Keep scrolling, as this article is updated with new restaurants throughout the South each month, but we keep a few months of updates for reference. Currently, we have 12 new restaurants to check out in total. This month, we bring you one in North Carolina and one in Georgia!
Southern foodies are excited that two high-profile chefs have recently opened new North Carolina and Georgia restaurants. The first is an elevated Mexican restaurant in Cary, NC (courtesy of an alumnus of Top Chef: Boston). The second is a new Atlanta outpost of a Nashville favorite, helmed by a James Beard Award winner. Read on to see what these talented chefs are bringing to the table!
Worth the Drive: 2 New Restaurants in the South
a’Verde Cocina and Tequila Bar
2300 Walnut St, Cary, NC 27518 • (984) 200-3469
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10:00 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Chef Katsuji Tanabe moved to the Raleigh area and, unfortunately, opened a new restaurant in town just a few months before the pandemic forced him to close. The “Top Chef” alum quickly decided to move on and start planning his next venture in nearby Cary. The result is a’Verde, a restaurant that draws inspiration from the chef’s upbringing in Mexico City combined with the bounty of delicious ingredients available in the Carolinas.
Tanabe combines Carolina proteins and produces to create dishes that definitely have plenty of Mexican influences but genuinely represent a fusion of cuisines born from the chef’s constantly experimenting mind. The melting pot he has dreamed up encourages diners to give themselves over to the whims of the kitchen without relying on preconceived notions of what they think Mexican food should be.
The interior of a’Verde reflects the restaurant’s name, filled with greenery and hanging flowers that create the effect of dining in an indoor garden. Warm wood is an integral part of the decor, and whimsical murals add splashes of color to the pastoral setting.
The tequila library represents one of the largest collections of agave spirits in the region, and the cocktail menu features tequila as the base of many of the most inventive drinks. The beer menu features many Mexican selections and domestics, and a tight wine list offers options by the bottle or by the glass.
Currently open for dinner, a’Verde offers a mix of small plates and composed dishes to build a meal around. Starters include Tanabe’s grandma’s 1950s recipe for cornbread accompanied by honey truffle butter, a tableside guacamole presentation for sharing, and ceviche tostada or roasted oysters for seafood lovers. What would seem to be a straightforward North Carolina dish of crispy pork rinds and kale is given a little Latin flair by adding a cilantro-lime ranch sauce.
The main dishes also lean heavily on local ingredients with whimsical Mexican accents, highlighted by an NC trout dish served with green and red adobo sauce. Enchiladas are available stuffed with chicken or root vegetables and delicately sauced. The star of the large plates has to be the cochinita pibil — a preparation of tender pork braised in miso, chayote, sour orange, and aromatic spices until it falls off the bone to be spooned into corn tortillas at the table.
While many Mexican restaurant fans rarely look past beans and rice as side dishes, a’Verde highlights local produce with an excellent array of veggie accompaniments. Okra is cooked until it blisters, and then it’s served with lemon, tamari, and basil aioli to add herbaceousness, acid, and umami. Brussel sprouts benefit from a spicy chipotle-wasabi butter, and cauliflower stands in for the usual pork in an al pastor side dish with pineapple, cilantro, and pickled onions.
Tanabe is particularly proud of his pastry program, boasting dishes like mini churros with Nutella, dulce de leche flan, and tres leches cake with macerated raspberries and blackberries. Pair any of those desserts with a sippable añejo from the tequila library for the perfect end to a meal at a’Verde.
525 Edgewood Ave SE, Atlanta, GA 30312 • (470) 890-1700
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday
Chef Jonathan Waxman won the James Beard Award for Best Chef: New York and then set his sights on Nashville with the opening of Adele’s in 2014. Named in honor of the chef’s beloved mother and her love of seasonal cooking, the original Adele’s was built in a former auto repair shop in Nashville’s Gulch neighborhood, an area on the verge of becoming a dining destination for tourists and locals alike. Chef Waxman figured, “why mess with success?” He decided to re-create the concept in Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward — another rapidly growing neighborhood. He even found another old garage to refurbish for the new Adele’s, combining the industrial gestalt of the former service bays with warm and modern decor.
It’s only appropriate that large garage doors open to create a welcoming indoor/outdoor ambiance that stretches almost the entire length of the front of the restaurant. The energy of that environment flows through those doors and around an inviting bar bedecked with greenery, then into the main dining area with a view of the open kitchen. That’s where the talented staff prepares California cuisine and rustic Italian dishes using crackling wood-burning ovens and grills.
Given her experience as co-chef at the Nashville location, Adele’s has tapped Hannah Young as Executive Chef. Though she brings her own enthusiasm to the project, Hannah has learned to execute Chef Waxman’s vision of “farm-to-fork” cuisine, including several signature dishes like his roasted chicken with salsa verde and crispy roasted potatoes with rosemary and pecorino cheese.
Other favorite carryovers from the Nashville menu include whole roasted fish dishes that will change with the fishing seasons, a lemony plate of gnocchi, and a standout kale salad with anchovy dressing, cheese, and bread crumbs. Young is also bringing new ideas to the Atlanta kitchen with dishes such as a confit of duck with grape gastrique and a purée of cauliflower, a version of the ubiquitous shrimp and grits dish (made better by charring the shrimp and serving them over creamy grits with gouda and pancetta), and a smoked short rib that takes full advantage of the fires in the kitchen and accompaniments of mustard greens and fried shallots.
Of all the desserts offered, the chocolate budino with whipped cream and cocoa nibs is probably the most popular, but don’t overlook the tart and creamy coconut cake with buttercream and lime, because that one’s a winner, too!
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Internationally-inspired restaurants continue to be a key theme on the Southern culinary scene, and two excellent examples of fusion cuisine have recently started up service in Miami and Dallas. The first is a marvel of design with a pan-Asian seafood menu to back up the decor; the second features influences from France and some of its former colonies to create a cohesive menu of elevated bistro fare.
Two New Reasons to Eat Out in Dallas and Miami
1001 S. Miami Ave., Miami, FL 33130 • (305) 889-7888
Hours: Sunday through Wednesday, noon to midnight; Thursday through Saturday, noon to 2 a.m.
Restaurant profiles often throw around the word “stunner” like Olive Garden passes out free breadsticks, but in the case of the new Sexy Fish in Miami, the term “stunning” is indeed an apt descriptor. The restaurant’s second outpost from Richard Caring, owner of many of London’s most fashionable restaurants, Sexy Fish, joins Central London’s original location as an opulent addition to Miami’s dining scene.
Located in the hot Miami neighborhood of Brickell, Sexy Fish features dazzling decor. This collection includes 10 unique pieces of art by world-renowned artist Damien Hirst and 26 custom lamps designed by Frank Gehry, the architect/designer behind such significant works as Chicago’s Millennium Park and Guggenheim Museum Bilbao.
Inspired by Sexy Fish’s mid-century brasserie gestalt and a playful nod to ocean motifs, diners find themselves gawking at whimsical mermaid sculptures and twinkling mosaics made up of literally millions of pieces of colorful glass. The oceanic vibe extends into the restrooms. The ladies’ room features sinks sculpted upon mermaid tails and the men’s room showcasing a pink onyx octopus alongside a statue of iconic actor Daniel Craig dressed in scuba gear.
The art extends from the walls to the plate at Sexy Fish, where Chef Director Bjoern Weissgerber has created a menu focused on Asian-inspired seafood, most notably Japanese nigiri, maki, and sashimi. Some dishes made the trip across the pond from England, including signature plates like smoked tuna belly, crispy tempura mushrooms, and a delightful presentation of king crab and bone marrow accented with a shower of shaved Périgord black truffles.
Other dishes have been designed specifically with Miami in mind, including Sexy Gold Fish and Crispy Caviar, a plate of marinated cod sprinkled with gold flakes and finished on a Japanese robata grill. It’s unusual for such a hip restaurant to be open for lunch, but Sexy Fish offers a surprisingly affordable midday menu. It boasts items like Bloody Mary ceviche, seafood bowls, and a prix fixe option that includes a choice of four small plates plus dessert.
The after-dinner menu at Sexy Fish offers a tight list of luxurious desserts, but we strongly suggest you opt for the Sexy Ever After platter to sample a little bit of all of them. Drink options revolve around a well-curated wine list plus cocktails described as “theatrical” — the perfect accompaniment to the restaurant’s late-night entertainment featuring exotic costumes, mermaid dancers, international DJs, and more on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights.
You know an eatery will be popular when they get Mary J. Blige to perform at the sneak peek event before opening, and that’s precisely what happened at Sexy Fish last December. So, get dressed to impress and be seen around the scene at Sexy Fish!
Toussaint Downtown Brasserie
1907 Elm St., Dallas, TX 75201 • (214) 765-2311
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Named in honor of the beloved late New Orleans singer-songwriter Allen Toussaint, the new Toussaint Brasserie represents an international melange of culinary styles in downtown Dallas. Located in the newly rebranded Renaissance Hotel Saint Elm, Toussaint Brasserie features a menu of French bistro classics accented with Asian influences and a slice of New Orleans flair.
A mixture of French colonial and provincial cuisine with the obvious Franco influences of New Orleans creole cooking, the combination of cultures isn’t as odd as it might sound. French brasseries were popular in both Paris and Vietnam in the early 20th century, and that’s more of the vibe that Toussaint Brasserie is going for.
The decor of the 100+ seat restaurant is restrained, emphasizing neutral tones with wood and brass accents to create a calm environment that still feels cozy and welcoming. Seating options include smaller tables and booths, a 16-seat bar area, and a banquette for optional bottle service from the bar.
New Orleans takes the lead when it comes to the cocktail options, of course, featuring Big Easy classics like the Boulevardier, Vieux Carre, Corpse Reviver, and Sazerac, along with more obscure choices like a unique hybrid NOLA-Groni with a hint of earthy and rooty Peychaud Apertivo. A nice selection of wines is also available both by the glass and the bottle, and bubbles for that bottle service.
The food menu is shaped around shareables and encourages diners to select a few options from the hors d’oeuvres and entrée sections of the menu to allow for communal sampling. Expect French classics like gougères with raspberry moutarde, steak tartare, and a raclette presentation from the apps menu. Main dishes that wow include moules frites, and rich, slow-cooked boeuf bourguignon.
The house specialties have got to be the steak frites served with a cornichon and caper-studded salsa persillade and the fusion lobster thermidor red curry — particularly since the dish’s traditional wine sauce is augmented with coconut milk, lime, and Thai basil.
For a smaller meal (especially if you’re not in a sharing mood), pair a tureen of Toussaint’s cheesy French onion soup gratinée with a sandwich from the menu’s “between the baguette” section. To keep patrons coming back, Toussaint Brasserie offers a rotating list of plats du jour Sunday through Thursday, worth writing down in ink on your calendar. From Sunday’s delicate puff pastry chicken truffle pot pie to Wednesday’s pork belly ramen and Thursday’s classic coq au vin, there’s sure to be something to draw your eye among the daily specials.
For more delicious dining destinations around the South, visit our Food & Dining archives!
The burners on Southern restaurant expansion have been turned up to high as the culinary environment continues to heat up with notable new additions. This month, we highlight a fun Americanized version of a Japanese pub in Nashville and an internationally-influenced American restaurant in Atlanta. If you’re confused by all these flavor mash-ups, just let yourself go and enjoy the journey!
Worth the Drive: 2 New Restaurants in the South
4101 Charlotte Ave. Suite G-20, Nashville, TN 37209 • (615) 649-8885
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 3 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday
For Nashville chef/restaurateur Clay Greenberg, March 2020 is a month he’d just as soon forget. He was making final plans for a fun Pan-Asian pop-up at his restaurant Silo in the city’s Germantown neighborhood when the building suffered a direct hit from a tornado in early March. “The owners said it would take a couple months to rebuild, but we knew it would be at least a year,” Clay recalls.
Despite the tornado aftermath, he still planned to debut his new Punk Wok concept as a pop-up, but then, COVID shut down the Nashville restaurant industry entirely in mid-March. Clay began to seek out a permanent location for the future after shutting down Silo for good and discovered the new Sylvan Supply complex in West Nashville.
He spent most of the next year designing the menu and figuring out how to fit his restaurant into the small basement space next to the sprinkler room of the mixed-use development. “We’re probably the tiniest full-service restaurant in town at only 1787 square feet,” he jokes.
As the name of the restaurant would reveal, Punk Wok doesn’t take itself too seriously. Bold murals cover the walls, and the space behind the bar is covered by a mosaic made up of thousands of mahjong tiles. Former Sex Pistols rocker Johnny Rotten’s quote painted on the wall sets the mood for the entire space: “Don’t accept the old order. Get rid of it!”
Punk Wok’s new order is what Clay describes as an American izakaya, the Japanese equivalent of a neighborhood bar that serves great drinks and food. Teaming up with several crew members from previous restaurant gigs, Clay has created a staff that is comfortable with collaboration, though he admits that they now all need to use reading glasses in the kitchen.
The menu is inspired by Clay’s experiences growing up in Oklahoma City, a metropolis with a surprisingly large and vital Asian influence. Drawing from his favorite Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, and regional Chinese cuisine, he has divided the Punk Wok menu into creative sushi offerings of maki, sashimi, and nigiri that are artfully prepared using whole loins of tuna expertly butchered in-house. They also feature a house-made soy sauce blend with katsuobushi that is lower in sodium and offers an insane depth of flavor.
In addition to sushi, the rest of the menu is divided into cold, hot, and wok sections. These are where the fusion really gets fun as Punk Wok combines traditional Asian ingredients with global influences and nuances. Pickling is important in both Asian and Southern American cooking, and Punk Wok pickles all sorts of vegetables. Egg noodles, dipping sauces, and kimchi are also made in the kitchen rather than purchased, and the difference in freshness and flavor is apparent.
Plates are sized for combining into a meal or for sampling and sharing. Highlights of the cold portion of the menu include Thai Tiger Tear salad with fried noodles to add a little texture, a Japanese-style potato salad with house pickles and custardy Kewpie mayo, and a trio of preserved veggies.
The hot menu is a little more substantial, featuring crab rangoon ingeniously stuffed with pimento cheese, a sweet and spicy char siu pork belly served with pickled cabbage for tangy contrast, and the most popular dish so far, a sort of Korean poutine made by ladling beef bulgogi chili, beer cheese, and kimchi over waffle fries. It’s exactly as decadent as it sounds!
Clay is still developing his wok menu, but once he fires up that jet engine of a cooker, you can expect more cheeky and inventive stir-fries coming out of the kitchen. A daily bento box deal offers a combo of four small dishes for a delicious and affordable lunch, and evening hours showcase the amazing selection of whiskey, beer, and sake behind the bar.
Another nice part about Punk Wok is that even though the gestalt seems a little rebellious, they are very open to accommodating guests’ dietary requests including gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, peanut-free, and shellfish-free options. Although his restaurant screams rock and roll, deep down, Clay Greenberg is really a softie!
675 Ponce de Leon Ave., Suite NE-158, Atlanta, GA 30308 • (404) 600-3939
Hours: Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Ponce City Market has been a popular shopping and dining destination between Atlanta’s Old Fourth Ward and Virginia-Highlands neighborhoods since it opened in 2015. With easy access to the pedestrian- and bike-friendly BeltLine, Ponce City Market is a great place to meet a group of friends that might want different types of meals from the elevated food court.
But if it’s a more traditional drinking and dining experience you’re looking for, there’s a new option on the first floor courtesy of Oliva Restaurant Group, a collection of internationally-inspired restaurants around the city. Their latest offering is Atrium, a full-service restaurant that serves an American menu with European influences.
The decor at Atrium shows a keen eye for design, featuring an intriguing combination of bold florals and tropical prints in conjunction with soft pastels and jewel tones. The restaurant is divided into two sections: a cozy lounge called the Parlor and a spacious and airy main dining area known as the Bistro.
The bar area at the Parlor is accented by lovely hand-painted tiles from a local artist as well as large tropical bird prints on the wall to look over your shoulder as you enjoy the drinks menu of creative seasonal cocktails, plus beer, cider, and even zero-alcohol “mocktails.” Featured drinks showcase international spins on traditional cocktails like the Chasing Summer, a take on a Vesper with the addition of tropical fruit flavors. A tight list of wines by the glass or bottle rounds out the Parlor options.
The more spacious and airy Bistro dining space combines floral prints and splashes of color from the cozy pink banquette seating with large industrial windows, a reminder of Ponce City Market’s history as the former home of a huge Sears, Roebuck & Co. distribution center. Despite the heavy metal, the repast at Atrium is decidedly light, with appetizers revolving around seasonal vegetable-driven dishes like a chickpea offering with a piquillo pepper emulsion or a honeynut squash and bok choy curry.
Seafood is also prominent in the small plates, in the form of tuna crudo or a fluke dish with tropical citrus and horseradish to add some kick. Spicy, garlicky Bang Island mussels are another fine petite plate choice, and a dramatic presentation of octopus with a squash marmalade and smoky peppers has quickly become a popular order.
Moving on to the mains, Atrium skews more toward meat-and-potatoes fare, highlighted by an elevated burger with caramelized onions and what they call “fancy sauce.” Their classic bistro steak with mushrooms and roasted sunchokes would be at home on the menu at a French cafe, and the pork schnitzel with fried capers and lemon brown butter is an Alpine delight.
As always, save room for dessert! Take a quick trip around the culinary globe in the form of a citrusy yuzu tart with a granita of basil and a honey crème anglaise that combines flavors from Asia and Western Europe. Atrium’s bananas foster is pure Big Easy served with rum raisin ice cream and candied hazelnuts. For a final flourish, go for the chocolate torte with coffee mousse, caramel, and strawberries.
As an oasis from the continuous bustle of commerce in Ponce City Market, Atrium offers a welcome respite.
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Charleston and New Orleans have to be on any shortlist of great Southern restaurant cities, and two new additions to their dining scenes have only cemented this vaunted status. Consider either (or both!) of them when you’re planning your next culinary adventure.
Worth the Drive: 2 New Restaurants in the South
Bijou Restaurant and Bar
1014 North Rampart Street, New Orleans, LA 70116 • (504) 603-0557
Hours: Wednesday and Thursday, 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Closed Monday and Tuesday
In New Orleans, it’s not uncommon for the main topic of conversation at lunch to be plans for dinner. Food is an essential and social part of life for residents of The Big Easy, and lingering lunches over tables stacked high with shared small plates is a favorite way to while away an afternoon.
At Bayona, the local fixture helmed by legendary chef Susan Spicer, Chef Eason Barksdale ran the kitchen for years after a stint working in Spicer’s other restaurant, Mondo. One of his responsibilities was developing the menus for Bayona’s popular Saturday lunch services, a talent that has come in handy at his latest venture, Bijou Restaurant and Bar, where he essentially re-creates the international tapas lunch experience over dinner.
Bijou is located in a charming early 20th-century Creole cottage on the northern edge of the French Quarter, easily walkable from the neighborhood’s hotels and nearby Faubourg Marigny and Central Business District. The cozy building has been renovated into a hip, modern space with striking light fixtures and contemporary art dominating the decor. The restaurant has two separate bars — because this is New Orleans, after all — and a fairly expansive courtyard for outdoor seating when the weather allows. Frequent visitors to New Orleans are aware that some of the most magical moments on any trip to the Big Easy often occur in courtyards.
Chef Barksdale has designed a tight menu of small, internationally inspired plates for sharing, and it’s not uncommon for a four-top to simply order the entire menu and settle in for a gastronomic journey around the globe. Of the 10 items on the regular menu (plus two desserts … don’t ever forget dessert!), Barksdale manages to split his influences across almost every continent. Asia is represented by a tuna tartare with ponzu, avocado, shiso, and vegetables served with sesame wontons for scooping. The Tom Yum Chicken is reminiscent of the famous Thai soup of the same name, featuring fried chicken topped with spicy lime, ginger, and lemongrass and served with a side of Vietnamese “ranch” dipping sauce. The traditional Asian shrimp roll gets a decidedly ‘Louisiana’ update with butter-poached shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico and a Creole mayo.
The culinary capitals of Europe are also well-represented on the Bijou menu in an antipasto course of fried artichokes with arugula, pesto, salty prosciutto, and mozzarella. A headlining squid pasta dish features more shrimp plus herb white wine butter sauce and Castelvetrano olives to add a little salinity.
The classic steak frites at Bijou are familiar with their crispy fries and aioli, but global touches include the use of wagyu beef and a South American chimichurri sauce. Another map-mashup is the popular Gruyere gougères (say that five times fast!) made with bacon, cheese, and pickled onions.
South Asia makes an appearance on the Bijou menu in the form of curried cauliflower served with a southern Indian version of a dosa called an uttapam and a raita dipping sauce. Of course, any great “lunch for dinner” spot needs a solid burger, and Bijou delivers with a two-patty smashburger with all the expected toppings like grilled onions and cheese on a potato bun. Finish your culinary odyssey with a plate of assorted cookies or a café au lait pot de crème for a truly memorable meal that can stretch out for hours like the locals do it. (We told you not to miss out on dessert!)
Brasserie la Banque
1 Broad St., Charleston, SC 29401 • (843) 779-1800
Hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.; Closed Sunday and Monday
Noted restaurateur Steve Palmer has earned a stellar reputation through his Indigo Road Hospitality Group, known for popular spots around the South such as Oak Steakhouse, O-Ku Sushi, Indaco, The Kingstide, and others. For his latest venture, Palmer turns his attention to France with Brasserie la Banque, a neighborhood French restaurant in Charleston’s historic South of Broad district.
As its name indicates, the restaurant is in a former bank building that dates back to the 1700s, when the French Huguenots were an important part of the city’s early history. After a long delay in opening, Brasserie la Banque finally began welcoming guests in late November, and early reviews of Chef Jeb Aldrich’s straight-ahead menu of classic French bistro fare have been overwhelmingly positive.
The space definitely exudes the brasserie vibe, with flexible seating options of bright red leather booths, banquettes, green velvet chairs situated around bistro tables with wrought-iron bases, and dramatic lighting fixtures to augment the natural light streaming in through tall windows. Thoughtful details like brass rails and delicately filigreed accents around the ceiling complete the illusion of a trip to Paris.
Elegant without being stuffy, Brasserie la Banque showcases traditional French dishes alongside some more modern interpretations from the mind of Chef Aldrich, who has cooked in prestigious kitchens around the world.
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Taking advantage of the oceanic bounty around Charleston, Aldrich’s menu kicks off with a strong selection of crudités and fruits de mer, which naturally revolve around regional seafood. The selection of oysters rotates with the market, as they should, and shrimp and crab figure prominently in other appetizers. The traditional Northern staple lobster roll gets a little dab of the South with a slathering of Duke’s mayonnaise.
Great seafood also shows up among the entree choices as the base of loaded bouillabaisse and the main component of a halibut plate poached in olive oil and served with a crispy mushroom confit, broccolini, and bone marrow matelote sauce.
Landlubbers and Francophiles alike will be delighted by the hors d’oeuvres section of the menu that highlights prototypical French cuisine such as French onion soup, a salad of frisée with bacon lardons, beef tartare, black cocoa-cured foie gras, and a delicate duck consommé. Poultry is also the star of two delightful main course options, the poulet rouge served with a dark chicken jus and a cassoulet of confit aged duck with vegetables. Finally, no brasserie worth its sel would offer a menu without a proper steak frites dish, and Aldrich delivers with a Certified Angus Beef coulotte cut served alongside pommes frites and their special “banque sauce.”
The talented pastry department at Brasserie la Banque comes up with special desserts on a whim, so be sure to ask to see what’s coming out of the kitchen — and if it’s the crepe cake with more layers than a Proust novel, don’t miss out on that particular treat. For a nightcap, consider heading downstairs to Bar Vauté, the Brasserie’s “bar clandestin” that is one of the only subterranean establishments in Charleston, a city that’s known for occasional flooding. You might want to check your weather app before venturing below ground, though.
With Brasserie la Banque, Steve Palmer looks like he’s got another smash hit on his hands, thanks to his fanatical dedication to hospitality and Aldrich’s worldly kitchen experience.
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While these two new Southern restaurants have similar names, Canje and Carne Mare could hardly be more dissimilar, except for the fact that both offer ingenious and creative international cuisines that take diners through a tour of exotic locales. Whether it’s a trip to the Caribbean or a survey of Italy, these restaurants are welcome additions to the capitals of Texas and Tennessee.
Worth the Drive: 2 New Restaurants in the South
1914 E 6th St., Suite C, Austin, TX 78702 • (512) 706-9119
Hours: Sunday through Wednesday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
Among the excellent dining options in Austin, there has been a glaring need for Afro-Caribbean food, a hole that has now been appropriately filled by Canje, led by Chef Tavel Bristol-Joseph. Fresh off of being named a 2020 Best New Chef by Food and Wine, the chef has reached back to his roots growing up in Guyana to bring an exciting new cuisine to the Texas capital.
Guyana is a unique country, the only officially English-speaking nation in South America and connected as much to the nearby Caribbean islands as to the rest of the continent. Bristol-Joseph named his new restaurant after the national bird of his home country, and his elevated Caribbean cuisine has certainly taken flight.
The design scheme of Canje is definitely tropical, with lots of natural wood and rattan accents and an entire wall covered with a mural of jungle palm fronds. The cozy restaurant seats about a hundred lucky patrons plus a couple dozen more if you book the private dining room.
Soak in the decor while you wait for your table at the colorful bar that features a cocktail program emphasizing fruity tropical drinks, but not the overly sweet concoctions you might be used to. Rather than bumping up the sugar content, the mixologists at Canje allow the natural tropical flavors of fruits like passionfruit and citrus to shine through as part of complex cocktails that add appropriate amounts of bitterness and salinity to elevate the drinks. A custom curry-infused gin is the base spirit for the Curry Wata, spicing up the blend of rum, mango-apple chutney, orange and lemon. The lovely Island Hopping cocktail features vodka and the traditional Brazilian spirit of cachaca along with herbal Cappelletti aperitivo and delicate mint, hibiscus, honey and lemon. It’s a great way to kick off your tropical dining excursion.
Chef Bristol-Joseph is your cruise director on this expedition that showcases Guyanese and Caribbean influences ranging from Puerto Rico to Jamaica. The appetizer section of the menu is titled “Wah Gwaan,” Jamaican patois for “How ya’ doin’?” A definite must-try is the staple of fried green plantain chips, omnipresent at dinner tables around the Caribbean. Canje’s version rises above the ordinary with the addition of a remarkable mango calypso hot dipping sauce, created by grating mangos, cooking them with chiles, and allowing them to ferment a bit before adding more fresh grated mango. If that’s a little spicy and funky for your taste, Bristol-Joseph thoughtfully also includes another dipping sauce of a blend of ketchup and a pork fat mayonnaise. The chef combines his homeland with his current home in another lovely shareable app of Texas melons and tropical fruits topped with basic and aji Amarillo chile.
For “Suppa,” the menu features the ubiquitous jerk chicken, served with charred tomatoes as well as wild boar pepper pot spiced with cassareep, a traditional Guyanese sauce made from cassava root. Pepper pot is traditionally a Christmas holiday dish in Guyana, but Chef Bristol-Joseph intends to offer this braised meat stew flavored with baking spices all year round.
Canje features some nice fusion side dishes to accompany your main plate with items like beans and rice made with Carolina Gold rice and pigeon peas or grilled okra with shrimp XO sauce.
Much of Bristol-Joseph’s reputation as a chef has come from his performance with pastry, so desserts are a specialty of his. Make sure to save room for a slab of black cake, another special occasion dish traditionally served around the holidays or at weddings. The rum-soaked cake is topped with cream cheese frosting and a sheep’s milk Tomme cheese. Other Caribbean staple desserts worth consideration include a tres leches cake and a passionfruit flan. Anything you choose will be a fine ending to an exotic meal.
300 12th Ave. S., Nashville, TN 37203 • (615) 379-9000
Hours: Sunday through Thursday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.
Nashville is blessed with a plethora of both high-end steakhouses and Italian restaurants, but with the opening of Carne Mare, acclaimed chef Andrew Carmellini has brought a combination of both to town. Located on the ground floor of the tony new W Hotel in the heart of the Gulch, Carne Mare is a dead sexy version of the sort of steakhouse you’d expect to find in an Italian metropolis.
Carmellini operates more than a dozen restaurants across the country, and another version of Carne Mare is already open in New York, even though the Nashville outpost was planned first. As soon as you grab the ornate bull horn door handles at the entrance, you are transported into a wonderful world of meat and seafood.
The interior has a clubby vibe, with lots of dark wood and leather accents. The welcoming bar just inside the front door has quickly become a popular gathering space for those who work and live in the Gulch to enjoy elegant cocktails, bubbles, and wine from the overwhelmingly Italian-dominated wine list.
A fun aspect of the Carne Mare experience is that it offers plenty of choices of seating. Just looking for a few drinks and some appetizers? Grab one of the high-top tables in the bar area. Want to watch the craziness of the Gulch from a safe distance? Ask for outdoor seating on one of the two patios. Trying to be seen as part of the scene? Large booths offer sweeping views of the entire dining room. For those who are interested in what’s going on in the kitchen, the prime seats are right next to the window that showcases the open kitchen and its wood-fired grill that Carmellini and his team use to great advantage.
RELATED: Your Complete Guide to the Gulch
Even though Carne Mare is extremely serious about the cuisine, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a little sense of humor in the kitchen. A popular appetizer of mozzarella sticks is nothing like those you’d find in the freezer case of your local supermarket because these come topped with a decadent helping of caviar. The “mare” section of the appetizer menu is dominated by selections of oysters from around the country and an outstanding shrimp cocktail served with Crab Louie. Other seafood shareables include an expertly-sliced carpaccio of Spanish octopus and spicy crab lettuce cups served with an Italian version of the condiment-of-the-moment, chili crisp.
Even the salads are a show at Carne Mare, with the highlight being a farmer’s salad created and served tableside. A traditional Sicilian Caesar is another excellent choice to make sure you get your vegetables in before launching into the “carne” side of the menu.
Of course you came for the meat, and Carne Mare does not disappoint. Sourcing the best dry-aged beef available, the kitchen prepares steaks in many different ways. The wood-fired grill adds a touch of smoke to individual portions of filet, strip loin, and ribeye, and the gargantuan tomahawk ribeye is big enough to share. Definitely intended to be split between a couple is the show-stopping 45 oz. 45-day aged Porterhouse served in the style of a traditional Tuscan Bistecca Fiorentino.
Accompany any of the steaks with sides for the table like heirloom polenta or mushroom marsala with porcini crema. For something truly unique, take a look at the roast prime rib, flavored with porchetta spices and slow-roasted for 12 hours before slicing straight to your plate. This time-intensive dish often sells out, so make an early reservation to assure you’ll get some because it’s not like they can just whip up another one after the last slice is served.
Seafood lovers are also in luck with dishes ranging from red snapper encrusted in salt and cooked in lemon leaves to roasted swordfish or a spicy Lobster in Purgatorio. While the menu is certainly dominated by steaks and fish, there is a nice vegetarian option of smoke-roasted beet steak served with goat butter.
For something sweet to top off your evening, choose from a selection of gelato or sorbet or go for something more artistic with an intricate 17-layer chocolate cake. The real power move is to finish up with a celebratory baked spumoni for two, set ablaze tableside for dramatic effect. Spumoni doesn’t travel well, so you’ll just have to power through to finish every morsel of this spectacular dessert before it melts!
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Although both of this month’s new restaurants feature chefs that are Southern at their cores, each exhibits fun international influences drawn from the experiences of the brilliant minds behind the menus. If you’re not ready to board a plane to Spain or Japan quite yet, a trip to Memphis or Savannah might be a more palatable way to scratch that itch of culinary curiosity.
Worth the Drive: 2 New Restaurants in the South
2146 Monroe Ave, Memphis, TN 38104 • (901) 417-7491
Hours: Thursday through Saturday, 6 p.m. to midnight; Sunday “Siesta,” 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Louisiana-born chef Kelly English has been building a bit of a restaurant empire for most of the past two decades, dipping his spoon into markets across the South including New Orleans, Oxford, Biloxi, and St. Louis. Since 2008, most of his focus has been on Memphis, where he opened the beloved French-Creole Restaurant Iris followed by a more casual spot next door called The Second Line. In 2019, his restaurant group purchased Memphis institution Fino’s Italian Deli, rescuing it from closure.
Throughout his career, the talented young chef has succeeded by looking for the next trend and by making decisions based on his current interests, the well-being of his employees, and the desires of his guests.
To that end, he realized during the pandemic that operating Restaurant Iris in its current Midtown location was untenable for the amount of labor he needed in the kitchen, for service, and to valet park cars. “We were operating on the razor’s edge,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be in that position.”
He saw the opportunity to put a new restaurant in a retail development in East Memphis called Laurelwood and decided that moving Iris there made more sense than developing a new concept. At the same time, to keep himself and his staff interested during the days when carryout became the norm, he turned the former Restaurant Iris into the home of a three-month pop-up restaurant featuring Catalonian cuisine.
“I spent six months living in Barcelona when I was younger,” Kelly recalls. “That place was where I realized that wine and food was what I wanted to do for a living.” Kelly struggled with whether his guests were seeking out something familiar during the days of lockdown or if they wanted something new and exciting. “That pop-up helped put food on the table for our staff, and it was something we were super-jazzed about, serving simply prepared food made with simple ingredients, true to the Catalan style. I love the way they live.”
The result is his brand new restaurant, Pantà, named for the Spanish word for “swamp” in a nod to Kelly’s Louisiana roots and for the large painting behind the bar of a marsh that still dominates the restaurant’s decor. Pantà opened to great buzz in late October, and guests are loving Kelly’s take on traditional Spanish cuisine. He jokes, “I reserve the right to ‘Memphis’ the hell out of anything we want!” This is evidenced by dishes like his version of the traditional Bomba Barceloneta snack, a fritter filled with potato and minced meat, traditionally spicy ground beef. In Pantà’s iteration, the beef is substituted with barbecue pork from Payne’s, a Memphis fixture. The kitchen drizzles the bombas with two sauces, brave sauce and charred green onion aioli to add some extra zing to the dish.
Other early winners on the menu include Secreto a la Plantxa, a charred herb-crusted pork shoulder dish served with salty crushed olives and chiles. Kelly is also proud of his Entrepá de Anec a les Landes, a baguette sandwich made with slow-roasted duck under a moorish chermoula slaw.
The atmosphere is festive at Pantà, in no small part thanks to the fact that Kelly expanded the bar from two seats to a dozen. Dine at the bar or in one of the two dining rooms, especially what Kelly calls “The Dragon Room,” a space decorated in a riot of color, blues, pinks, reds, yellows and oranges that the chef shares was inspired by Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi’s legendary Park Güell in Barcelona.
The restaurant is open for dinner Thursday through Saturday, and instead of a traditional earlier Sunday brunch, Pantà offers a “Sunday Siesta” from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. Instead of chasing the after-church crowd, Kelly developed this schedule for later risers and also for other restaurant workers. He explains, “We want this to be a place that industry people can come to enjoy themselves. This model takes care of our people and also gives our peers some respite as well.”
In the traditional Spanish style, meals at Pantà are usually made up by ordering several smaller plates for sharing along with drinks or wine from the Spanish-heavy list. But is it a tapas bar? “I don’t care what you call it,” jokes Kelly. “The most expensive dish is $15, so you can order 6-7 dishes to share as a group or a couple to create your own meal. Are we a bar or a restaurant? I don’t know yet. 2020 has chilled me out, and I just don’t care. All I want to do is make sure my staff is working and our guests are having a great time.”
What a great sentiment from a thoughtful chef.
201 Port St., Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 521-6150
Hours: Monday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
In Savannah, one peripatetic Southern chef is introducing his approach toward seasonal cuisine with international influences at Fleeting, the flagship restaurant of the new Thompson Hotel in the Eastern Wharf Project of the Hostess City of the South. Chef Rob Newton grew up in the Ozark region of Arkansas and has enjoyed successful stints in kitchens ranging from New York to Nashville. At each stop, Rob has created menus that showcase Southern ingredients prepared with global techniques, particularly fun little Asian twists, which makes any dish featuring rice, the cross-section of Arkansas and Japanese culture, real standouts.
Rob spent years working on his cookbook, Seeking the South, where he shares his culinary philosophy, and many of these tenets show up on the plates at Fleeting. With past experience working at Gray & Dudley at the 21C Museum Hotel in downtown Nashville, he strives to overcome the stigma of the typical hotel restaurant at Fleeting.
Sure, he has had to create menus for all three meals to satisfy the dining needs of hotel guests, but his breakfast goes far beyond “eggs served your way” and a smoothie or two. Instead, his versions of breakfast classics benefit from a thoughtful attitude toward novel details. The French toast features a salted sorghum butter, and the featured egg dish is a frittata made with wild mushrooms, local arugula, and pickled peppers.
At lunch, his global flavors really start to shine in dishes like the traditional Lowcountry staple Country Captain appearing in a spring roll form with coconut and roasted rice. Shrimp toast comes with benne seeds and soy sauce from Kentucky, and a delectable steak sandwich shows up griddled with onions and cheese and a crunchy addition of pickled giardiniera inspired by Italy.
At dinner, hotel guests and curious locals enjoy opening salvos of pan-fried biscuit buns topped with duck confit and red-eye chile oil as well as oysters grilled over a live wood fire and accented with chartreuse-lemongrass butter and country ham breadcrumbs. A menu section of grains and vegetables features local products whenever possible and makes for fine side dishes to the selection of entrees.
Composed main plates depend on seasonal local ingredients like a rotating fish dish that is dependent on whatever the freshest offerings the fishmonger brings through the kitchen door. That fish is prepared with fregola, garlic, country ham, and Calabrian cured peppers to contribute heat, salt, and spice to the dish. A roast chicken comes with collards straight out of the Southern supper canon, and a thick pork chop is served over earthy hominy and an ingredient you might not have heard of yet, but you should: the sweet Jimmy Nardello pepper.
Desserts showcase Rob’s international bent in dishes like a Vietnamese coffee cake and an orange creamsicle mousse accented with the surprising addition of basil seeds. His version of rice pudding features the local cult favorite of Carolina Gold puffed rice with coconut caramel, plums, and grains of paradise to create a really novel ending to your international journey through the menu.
Since opening in mid-September, Fleeting has already become a popular gathering spot for locals, whether for just a drink from the menu of seasonal cocktails or from the robust wine list, or an entire meal to celebrate a special occasion. As soon as guests step through the door from the lobby into the sleek attractive dining room, they feel like they have been whisked away to someplace somehow familiar and exotically different at the same time.
Here’s to new dining adventures!
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