean sea bass from Eddie V's, a new Southern restaurant

The Chilean sea bass at Eddie V’s is definitely a specialty of the house. Image: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood

Butter poached lobster from Eddie V's

The buttery poached lobster over grits is a fine update of the classic Lowcountry favorite. Image: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood

Hope Diamond cocktail from Eddie V's, a new Southern restaurant

Try a Hope Diamond for a luminous pre-dinner cocktail. Image: Eddie V’s Prime Seafood

Here’s to new dining endeavors! 

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